By Frederic J. Frommer/The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The five college football conferences that don’t get automatic bids to the Bowl Championship Series will receive a record $24 million from this year’s bowl games, according to BCS figures obtained Monday by The Associated Press.
The distribution of money has been a main point of contention for congressional critics of the Bowl Championship Series system. Lawmakers have pushed legislation aimed at forcing the BCS to switch to a playoff system rather than the ratings system it uses to set the games that determine the college championship.
Despite the record amount that will go to the schools that don’t qualify automatically, it still represents a sum far less than that going to the half-dozen conferences that have guaranteed bids.
Of the $24 million, most will go to the two conferences that sent teams to BCS games this year: the Mountain West Conference, at $9.8 million, and the Western Athletic Conference, at $7.8 million. The three other conferences that don’t receive automatic bids will divide the remainder.
That compares to $22.2 million each to the Big Ten and Southeastern conferences, and $17.7 million each for the other four conferences that have automatic bids. Those first two received more because they each had two teams in BCS bowls.
Under the BCS system, six conferences get automatic bids to participate in top-tier bowl games while the other five don’t. The conferences that don’t receive automatic bids will reap a record take this year because they sent two teams to BCS bowls for the first time — Boise State and Texas Christian.
BCS executive director Bill Hancock told the AP the new numbers show the distribution is “fair and appropriate.”
“It’s an opportunity for us to remind people that every conference had a chance to earn automatic qualification, and will again, based on the current evaluation,” he said.
Hancock said the BCS has helped all 11 conferences get more access, revenue and opportunity to play in the post-season. The previous record for conferences that don’t receive automatic bids was $19.3 million, set last year, he said.
Still, the figures aren’t likely to win over critics in Congress.
Rep. Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, has cited the revenue discrepancy as a reason for his legislation that would ban the promotion of a postseason NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision game as a national championship unless it results from a playoff. The bill passed a subcommittee last month but faces an uphill battle in Congress.
In a telephone interview Monday, Barton responded to the figures with a shrug.
“What is the BCS theoretically about? I thought it was about the best teams playing the best teams,” he said. “This simply acknowledges the reality that’s it’s not about that, but about revenue sharing. It’s an economic cartel.”
In the Senate, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has called on President Barack Obama to ask the Justice Department to investigate whether the BCS violated antitrust laws, arguing that the millions of dollars at stake justify oversight by the federal government.
“The BCS system favors one set of schools over others,” Hatch said in an e-mail. “While the money being divided up by the privileged conferences at the expense of nonprivileged conferences is astounding, the principles being violated are even more astounding.”
Craig Thompson, commissioner of the Mountain West Conference, last year called the money distribution system “grossly inequitable.”
Thompson did not return phone calls seeking comment on the BCS numbers.