The celebrations were intense in Salt Lake City on Saturday night, as the University of Utah’s football team routed archrival Brigham Young University to complete an undefeated season. ESPN’s announcer excitedly proclaimed that Utah’s victory, which was expected to leave the Utes ranked in the Top 6 according to the complicated Bowl Championship Series formula, was proof that the doubters are wrong and the BCS works.
The doubters are schools from so-called “mid-major” conferences like the Mountain West Conference, who are theoretically eligible to participate in one of the four big money bowl games (Rose, Orange, Sugar, and Fiesta), but only if one of them finishes in the Top 6 in the BCS rankings. BCS backers (and it should be noted that ESPN’s sister network, ABC, carries the BCS bowl games) are concerned about the threat of an antitrust lawsuit from the mid-major conferences based on the argument that unlawful barriers to competition keep them from sharing the multimillion dollar bounty of the four major bowls.
But those sighs of relief were premature.
Sunday’s BCS rankings showed that despite its win Utah had dropped to eighth place and would be out of the BCS bowl picture, as would undefeated Boise State from the Western Athletic Conference. Taking the logic of the ESPN announcer at the Utah-BYU game, this is proof that the BCS does not work. And if you think Eastern bias is part of the picture, you would be right — the Big East Conference, which in football is as middling as you can get, is entitled to send its champion (currently No. 21 Boston College) to a BCS bowl game while Utah gets sent to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis.
This situation has the potential to turn into very ugly litigation between the Mountain West Conference and the BCS conferences over the $14 million payday Utah would be expected to receive (and share with the MWC) if it were to participate in the Fiesta Bowl.