Department of Justice antitrust chief Christine Varney, in a letter to the NCAA this week, asked why there isn't a playoff system in the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision).
In addition to why there is no playoff, Varney asked what steps the NCAA has taken to develop a playoff for its highest level of football. The FCS (Football Championship Subdivision), Divison II and Division III levels all have a national playoff.
“Your views would be relevant in helping us to determine the best course of action with regard to the BCS,” Varney wrote to NCAA president Mark Emmert, according to an Associated Press report.
Critics of the BCS, including Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), have urged justice department officials to look into whether the current bowl system violates antitrust laws.
Utah attorney general Mark Shurtleff announced plans to file an antitrust lawsuit against the BCS.
Utah was the first football program from a conference that doesn't have an automatic bid to play in a BCS bowl. The Utes defeated Pittsburgh, 35-7, in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. The Utes earned their second BCS bid in 2009 and defeated Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, 31-17.
Boise State and TCU, each with two appearances, and Hawaii are the other schools from non-automatic bid schools to play in a BCS bowl. Notre Dame is the only independent school that gets an automatic bid to a BCS bowl if it meets certain criteria.
The NCAA has maintained over the years that it would take steps to implement a playoff system if its member schools agreed to it.
“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,” said Bob Williams, the NCAA’s vice president of communications.
The champions of six conference (Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, SEC, ACC) get automatic bids to play in the BCS bowls. The other conferences don't. The BCS conference schools also get larger payouts than conference that don't get selected to the top-tier bowls.