Congressman Compares College Football's BCS to Communism

May 4, 2009 - 7:56 AM
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Washington (CNSNews.com) – The way the nation chooses a college football champion is now a matter of congressional debate.
 
At a congressional hearing on Friday, Republican Rep. Joe Barton of Texas said the current system, the Bowl Championship Series, is “like communism -- you can’t fix it.”
 
Instead of a college bowl series, Barton favors a playoff system, as does President Barack Obama. Then-Sen. Obama told CBS’ “60 Minutes” in November 2008, “I think any sensible person would say that if you've got a bunch of teams who play throughout the season and many of them have one loss or two losses [and] there's no clear decisive winner, that we should be creating a playoff system."
 
Barton has gone so far as to introduce a bill – the College football Playoff Act of 2009 – that would prohibit “the promotion, marketing, and advertising of any post-season NCAA Division I football game as a national championship game unless such game is the culmination of a fair and equitable playoff system.”
 
On Friday, a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on the financial and “fairness” aspects of the Bowl Championship Series. (Barton is a ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over interstate commerce. College football is a billion dollar business, Barton noted.)
 
Under the current BCS system, teams are chosen based on polls and computer rankings. But Barton insists that a playoff system would do a better job of rewarding athleticism.  
 
In response to a question about whether Congress should be meddling in the BCS affairs, Barton indicated that it was necessary because of all the money that the bowl system generates.
 
“It’s becoming very clear to me that the reason we don’t have playoffs is a very green reason. It’s not environmentally green, it’s green money,” he said.

He chided BCS officials for talking about money and market share – “but you don’t talk about what actually takes place on the field -- the competition between student athletes. That is what is wrong with this system -- it’s about big conferences making big bucks.”
 
Barton also called the current College Bowl system “patently unfair.” “Before the first game,” he said, “half the teams in the country don’t have a prayer at winning or even playing for a national championship. You could have a playoff system that makes just as much money, but has the added benefit of determining the championship on the field.”
 
Barton and other critics complain that smaller schools are left out.
 
Barton told CNSNews.com that “the fans deserve a playoff system that would at least give the people who participate and follow it a real shot at having a national championship team.” 
 
John Swofford, commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference, was among those who testified at the hearing. He told reporters he doesn’t like the idea of Congress getting involved in college football:
 
“I guess Congress can make its own decisions as to how it’s involved, [but] these kinds of issues have historically been dealt with within the context of higher education by the people who manage and run higher education,” he said.  “Personally, I would hope that is where it remains.”
 
According Swofford’s written statement, the BCS games “generate more than a billion dollars annually in economic impact for their host cities and return millions of dollars to numerous local charities and philanthropic organizations.” 
 
In addition, Swofford said, BCS games “have also returned billions of dollars over the years to participating colleges and universities and provided scholarships and other financial assistance to countless students and student-athletes.”
 
Derrick Fox, president and CEO of the Valero Alamo Bowl from the Football Bowl Association, shared Swofford’s concerns about congressional meddling. As he told subcommittee members, “We don’t need the government to have any role” in BCS affairs.
 
However Witness Gene Bleymaier, director of athletics at Boise State University, pointed out that Congress does have the authority to intervene in BCS affairs:  “As a part of interstate commerce, they [Congress] do have the authority to look into this,” Bleymaier told CNSNews.com. 

There are 11 conferences in the BCS system, including the Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Pacific 10 and Southeastern, which are assured at least one berth in one of the BCS bowls. The conferences are awarded $18 million each, plus $4.5 million extra for individual teams that appear in a bowl game.
 
The guaranteed spot and monetary award comes at the expense of smaller conferences, including Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, Sun Belt and Western Athletic. Only one team from the smaller conferences is guaranteed a berth on BCS bowl games, and the conference and team get $9.5 million combined.
 
Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), chairman of the subcommittee, criticized the BCS disbursement of funds during his opening statement.
 
“This is about money, and it’s about money at taxpayer-funded colleges and universities,” he said. “College football is big business, and the BCS strikes many critics as unfair from a financial perspective.”
 
Craig Thompson, commissioner of the Mountain West Conference, pointed out several flaws within BCS, including the fact that “nearly half of the BCS teams are eliminated from the national championship even before the season begins.”