Obama Administration May Investigate Controversial College Football Bowl System

By MichaelJames

Jan 29, 2010 8:37pm

ABC News’ Karen Travers reports:

President Obama has made it abundantly clear that he does not like the current system for naming a national championship team in college football.

Now his administration may take action on behalf of him and the countless other sports fans who oppose college football’s Bowl Championship Series (BCS), the controversial system by which a national champion is crowned every January.

In a letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich said the Justice Department is deciding if it will investigate whether the BCS system violates antitrust laws. The Republican lawmaker had written to the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division last October requesting such an investigation.

In his four-page letter, an exhaustive explanation and dissection of the complex BCS system, Weich said that the department is exploring several options to address the concerns of those opposed to the current system, including asking the Federal Trade Commission to examine its legality under consumer protection laws and having a governmental or non-governmental body or commission study the possibility of a playoff system.

President Obama has been vocal in his opposition to the bowl system and advocated for a playoff, similar to what college basketball does.

“I think it is about that we had playoffs in college football. You know, I'm fed up with these computer rankings and this and that and the other,” Obama said on a "Monday Night Football" broadcast on Nov. 3, 2008. “Get eight teams, the top eight teams right at the end, you've got a playoff; decide on a national champion.”

Obama is not alone in his push for a playoff system. The BCS is based on a much-maligned computer ratings system that determines the rankings of college football teams based on polls and algorithms. Opponents say that the computer system unfairly discriminates against schools from conferences that do not have automatic qualifying bids for the championship bowls.

In his letter, DOJ’s Weich noted that both Utah and Boise State had undefeated seasons but did not have an opportunity to play for the national championship.

“This seemingly discriminatory action with regard to revenues and access have raised questions regarding whether the BCS potentially runs afoul of the nation's antitrust laws,” Weich wrote.

Hatch welcomed the news from the Justice Department and said he was encouraged by the response.

“I continue to believe there are antitrust issues the administration should explore, but I’m heartened by its willingness to consider alternative approaches to confront the tremendous inequities in the BCS that favor one set of schools over others,” Hatch said in a statement tonight. 

Hatch said the current system of determining the national champion “runs counter to basic fairness that every family tries to instill in their children from the day they are born.”

“It is systematically unfair, jeopardizing students, players, education quality, ethics and true competition,” he said. “I look forward to working with the administration on this issue that effects so many of our young people, not to mention the millions of fans of college football, across the country.” 

-Karen Travers

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