House Subcommittee Takes Time to Discuss College Football Playoffs
December 9, 2009 - 5:41 AMA top official of the Bowl Championship Series says there are more important things for Congress to worry about than pressing for a playoff system for college football.
But lawmakers were taking a crack at it anyway Wednesday. A House panel was to consider a proposal to ban the promotion of a postseason NCAA Division I football game as a national championship unless it's the outcome of a playoff.
"With everything going on in the country, I can't believe that Congress is wasting time and spending taxpayers' money on football," Bill Hancock, the BCS executive director, said in a phone interview. "We feel strongly that managing of college sports is best left to the people in higher education."
The legislation is sponsored by Texas Rep. Joe Barton, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The vote by the panel's commerce, trade and consumer protection subcommittee comes three days after the BCS selections were announced. Those include the Jan. 7 national title game between No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Texas.
Barton said Congress' attention is warranted, since "at this level, college football is a multibillion-dollar business" not much different from other businesses that face congressional oversight.
"With telecommunications, you're dealing with AT&T and Verizon and Sprint, and in this case you're dealing with the SEC and the Big 12 and the Pac-10," Barton said. "It's the same basic economic model."
But the measure faces long odds getting through Congress, given the wide geographic representation of schools in the six conferences that get automatic BCS bowl bids.
"The schools in those six conferences, which have such a huge financial benefit from the system, have enormous clout," said Gary Roberts, dean of the Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis and a sports law expert. "I don't see anything coming from this."
BCS officials don't appear worried that Barton's bill will become law.
"We just can't imagine that the members of Congress will think it's their job to dictate how college football should be played," Hancock said.
The current college bowl system features a championship game between the two top teams in the BCS standings, based on two polls and six computer rankings. Eight other schools get the Orange, Sugar, Fiesta and Rose bowls.
Under the BCS, six conference champions get automatic bids -- the ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-10 and SEC -- while other conferences don't. Critics call that system unfair.
Although Alabama and Texas finished with undefeated seasons, so did several other teams that will not get a chance to play for the title game, including TCU, Cincinnati and Boise State. All three will get to play in a BCS bowl: Cincinnati is the Big East champ; TCU, champion of the Mountain West, gets a bid awarded to a non-automatic qualifying conference that meets certain criteria; and Boise State, winner of the Western Athletic Conference, gets an at-large bid.
"We're pleased that Congressman Barton's bill is moving forward because it will require the BCS to choose -- either make college football's championship a competitively earned honor or admit that it's currently the equivalent of being elected homecoming king," said Matthew Sanderson, a founder of Playoff PAC, a political action committee aimed at electing members of Congress who favor a playoff system.
At a May hearing, Barton warned college football officials that unless they took action toward a playoff system within two months, Congress would probably move on his bill. It took a little longer, but the timing of this week's vote isn't exactly a coincidence.
"Part of it is because BCS is in the news," Barton said. He said he hasn't lobbied subcommittee members much but doesn't think there is much resistance to the idea that there should be a playoff in college football.
But there is opposition to the bill. Subcommittee member Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., said he would prefer to see affected parties work out a playoff system themselves rather than have Congress do it.
There is no Senate version, although Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has pressed for a Justice Department antitrust investigation into the BCS.
Shortly after his election last year, Obama said there should be a playoff system.
"I'm going to throw my weight around a little bit," Obama said at the time. "I think it's the right thing to do."
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