Updated 5:07 p.m.
The Justice Department Antitrust Division has asked NCAA officials to provide information about why college football does not use a playoff system to determine a national champion.
Assistant Attorney General Christine Varney, the department’s antitrust division leader, yesterday sent a two-page letter (PDF) to NCAA president Mark Emmert that asked for the association’s views on several topics associated with the Bowl Championship Series.
“Serious questions continue to arise suggesting that the current Bowl Championship Series (BCS) system may not be conducted consistent with the competition principles expressed in federal antitrust laws,” Varney said.
Varney noted in the letter that the Utah state attorney general, Mark Shurtleff, has announced an intention to file suit against the BCS, established 13 years ago. DOJ recently received a letter from 21 professors requesting the government open an antitrust investigation. Shurtleff posted Varney's letter on the Utah Office of the Attorney General web page.
Varney’s letter to Emmert quoted from a March 2 article in The New York Times in which the NCAA said it “was willing to help create a playoff format to decide a national championship for the top level of college football.”
In the letter, Varney said “it would be helpful to understand your views” about what steps the NCAA has taken to create a playoff system. Varney also asked whether the NCAA has determined that there are “aspects of the BCS system that do not serve the interests of fans, colleges, universities and players.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a critic of the BCS system, today urged Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. to investigate antitrust claims. Hatch called the BCS system a “mess” and said “privileged” conferences having an unfair advantage.
In his testimony at today's Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing, Holder noted the letter Varney sent to the NCAA. The attorney general said he did not disagree with Hatch.
NCAA spokesman Bob Williams said in a statement this afternoon: “When we actually receive the letter from the Department of Justice we will respond to its questions directly. It should be noted that President Emmert consistently has said, including in the New York Times article, that the NCAA is willing to help create a playoff format for Football Bowl Subdivision football if the FBS membership makes that decision.”