We're about to find out how serious the Western Athletic and Mountain West conferences are in bringing about change to the Bowl Championship Series.
Utah Senator Orrin Hatch held a hearing Tuesday into possible antitrust violations by the BCS, but the attention now turns to the 18 presidents of WAC and Mountain West schools. Brian Murphy of the Idaho Statesman reports that the presidents must decide by Thursday afternoon whether to sign a new agreement between the BCS and television partner ESPN that goes into effect after the 2010 regular season and runs for four years.
The WAC and Mountain West are the only Division I-A conferences that have not signed the deal. If they don't sign, the leagues risk millions in hopes of changing the system to improve access and payouts for their schools.
"There are really two choices: not signing it at all or signing it with a statement saying we're signing it under duress," Boise State president Bob Kustra said.
The WAC presidents have a conference call scheduled for Wednesday morning. Mountain West presidents will meet separately.
Not signing means WAC and Mountain West teams would lose millions of BCS and ESPN dollars and be shut out of playing in the biggest bowls.
"It would be more powerful if whatever we did, we did together," Kustra said.
If the leagues take a stand, it would be a powerful statement that could force Congress or the Justice Department — perhaps even the BCS — to act.
"You have to give the access," Kustra said. "Break down the limited access and put everybody on equal ground."
The stakes are high. Check this study by Brigham Young Assistant Professor of Economics Richard Evans on the revenue inequality caused by the BCS.
As for Tuesday's Senate Antitrust Committee hearing, a sampling of how it was interpreted across the country:
Dana Milbank, Washington Post: Hatch portrayed the BCS spat as a civil rights issue, describing the big conferences as "preferred" and "privileged" and the others as "non-privileged."
Berry Tramel, Oklahoman: The testimony in Utah's pity party was all show.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News: This was a trap play, orchestrated by Hatch. It sort of worked.
Matt Canham, Salt Lake Tribune: BCS Presidential Oversight Committee chairman Harvey Perlman said that even if the BCS were to be struck down, officials wouldn't create a playoff like so many fans, sports pundits and even the president have called for.
College Game Balls: Notes and observations from the hearing.