Some Senators Think Bowl Alliance System Violates Antitrust Laws

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In college football's Bowl Alliance, the rich get richer while the rest watch on New Year's Day.

That is the contention of senators, athletes and university administrators who addressed the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust, Business Rights and Competition yesterday. The subcommittee is making no guarantees it will get involved in the issue, and, in fact, member Herb Kohl, Wisconsin Democrat, said it is a financial matter that the universities should work out among themselves.

Chairman Mike DeWine, Ohio Republican, said antitrust and competitive concerns will "always be raised anytime we see a group of competitors, such as the Bowl Alliance, agreeing with one another rather than competing with one another."

"This is not just a sports issue," DeWine said. "This is a big business issue. Last year the alliance bowl games paid over $8 million to each team that played; the largest payout in a non-alliance bowl was $2 million."

Under the current Bowl Alliance system, the champions of four major conferences (ACC, Big East, Big 12 and Southeastern) are guaranteed spots in three participating bowls (Fiesta, Orange and Sugar). Two at-large spots are reserved for any bowl-eligible Division I-A team regardless of conference affiliation. After the 1998 season, the champions of the Big Ten and Pac-10, along with the Rose Bowl, will join the alliance, meaning a national championship will be virtually guaranteed every year.

The alliance does not include a number of competitive conferences, including the Western Athletic Conference. WAC member Brigham Young, which finished 13-1 and No. 5 in both polls last season, did not receive an at-large bid to an alliance bowl, heightening awareness of the possibility of antitrust violations.

"The WAC was always made to believe it could play its way into one of the alliance bowls if one of its teams had an outstanding season," said WAC commissioner Karl Benson. …