Why Is Congress Meddling With College Football?

A House bill has pundits questioning the priorities of the legislative branch

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This is a holiday season not only for Christians and Jews, but also for college football fans. As happens every year, this past Sunday marked the drawing of the teams to play in the Bowl Championship Series, or BCS--essentially the NCAA's method of determining which college has the best football team in the country. On Wednesday night, however, a House subcommittee voted on legislation to prohibit the BCS from calling any game a "national championship" unless it was decided by a playoff system. This would be the end of the BCS, which decides on the top two teams in the country by rank, record and a complicated system of votes instead of an elimination tournament. Given the amount of money that bowl games bring to schools who get a berth, the issue has high stakes for those involved. But the big question everyone's asking is: why the heck is Congress involved?

  • Running Down the Clock, says the Bob Franken at the Huffington Post. "If they can find enough meaningless work to do, maybe the session will expire before they have to risk antagonizing their voters with their decisions on the volatile issues they face...like the aforementioned health care and the wars and the economy."
  • Home Field Advantage? The Atlantic's own Derek Thompson points out one reason why the bill is in Congress: its sponsor. He says, "It's fitting that the bill's sponsor, Joe Barton, hails from Texas. The University of Texas, Austin, was bumped from the title game last year by Oklahoma, despite having the same record and a win over OU."
  • Could Be an Upset, says Yahoo's Matt Hinton. Remarking that the current system is bad, Hinton says a congressional overhaul could do some good. "The bill has a long road to hoe -- BCS-hating Sen. Orrin Hatch would have to rally his colleagues around a bill that doesn't yet exist to get it through the upper chamber -- but if it reaches Obama's desk, the president has vowed to sign the thing and put the BCS out of its misery. I don't need to know the specifics of the sausage-making it will take to get there to know that would smell pretty great, with or without a bracket in its place."
  • Equal Playing Time, says the Washington Post's Michael Wilbon. "An amendment would also ensure that in a playoff system, all schools -- regardless of conference affiliation -- would have an equal shot at participating. What's worse than the House taking time to consider forcing a college football playoff is the necessity to do so in the first place."
  • Money Play, says Ray Ratto from CBS Sports. While opining that the bill will never pass, namely because "Congress ranks right above meth dealers for trustworthiness," Ratto says it could spark a much needed debate about the monetary benefit of BCS teams. "There has never truly been an honest debate about the BCS...The bowl system is an extraordinarily tangled knot of exchanged cash, and if debate about the bill will force the BCS people to untangle that knot so we can all see how the system actually works, we can get a handle on why it is so stridently defended by those who constructed it. We can find out where the assumptions of the pro-playoff people work or don't, and we can come to the "Aha!" moment when it all comes clear to everyone."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.