Washington The Justice Department’s antitrust division will meet with the BCS this summer, following up on concerns the department raised with the NCAA about college football’s postseason format.
Bowl Championship Series executive director Bill Hancock told the Associated Press on Thursday that a Justice Department attorney last week asked for a voluntary background briefing on how the BCS operates. Hancock said he agreed to provide one, but that no date has been set yet.
“We view it as an opportunity to make it clear that the BCS was crafted very carefully with antitrust laws in mind,” Hancock said.
The Justice Department initially raised its concerns with the NCAA, asking why there wasn’t a playoff for college football’s highest level and said there were “serious questions” about whether the current format to determine a national champion complies with antitrust laws.
But NCAA President Mark Emmert responded in a letter last month that the department’s questions were best directed to the BCS.
Critics who have urged the department to investigate the BCS contend it unfairly gives some schools preferential access to the title game and lucrative, top-tier bowls at the end of the season.
Hancock said he wasn’t concerned with the Justice Department’s request for a meeting.
“We take seriously any connection in Washington, and we’re certainly taking this seriously,” he said. “But I view it as an opportunity, because we’re confident that the BCS is on strong legal ground.”
Under the BCS, the champions of six conferences have automatic bids to play in top-tier bowl games; the other five conferences don’t.
But Hancock said that the BCS, which was established in 1998, has improved access to such bowls for those other five conferences. According to the BCS, schools from those conferences played in such bowls only six times in 54 years, while under the BCS, it happened seven times in the past seven years. Hancock said the system has done a better job pitting the top two teams in a championship game.
Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne said at the Big 12 meetings in Kansas City that if the Justice Department were to break up the BCS, “ ... I suspect what we will do is go right back to the old bowl system and the conferences will make their deals — the same things we used to have.
“Then it will give (the media) the opportunity to write editorials about how we should have a playoff system or bring the BCS back.”
Hancock said the meeting will be the first the BCS has had with the department at least since he joined the organization in 2005.
He said he did not think that the meeting signaled an investigation.
“Their staff made it clear this was simply a request for information,” Hancock said. “They also said our cooperation was voluntary.”
Justice Department spokeswoman Gina Talamona said the department continues to review information provided to it to determine whether to open an investigation into the legality of the current system under antitrust laws.
“It’s not unusual for us to have discussions with knowledgeable parties on a particular matter,” she added, but declined to confirm who the department was meeting with.
Matthew Sanderson, co-founder of Playoff PAC, which wants the BCS replaced with a championship playoff system, called the meeting “yet another sign that the Justice Department may be moving toward a formal investigation. The scandal-plagued BCS is in trouble on multiple fronts.”
Even if there is no federal investigation, the BCS is already under fire from at least one state. The attorney general of Utah, Mark Shurtleff, has said he plans to file an antitrust lawsuit against the BCS.
Before he was sworn in as president, Barack Obama said in 2008 that he was going to “to throw my weight around a little bit” to nudge college football toward a playoff system.
— AP Sports Writer Doug Tucker in Kansas City, Mo. contributed to this report.