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BCS bowl system is unfair, Young testifies

Former BYU and 49er star quarterback Steve Young, right, testifies on Capitol Hill Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee hearing.
Former BYU and 49er star quarterback Steve Young, right, testifies on Capitol Hill Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee hearing.
Ron Edmonds, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Former quarterback Steve Young told Congress Thursday that his alma mater, Brigham Young University, has virtually no chance for a future national football championship — and it has nothing to do with the quality of the team.

He said BYU and any team outside the six elite conferences in the Bowl Championship Series alliance have no true shot at a title because BCS rules and poll systems are designed to make its rich schools richer, and less-elite schools poorer.

"Division I-A football is the only sport within the NCAA structure where student-athletes have no equal access to winning a national championship," Young told the House Judiciary Committee.

He said he would prefer a playoff system to determine champions — which the NCAA uses in all other sports, and even in football in divisions I-AA, II and III.

The hearing came as BCS and non-BCS university presidents are scheduled to meet next week in Chicago about whether the current system denies access for schools from smaller conferences and how to improve the system.

The BCS was formed five years ago by six elite conferences — the Southeastern, Big 12, Big East, Pacific-10, Big Ten and Atlantic Coast — to help arrange a national championship game between the top two ranked Division I-A schools each year. That game is rotated among the Rose, Fiesta, Sugar and Orange bowls.

In the system, six of the eight available slots in those four BCS bowls each year go to champions of the six BCS conferences. The two remaining slots may go to other BCS schools, or to an outside school if they are ranked in the top six nationally in the BCS system that combines several polls and rankings of schedule strength.

However, Tulane University President Scott S. Cowen — who testified that his school has considered pushing an anti-trust lawsuit against the BCS — said BCS rating systems are slanted to ensure that only BCS conference teams will be chosen. No outside school has ever yet been chosen for any of its bowls in its five-year existence.

"A careful analysis of the components of this ranking system (by BCS schools) as well as the overall rules for BCS eligibility make it virtually impossible for a non-BCS school to ever qualify for a BCS bowl, much less the national championship," he said. For example, his Tulane team went 11-0 in 1998 and received no BCS bid.

Young, who is now an analyst for ESPN, said fellow sportswriters who vote in polls have told him that many do not bother to vote for non-BCS teams because they have no chance to win anyway.

Defending the current system was NCAA President Myles Brand. He said an overwhelming majority of Division I-A university presidents — who control the matter, not him — want to preserve the history and tradition of the current post-season bowl system, where 56 schools participate in a variety of bowls. A playoff system would not allow that many schools to participate.

James E. Delany, commissioner of the Big Ten Conference, also said the two at-large slots made available by the BCS alliance also allow deserving outside teams a shot at the national title.

But Cowen said that is only theoretical, and not real, because "the BCS ranking formula has an inherent built-in bias."

Young — who said the system likely would have prevented BYU's one national championship in 1984 — complained that the system makes the rich richer.

For example, he said the son of one ESPN colleague was recruited by BYU and the University of Arkansas. "He chose Arkansas because he wanted to be able to play for a national championship," Young said, adding non-BCS schools face enormous obstacles in recruiting for that reason.

Also, he noted that of the $109 million paid last year to colleges for football bowl games, $104 million went to the 64 schools in BCS conferences and only $5 million to the remaining 54 schools in the five non-BCS conferences and independents — making it difficult for smaller schools to survive and compete.

"Teams from non-BCS conferences simply want a level playing field when it comes to competing to win a national title," Young said. "In soccer, basketball, tennis, golf, etc., equal access is granted. Not so in football."

House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said the BCS system may violate anti-trust laws. He encouraged colleges to work together to identify ways to ensure that "merit prevails over money . . . and that the noble aspirations of amateur athletes do not yield to the cold reality of corporate profits."

Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, a member of the committee, said, "I believe the BCS perpetuates a classic case of the rich getting richer and other colleges being denied important revenues."

He added, "Payouts from top-tier bowl games represent significant funding for other athletic programs, especially women's teams, and help pay for better facilities and other improvements in campus life" — and smaller conferences are hurting from the loss of such money.


E-mail: lee@desnews.com