FREDERIC J. FROMMER,Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON — Shortly after winning last year's presidential election, Barack Obama said he was going to "to throw my weight around a little bit" to nudge college football's Bowl Championship Series to move to a playoff system.
On Wednesday, Sen. Orrin Hatch took him up on that.
Hatch asked the president to launch a Justice Department investigation into the way the BCS — a complex system of computer rankings and polls that often draws criticism — crowns its national champion.
"Mr. President, as you have publicly stated on multiple occasions, the BCS system is in dire need of reform," Hatch, R-Utah, wrote in a 10-page letter, obtained by The Associated Press.
Hatch, who held a hearing on the BCS in July, told Obama that a "strong case" can be made that the BCS violates antitrust laws.
Under the BCS system, some conferences get automatic bids to participate in top-tier bowls while others don't, and the automatic bid conferences also get far more of the revenue. Hatch's home state school, the University of Utah, is from the Mountain West Conference, which does not get an automatic bid. The school qualified for a bid last season but was bypassed for the national championship despite going undefeated.
The system "has been designed to limit the number of teams from non-privileged conferences that will play in BCS games," he wrote.
Hatch said that the BCS arrangement likely violates the Sherman Antitrust Act, because, he argued, it constitutes a "contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce," quoting from the law.
He said that the system "artificially limits the number of nationally-relevant bowl games to five. The result is reduced access to revenues and visibility which creates disadvantages to schools in the non-privileged conferences." Hatch is the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary's subcommittee on antitrust, competition policy and consumer rights.
The senator said that the hundreds of millions generated by college football "are hardly trivial sums," given that many schools use such revenue to fund things like other athletic programs.
The White House declined to comment. The Justice Department and BCS officials had no immediate comment.
Hatch's letter comes a few days after the BCS released its first standings of the year. And on Monday, a group of college football fans launched the Playoff PAC, with the hope of electing more lawmakers who will pressure the BCS to switch to a playoff system. Several lawmakers have introduced bills this year aimed at forcing a playoff system, but none of the bills has moved.