Monday, January 12, 2009
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff Defends His Proposal To Use Public Money To Launch Antitrust Suit Against The BCS; Utahns Divided On The Issue
On January 12th, 2008, the Deseret News reports that Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff (pictured at left) is defending his proposal to launch an antitrust suit against the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) over the fact that the University of Utah football team finished number two in the nation, despite being the only unbeaten major college football team. The issue is restraint of trade through restraint of competition. Also reporting this story is KSL Channel 5.
On his personal blog, Shurtleff makes his case, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled antitrust laws apply to NCAA athletics and that it is his duty to enforce state and federal laws:
"The University of Utah and some other NCAA Division 1-A schools in Utah are taxpayer funded institutions and I have a duty to protect and defend them against violations of the law".
"The BCS system involves millions of dollars a year of potential revenue to these institutions that could help replace dwindling taxpayer generated general fund monies. ... If a system unreasonably restrains the opportunity of our educational institutions to freely and fairly compete to be designated as a national college football champion — a designation desired by football fans throughout the nation — such a system could unfairly deprive our institutions and my state of these important and significant revenues".
His response in part was directed towards the Salt Lake Tribune, which published an editorial on Friday January 9th opposing his involvement in a prospective suit:
"We agree with Shurtleff that the BCS system is bogus; that a true tournament-style playoff system is the only legitimate way to determine a national champion. But Shurtleff and his underlings are wasting their time and your money by pursuing this investigation".
"Our economy is imploding. Utahns are losing their jobs and homes. Budget cuts will be required. And our state's top lawyer is preoccupied with scoring a political touchdown with Utah football fans. Shurtleff needs to rethink his priorities".
And while the Provo Daily Herald didn't come out in open opposition, even they are skeptical of Shurtleff's proposed actions. In their January 10th editorial, they point out that Utah Rep. Jim Matheson and Senator Orrin Hatch are pushing to new Obama Administration to invoke the Sherman Antitrust Act against the BCS, and push for a playoff system. They also reveal another Utah connection - in 1984, BYU won the national championship with an unbeaten season despite a perceived soft schedule, and the BCS system was conceived to keep such Cinderella teams out. But in the final analysis, the Herald reluctantly concedes that the best way for Mountain West Conference teams to break the monopoly is to keep beating them on the field.
By the way, the accompanying Daily Herald poll shows that, out of 222 respondents so far, 51.4 percent believe the government should not get involved. So public opinion is almost evenly divided.
The problem is that there are many other higher priorities for public funding. Not only have numerous Utah communities nearly used up all their snow removal funds for the year, but proposed budget cuts may cause several state universities to lay off workers. Specifically, Utah State University may have to lay off 660 workers this year. The Midvale Family Health Clinic needs $160,000 to remain open; they provide health services to low-income people. And the Salt Lake Tribune details a slew of programs designed to help the elderly and other at-risk people which are on the chopping block to reduce the overall state budget by 15 percent.
Since this is an interstate issue, the smartest move for Shurtleff at this point would be to work with the Utah Congressional delegation to exert pressure upon the Feds to start an antitrust inquiry. Let the Feds have the first opportunity to take a whack at the BCS. Only if the Feds refuse should the states get involved.