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BCS officials say law favors them

Group claims no antitrust violations

By RALPH D. RUSSO Associated Press

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Bowl Championship Series officials believe they’re prepared to fend off any legal challenges.

With the Utah attorney general investigating the bowl system for a possible antitrust violation, Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner and BCS coordinator John Swofford said the BCS has carefully considered the legality of its format.

“We’ve attempted to make every effort to make certain that any structure of the BCS is within the antitrust laws. Our legal people are comfortable that the BCS structure is,” Swofford said during a Football Writers of American Association meeting. “Obviously, if there are any aspects of it that we should be doing differently, we would adjust that.”

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff announced his investigation Tuesday. Utah (13-0) was the only unbeaten school in major college football yet was left out of Thursday night’s BCS title game between Florida and Oklahoma, each with one loss.

“We’re not out there trying to test the antitrust laws of the United States of America,” Swofford said.

Swofford reiterated that the majority of university presidents and athletic directors oppose an expansive NFL-style playoff for major college football.

Last summer, the BCS considered a proposal by Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive to change to a four-team playoff called the plus-one model. The format would match the top four teams at the end of the regular season in two of the major bowls and the winners would play in the national title game.

That proposal was shot down. Swofford said it’s unlikely the plus-one model will be considered again any time soon.

Utah finished its perfect season last week with a 31-17 victory against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. While the Utes still have a slim chance of being voted No. 1 in the final AP Top 25, the BCS national championship trophy and No. 1 spot in the final USA Today coaches’ poll goes to the winner of Thursday night’s game in Miami.

“The BCS provided a platform for Utah to show the nation what a terrific football team they had this year,” Swofford said. “Preceding the BCS, I don’t know if that platform would have been there.”

The BCS expanded to five games three seasons ago and changed its qualification standards to allow better access to teams from the five conferences without automatic bids, such as Utah, which plays in the Mountain West Conference.

“The non-AQ conferences have greater access to the top-level bowls than ever in history because of the BCS,” Swofford said.

The BCS recently signed a four-year, $125 million deal with ESPN to televise the BCS national championship game, and the Orange, Fiesta and Sugar bowls, starting January 2011 and running through the 2014 bowls.

The current deal with Fox runs out after next season. The Rose Bowl has its own separate TV deal with ABC that runs through January 2014.

ESPN purchased the rights to the current BCS format.

While the network would not stand in the way of a format change, Burke Magnus, ESPN senior vice president for college sports programming, said it had no intention of pushing the BCS toward the mini-playoff system, known as the plus-one model.

The six conferences with an automatic bid to the BCS are the Southeastern Conferences, the Big Ten, the Big 12, the Big East, the Pac-10 and the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The BCS has just completed the first year of a four-year cycle, in which it evaluates the conferences to determine which will receive automatic bids.

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