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Senator Hatch Kicks The Antitrust Football To President Obama

Posted  October 23, 2009

While it might be unlikely that President Obama and Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah will be getting together for some Bud Lights and Doritos at a Super Bowl party, they may still become football friends over the antitrust issues raised by the Bowl Championship Series.

Senator Hatch sent President Obama a 10-page letter on Wednesday asking him to investigate the BCS for possible antitrust violations in the way college football picks its national champion.

The issue is personal for Senator Hatch’s constituents.  Although Utah was the only undefeated team in the Football Bowl Subdivision last year, they did not get a chance to play for the national title.

President Obama has already picked his team in the College Football Playoff Debate.  On 60 Minutes last year, in his first interview as President-Elect, Obama expressed support for a college football playoff system instead of the present bowl system based on rankings.

Senator Hatch contends that the BCS results and placement in college bowl games at the end of the season is rigged in favor of “privileged” conferences, to the exclusion of smaller ones that include universities in his home state of Utah.  “After a careful examination of both the written and oral testimonies presented” to his committee, Senator Hatch wrote to President Obama, “I believe a strong case can be made that the BCS is in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.  Therefore, I respectfully request that the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division look into this matter.”

Senator Hatch explained that only teams from the Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly known as Division 1-A, are eligible to participate in “BCS bowl games, from which the participants receive national visibility and significant revenue derived from media broadcast rights.”  The FBS’s 11 conferences are separated into “two separate categories.  The first category consists of the Atlantic Coast Conference, Southeastern Conference, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten and Pacific 10, along with Notre Dame.  The champions of these six privileged conferences receive automatic bids to play in the BCS games, regardless of their overall performance.  Uniquely, Notre Dame receives the seventh slot if it places eighth or better in the BCS rankings.”  The other conferences must contend for the rest of the few remaining spots.

Senator Hatch contends that such an arrangement raises questions under both Sherman Act Sections 1 and 2 in that it may entail an unlawful agreement among competitors in restraint of trade and could act to exclude competition.

Tagged in: Antitrust Enforcement,