THESPORTSDOC- The BCS: Antitrust action may trim arrogance

No football, no basketball, no baseball. It happens every year, and it's rolled around again. The All-Star break– those lazy empty days following the Home Run Derby and the All-Star game. Aren't you a little bored?

Don't worry. The mid-July sports vacuum lasts only a little while. Before you know it, you'll be mired in trades and Wild Card standings– and preseason football. Still, when a Sports Illustrated headline reads "Beckham talks to Donovan," you can't be blamed for throwing up your hands in despair.

But wait. There's a little fight going on in Washington just now that might be worth your attention.

On Tuesday, July 7, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch took the Bowl Championship Series to task. In a Senate subcommittee hearing on anti-trust oversight, Hatch put pressure on the Justice Department to investigate the BCS for violations of anti-trust laws.

I'm no lawyer, so I'm not sure exactly how the BCS violates the Sherman Antitrust Act. What I know about the Act's ins and outs wouldn't fill a quart jar, but it's the gist that has bought the BCS some trouble. Basically the 1890 Act was Congress's first attempt to control abusive monopolies, specifically prohibiting agreements to restrain trade or commerce. 

Eight years went by before anyone gave the Act any teeth. (In 1895 the Supreme Court ruled that the American Sugar Refining Company didn't violate the Act despite the fact that it controlled 98 percent of all U. S. sugar refining.) It wasn't until 1904 that the Supreme Court made good on the Act, when it dissolved the Northern Securities railroad company. But it's a 1911 case that should have the BCS running scared.

In that year, the Supreme Court stated that "Large size and monopoly in themselves are not necessarily bad and do not violate the Sherman Antitrust Act." It wasn't the size of Standard Oil of New Jersey that got it in trouble; it was the company's actions against competitors. Not only did Standard buy them out directly, but it also drove them out of business by temporarily slashing prices wherever a competitor cropped up. 

So what's going to get the BCS in really hot water isn't the fact that it's a massive entity without any competition– it's that the Bowl Championship Series, like Standard Oil, AT&T, and Microsoft before it, is just too big for its britches. The BCS doesn't act right and has no sense of fair play– to put it bluntly, it grossly abuses its power. The irony is that they almost got away with it.

Somebody at the BCS really dropped the ball last year when undefeated Utah was bypassed for the national championship. How dumb can one entity be? The BCS has been under intense scrutiny for years about how it chooses Bowl teams, not to mention those that play for national titles. Everyone from Presidential candidates to car salesmen cited the BCS for being unfair. So what did the BCS do when it had an opportunity to clean up its act? 

It thumbed its nose at the wrong guy.

That's what happens when you're too big for your britches. You overlook the fact that the school being wronged– Utah in this case– happens to be located in a state whose senior Senator is the top Republican and pulls a ton of weight. 

When Senator Hatch told reporters, "Frankly, there's an arrogance about the BCS that just drives me nuts," he was just saying what college football fans have been saying for years. The only difference is that when Hatch says, "The Justice Department ought to be looking at this," the Justice Department says, "We're aware of his request and will respond as appropriate."

So while the BCS has no competitors, it does limit competition and commerce: some conferences get automatic bids while others don't, and the automatic bid conferences also get the bulk of the revenue. The BCS and big-revenue schools like Ohio State may argue the contrary, but thanks to the brother of the man who burned Atlanta, Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, and some dolt who didn't realize Orrin Hatch was from Utah, the BCS may just get what's coming to it– and there's not a blessed thing boring about that.