Cries For College Football Playoffs Get Louder

The college football season is months away, but there's already controversy surrounding the Bowl Championship Series.The BCS is made up of the top five post-season bowls. Lots of fans would rather have a playoff. But now, the BCS may be facing challenges far greater than angry fans.

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Now, the college football season is months away but there's already controversy surrounding the Bowl Championship Series, as there usually is. The BCS is made up of the top five post-season bowls, including the National Championship. Lots of fans would rather have a playoff.

But now, as NPR's Tom Goldman reports, the BCS may be facing challenges far greater than angry fans.

TOM GOLDMAN: The anger usually plays out like this: Your university is in one of the smaller conferences, football-wise, but the team has a great season, nationally ranked and doesnt get into a big BCS bowl. Thats because teams from the so-called BCS conferences, the power conferences, have an easier time getting in, even if they dont have as good a season.

So, youre steamed. Like Bryson Morgan was. He went to the University of Utah, when...

Mr. BRYSON MORGAN (Co-Founder, Playoff PAC): In 2004, and then again in 2008, the undefeated University of Utah Utes...

GOLDMAN: ...who played in a non-BCS conference...

Mr. BRYSON: ...were denied a chance to play for the National Championship.

GOLDMAN: Morgan watched as some angry Utah fans ranted on Internet chat sites and others vowed never to buy anything made by a bowl game sponsor. In 2009, Morgan and several football fan friends turned anger into action.

Mr. BRYSON: This is much more than a boycott of Tostitos chips.

GOLDMAN: Morgan, whos now 28 and finishing up at Harvard Law, and the others -most of them with law backgrounds - started Playoff PAC. The political action committees goal is to work to end the BCS and replace it with a playoff system. Playoff PAC volunteers have become really good at filing Freedom of Information Act requests.

Armed with financial documents from the Fiesta Bowl, one of the BCS bowls, Playoff PAC filed a complaint with the IRS alleging millions of dollars of financial no-no's by Fiesta Bowl execs. At the time, bowl officials said the complaint was quote, "dated, tired and discredited." That was last year.

This was a month and a half ago.

(Soundbite of a newscast)

Unidentified Man: College footballs crown jewel, the Fiesta Bowl, is tarnished. The bowls president and CEO, Jon Junker, fired under criminal investigation...

GOLDMAN: Rocked by the scandal, the BCS fined the Fiesta Bowl $1 million. Critics called that a slap on the wrist. And then just two weeks ago, more pressure on the BCS. The Department of Justice sent a letter to NCAA President Mark Emmert, raising questions about the BCS system and whether it may be violating federal anti-trust laws.

There are no questions in Mark Shurtleffs mind. The Utah attorney general confirmed yesterday hes pressing ahead with anti-trust litigation against the BCS. Schools excluded from the BCS bowls, Shurtleff says, are missing the biggest payouts.

Mr. MARK SHURTLEFF (Attorney General, Utah): Were talking about hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars. When theres an unfair distribution of money thats rigged in a way that only benefits the few to the harm of others, then that needs to be fixed by having a judge declare that its illegal. And they need to fix the monopoly. They need to disband it.

GOLDMAN: Some legal experts, however, say a lawsuit wont succeed because anti-trust law requires a court to compare the current BCS system to what came before; and not to a potentially better playoff system in the future. And even critics say the current system, while flawed, is better than the past.

Bill Hancock is the BCS executive director.

Mr. BILL HANCOCK (Executive Director, BCS): If you look at the access we have today compared to what its ever been in college football, you would have to conclude that the BCS has been very good for the game, all across the board.

GOLDMAN: It appears thatll be argued in court and in less contentious settings. Since the Fiesta Bowl scandal, several university presidents and athletic directors have spoken publicly about the need to figure out if its time, perhaps, to chart a new course for schools and football bowl games.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And Im Renee Montagne.

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