Congress should stay out of football

By Chris Dufresne
Updated: May 2, 2009

Bowl Championship LOS ANGELES — On Thursday in Washington, a subcommittee of the United States House of Representatives conducted hearings on the swine flu.

Friday, a subcommittee tackled the Bowl Championship Series.

Insert your own joke.

Let’s pray Congress knows more about pigs than pigskin, though, because its latest query into the controversial BCS system was predictably scary and comical.

Congressional credibility on college football took a hike from the opening gavel.

Gene Green, a Democrat representing Texas’ 29th District, insisted on asking questions seated next to a football helmet representing his alma mater — the University of Houston.

This prompted a response from Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), a graduate of Texas A&M.

“Mr. Chairman,” Barton quipped to hearing-leader Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), “that violates House rules, but I’m not going to object!”

Welcome to the House subcommittee on Guffaws and Good Old Boys.

The four college football representatives summoned to testify — two commissioners, an athletic director and a bowl rep — had to stand before the chamber and swear under oath to tell the truth.

Yet, the interrogating congressmen weren’t even bound to simple facts.

Rush introduced BCS coordinator John Swofford as the commissioner of the Athletic Coast Conference (it’s the Atlantic Coast Conference).

Rush also said commissioner Craig Thompson represented the West Mountain (actually, it’s Mountain West).

That, to us football followers, would be like calling one of our states “Dakota North.”

Is this how a subcommittee prepares for hearings on global warming?

Reason for this latest waste of taxpayer time: Barton has introduced a bill that would prohibit the BCS from calling itself a national title game unless there’s a playoff.

Since 1998, college football has used the BCS system of polls and computers to determine its title-game participants. The sport’s leaders have long resisted a playoff because they think it would devalue the regular season and disrupt the complex bowl system that allows more than 60 schools each season to celebrate in postseason games.

The majority of college presidents remain adamantly opposed to any kind of playoff.

Last year, the BCS signed a four-year, $500-million deal with ESPN that extends the current format through the 2013 season.

But that hasn’t stopped Congress from seizing on a political opening.

More controversy erupted last fall when undefeated Utah and Boise State didn’t finish ranked high enough to participate in the BCS title game. Oklahoma and Florida ended up Nos. 1 and 2.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has proposed BCS hearings later this year.

Let’s hope Hatch is more prepared than the House.

Barton likes to think he knows a lot about how college football works when, in fact, he knows just enough to be dangerous.

“You could have a playoff system with 64 teams, and use every bowl that’s currently in there,” Barton said Friday. “You could do that.”

No you couldn’t.

“We’d still be playing,” Alamo Bowl CEO Derrick Fox quipped.

Barton didn’t even know the BCS, four years ago, added a fifth bowl to increase two more access spots to the five conferences whose champions don’t get automatic bids to one of four BCS bowls: Rose, Fiesta, Sugar, Orange.

Barton didn’t know a modified playoff, the “Plus One,” was rejected last year by conference commissioners.

This is the same Barton who, in hearings held on the BCS in 2005, incredulously asked Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany why there were 11 teams in the Big Ten.

None of the congressmen Friday seemed to know all 11 major conferences are now officially affiliated with the BCS and can pull out of the system any time they want.

Friday, though, Barton looked down from upon high and issued a stern warning to Swofford.

“I think there is better than a 50% chance that if we don’t see any action in the next two months on a voluntary switch to a playoff system, you will see that bill move,” Barton said.

And that would mean . . . the BCS could still exist but not call itself the national championship.

And that would mean . . . what?

The BCS coaches’ trophy, presented by the American Football Coaches Assn., would still be handed out to the winner of No. 1 vs. No. 2. And the Associated Press, which has crowned an independent champion since 1936, would crown its own as well.

The question of whether there should be a playoff in college football certainly warrants a serious and intelligent discussion — and we’re still waiting for one out of Washington.

Everyone knows the BCS is kooky.

Barton, though, equated it to communism while other congressmen decried the fact the six power conferences didn’t share more revenue with the five weaker conferences.

“Are the big guys getting together and shutting out the little guys?” Rush asked.

Barton spoke for many when, at one point, he said, “I’m confused.”

The good news was Barton couldn’t stay for the entire proceedings.

“I have to run to the airport,” he announced.