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Some of those 50,000 University of Utah fans who attended the Fiesta Bowl may have fully enjoyed celebrating the Utes' unbeaten 2004 season by flooding Beale Street in Memphis, Tenn., after beating Louisville in the Liberty Bowl.

Perhaps they would have found enough satisfaction in defeating Arizona in the Las Vegas Bowl to conclude a perfect 2008 season.

I doubt it.

I'm imagining Mark Shurtleff becoming the Utah attorney general prior to 1998, just in time to keep the Bowl Championship Series from being created, and this is how the world looks from a Ute perspective.

No Fiesta Bowl. No Sugar Bowl. No Pac-12 invitation.

Look, I'm not criticizing Shurtleff's pursuit of antitrust violations by the BCS, trusting that if he sees legal injustice, it should be corrected. And would I welcome a playoff to determine a college football champion? Sure.

But the Utes probably should be happy Shurtleff was a Salt Lake County commissioner when the BCS was launched and that Jan Graham, his predecessor as Utah's AG, never thought to challenge it.

This is my caution flag: If Shurtleff and any other states' attorneys general who join in his lawsuit bring down the BCS, would a court insist that the NCAA immediately launch a playoff? Not necessarily.

It is widely believed that college presidents would rather revert to the old system of bowls and polls than stage a playoff. That would not hurt the Utes now, since the Pac-12 gives them Rose Bowl access. But if the BCS never existed, a lot of Utah's recent history would be rewritten.

Shurtleff is continuing his fight, even after the Utes have earned Pac-12 membership and the accompanying BCS privileges, which gives him credibility. Yet there's some irony here, and this is worth remembering as Shurtleff's suit takes shape:

The BCS has been very good to the University of Utah.

This system gave the Utes qualifying access to the Fiesta Bowl and the Sugar Bowl, and they took advantage of it with convincing victories against Pittsburgh and Alabama. While the school's BCS success is not the only reason Utah was invited to join the Pac-12, it definitely helped.

If not for the BCS, the Utes of '04 and '08 would have been like the 1984 BYU team that was locked into the Holiday Bowl. Even in the Bowl Alliance that briefly predated the BCS, the Utes' rankings in the final regular-season coaches' polls — No. 6 in '04, No. 7 in '08 — probably would not have merited an at-large bid to one of those three elite bowls (the Rose Bowl was not included). No rules existed that would have mandated an alliance berth for Utah.

The BCS eventually gave Utah unprecedented opportunities, allowing provisional access. The latest gift is a share of the Pac-12's $3-billion television contract with ESPN and Fox. While the U.S. Department of Justice is asking antitrust questions about college football, this is a perfect example of how free enterprise works in this country.

The Pac-12 TV deal is market-driven, much like the BCS. Utah is now among the schools that networks want to showcase and viewers want to see. So is BYU, at some level, judging by its ESPN deal.

Shurtleff cites Utah State as his motivation for challenging the BCS. The Aggies have benefited intermittently as Western Athletic Conference members from the combined four BCS appearances by Boise State and Hawaii. As one of 120 programs at college football's highest level, USU would be guaranteed consistent payments generated by a playoff system.

But that's assuming playoffs, indeed, would replace the BCS. A court may not make that happen, and how much pressure could TV network executives wield over college presidents if they're already paying billions to show regular-season games?