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Monson: Utah 'hayseed' set to slay football's dragon

Published April 24, 2011 4:33 pm

College football • The state's attorney general says the bowl system is illegal and has "got to be fixed."
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Mark Shurtleff was on a righteous roll the other day, reaming out the BCS, laying down a warning about what was coming straight at it, swatting away its lame responses.

"They have referred to me as a 'hayseed,' " the state's attorney general said. "'Some hayseed from Utah is going to sue us.' Well, you know what? Yeah — because the law is on our side. And I believe it will be a growing effort when other states join in. And I really hope the [U.S. Department of Justice] will, too. And that will be the end of it."

For that matter, he still is on a roll.

If you're a college football fan, stand and applaud his vision and tenacity. He's attempting to right one of the biggest wrongs in all sports — a wrong that's bigger than sports.

Answering question after question about the federal lawsuit he's bringing against the BCS during an interview on my radio show, Shurtleff was passionate about a cause he sees as not just counter to what college sports should be about, not just unfair to certain schools and student-athletes, not just competitively wrong, but flat-out illegal.

"We believe we can prove it's an illegal monopoly, a restraint of trade," he said. "It benefits the few at the expense of others."

As conference commissioners and athletic directors who run the BCS are gathering for meetings in New Orleans, Shurtleff pointed directly at them and other administrators, challenging them to junk a bad system filled with inequities that keep nonpreferred schools and their football programs at a financial and competitive disadvantage.

"The pressure should be on the NCAA," he said. "The college presidents, the athletic directors, the people who make up the NCAA — read your own bylaws, your own constitution about fair competition, and then stand there and justify how you can do this. It's only because of the excess and largesse for those who are the automatic qualifiers."

Shurtleff used this past postseason as a prime example, underscoring that three two-loss teams from power leagues played in BCS games, and two teams from the SEC, the Big Ten and the Pac-10 played in those bowls, as those leagues "doubled their recovery" at the expense of the WAC and Boise State, which lost only once and was ranked 10th but ended up in the Las Vegas Bowl.

"Nonautomatic-qualifying conferences got squat," he said, marking the trickle-down effect, or lack thereof, as a school such as Utah State lost out on a million dollars — money that went elsewhere because Boise State was shut out.

"Even though we had a good national championship game," Shurtleff said, "this past season is one of our greatest fact-based scenarios to show how unfair the system is. … It's a mess of a system. It's unfair, it's illegal and it's hurting taxpayer-funded institutions and, therefore, taxpayers, let alone what college football and sports are supposed to be about."

Shurtleff also responded to critics who say he should be focusing on more important issues rather than wasting taxpayers' money on taking down the BCS.

"It's got to be fixed," he said, noting that big business and hundreds of millions of dollars are part of the equation. "Who better to fix it than a law enforcement official if there's illegality going on?"

He added: "[BCS administrators] Bill Hancock and John Swofford, they'll keep throwing out that it's a waste of taxpayers' money. No. It's not going to use taxpayers' money. We're going to use antitrust money [that's available] to go after antitrust violators, which is what these guys are. And they've got to fix it. I'm done. I'm done with the excuses."

One excuse is that a playoff system is unworkable because of concerns about the student-athletes playing too many games during the empty stretch between the traditional end of the regular season and the week when the bigger bowls are played.

"Excuse me?" Shurtleff asks. "What about [smaller schools]? They do it. They handle it. These athletes can handle it. They can have a playoff. They do it in the NCAA in the lower levels. So it's an excuse. It doesn't make sense. It's incredible to me that they keep arguing that."

What was Shurtleff's response when he was told Hancock said that, if Shurtleff's suit is successful, the powers that be in college football will simply return to the old bowl format, in which supposed top teams wouldn't be matched in a championship game?

"The arrogance in that is just astounding to me."

He also is amazed — sort of, given the power trips and self-interests involved — that the BCS is hanging on to its system with such stubbornness.

"We kind of scratch our heads as to why there's so much kickback on this, when all the experts who look at it say, 'You'll make more money if you take away the BCS and open it up to a playoff system,' " he said. "And yet, they continue to resist it. … There's never going to be a change in it, unless, apparently, they're facing litigation, major damages, and the court orders them to do it differently."

Shurtleff said the problems plaguing the Fiesta Bowl could potentially help his cause, and some of those problems will pop up with other BCS bowls.

"I'm very confident," he said, "as soon as we do our discovery, you'll see that's not unique to the Fiesta Bowl."

He's also confident that attorneys general from other states will jump on board his cause as it gains momentum. Shurtleff made a presentation to some 40 of them in Washington, D.C., in March.

"It will grow," he said. "And once the DOJ gets involved, that's it."

That ought to be it. It is long overdue.

If Shurtleff makes this happen, if he brings down an unfair system, if he topples the BCS and leans the postseason toward a comprehensive playoff, the hayseed from Utah will have done college football, and all its fans, a huge service.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Gordon Monson Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 104.7 FM/1280 AM The Zone. He can be reached at gmonson@sltrib.com. Fiesta's future could be known by end of May

The Fiesta Bowl's future as a part of the Bowl Championship Series could be decided before the end of May.

Officials for the troubled game and the BCS met Saturday at the Big Ten headquarters in Park Ridge, Ill.

Penn State President Graham Spanier, who is also the chairman of the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee, says it will take "two to three weeks" to review what was learned at the meeting and discuss it with conference commissioners.

Last month, the Fiesta Bowl fired its president, John Junker, after a report commissioned by the Arizona-based game alleged misuse of funds. The BCS responded by creating a task force to review whether it wants to continue to do business with the bowl.

The Associated Press






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