After years of threats, someone is finally going to take the BCS to court. Utah attorney general Mark Shurtleff has pledged to file an antitrust suit against the BCS in federal court within the next two months. Naturally, the rhetoric coming out of the hollowed-out volcano that serves as BCS headquarters is that any negative legal consequences would send conferences rushing into the arms of the old bowl, pre-Alliance, pre-Coalition, pre-BCS bowl system.
It's time we called that bluff. Go for it. Run to the old system. A large group of schools may find its embrace far less comforting than they remember.
In his suit, Shurtleff will allege "serious antitrust violations that are harming taxpayer-funded institutions to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars," the Utah AG told USA Today
on Wednesday. He expects other states to join. He does not know if the U.S. Department of Justice, which has been investigating the BCS, will join. (At this point, some of you are wondering why any government -- state or federal -- would spend money on this. Ask yourself this: Wouldn't the government usually be interested in a multibillion-dollar business run through public universities? Because that's what this is.)
Can Shurtleff win? That's debatable. Whether the BCS is a cartel that restricts free trade and harms taxpayers -- who fund most of the schools involved -- and/or consumers is a tricky question. If you read this space often, you know I believe the BCS is the college football equivalent of OPEC and that university presidents are fiscally irresponsible for leaving hundreds of millions of playoff TV rights fee dollars on the table so a particular group of schools can maintain control of the sport. But I'm a sportswriter. I'm neither an economist nor an attorney. This group of 21 economists and attorneys believes the BCS is a cartel, and they offer a compelling argument
as to why. Two antitrust attorneys, writing in the Sports Business Journal
last year, offer an equally compelling argument
as to why the BCS does not harm the consumer and should be safe from antitrust challenges.