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Pirate Notebook No. 375
Monday, March 2, 2009

Denny O'Brien

Utah AG should back off

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

Terry Holland recently made a profound statement about the climate of college athletics. Then again, he often does.

During a recent radio interview, East Carolina’s shrewd athletics director was asked to comment on everyone’s favorite topic, the Bowl Championship Series. It was the perfect opportunity for Holland to criticize the establishment for its unfair practices and monopolistic nature.

Instead, he offered a positive perspective on a system that, in reality, has opened opportunities for schools like East Carolina to appear in major bowls and cash substantial paychecks.

It was a departure from the thinking of many administrators from schools that lack automatic access to BCS games.

Had the BCS in its current structuring not been in existence this season, what are the odds that Utah at 12-0 would have landed in the Sugar Bowl and earned a $17.5 million payday? Not good according to Holland, and he’s 100 percent accurate.

Instead of a trip to the Big Easy to play Alabama, the old system likely would have exiled the Utes to Las Vegas to play a .500 bunch from the Pac-10. There would have been no opportunity to hammer an overrated Tide team in the national spotlight.

Ditto for the Utes in 2004, Boise State in 2007, and Hawaii in 2008, each of which landed in BCS games after undefeated regular seasons. Yet for some reason, most of the focus surrounding Utah and its brethren has been on how the BCS jobbed them out of an opportunity to compete for a national title.

That’s a valid argument only if a national champion is truly crowned in the Football Bowl Subdivision. But last I checked the NCAA doesn’t coronate a king for its premier classification.

At best, the national title is a mythical fabrication of a few administrators who dared to explore how to generate more money for their conferences and institutions. Kudos to them for trying to make a buck.

This is why Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has placed his energy and resources in the wrong place. Instead of exploring antitrust action against the BCS, he would be better served sending “Thank You” notes to those responsible for Utah’s moment of gridiron glory.

Roy Kramer, who fathered the BCS, and Scott Cowen, whose persistence delivered needed reform, would be a good start.

“My hesitation is I'm a guy who wants results," Cowen said in an exclusive Bonesville interview in 2003 when asked about his efforts and the potential for change in the BCS. "So, until I see what is it that we are really going to change, I'm going to reserve final judgment until we see whether there is, in fact, a change.

"Have we come a lot farther than I thought we would, and are we on a path to a resolution that seems reasonable? The answer to both of those questions is yes. I want to see what the end result is and I don't know what that end result is yet."

The end result now is pretty clear: There have been four BCS entries from ‘have-not’ conferences, three of them winners in their spotlight games.

Credit Cowen and his colleagues for reaching a resolution that generated more access for schools that otherwise didn’t have it. It was an example of how level-headed minds could find reasonable common ground, and do so without the intervention of overzealous lawmakers.

The last thing college football needs is governmental intervention to fix its imperfections. Just because our nation is beginning to explore some of Europe’s socialist policies doesn’t mean that elected officials should include college athletics in that crusade.

Now if Utah school president Michael Young wants to revisit discussions about more inclusive BCS access for conferences that aren’t automatic qualifiers, that’s a different story. Utah’s success, along with his position, makes him the perfect candidate to lead the charge.

And even if sweeping changes aren’t sought by Young or any of his colleagues, at least a path is in place for leagues like the Mountain West and Conference USA to reach the BCS. Running the table inside the conference – which is much more manageable than finishing 6-2 in the worst BCS league – and scheduling wisely outside the conference provide a workable formula.

Is the BCS perfect? Far from it. Unless equal access is provided for all leagues involved, that will never be the case.

But the BCS at least has generated opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t have existed for schools like Utah. That’s why Shurtleff will have a tough time arguing to the contrary.

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03/02/2009 01:54:08 AM

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