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 BCS 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 non-automatic qualifying, or non-AQ, schools, it still represents a sum far less than that going to the half-dozen AQ conferences.
Most of the $24 million will go to the two non-AQ conferences that sent teams to BCS games: Mountain West Conference, at $9.8 million, and the Western Athletic Conference, at $7.8 million. The three other non-BCS conferences will divide the remainder.
That compares to $22.2 million each to the Big Ten and Southeastern AQ conferences, and $17.7 million each for other four AQ conferences. Those first two received more because they each had two teams in BCS bowls.
Under the BCS system, the six AQ conferences get automatic bids to participate in top-tier bowl games while the other five don’t. The non-AQ conferences 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 postseason. The previous record for non-AQ conferences 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.
Craig Thompson, commissioner of the Mountain West Conference, last year called the money distribution system “grossly inequitable.”
Neither Hatch nor Thompson returned messages seeking comment on the BCS numbers.