GOP, Dems Agree: College Football Needs Reform

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Do Republicans and Democrats agree on anything these days? Well, sure. There was that resolution declaring May 21 National Endangered Species Day--no big partisan fight over that one. And where was the Washington gridlock for the resolution about how music education benefits all schoolchildren, not just those who aspire to someday compose sonatas in the Salzburg court?

It's even possible for Republicans and Democrats to agree on things people actually care about. Look at how politicians from both sides of the aisle have condemned the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), the complicated, arbitrary, possibly corrupt process by which college football chooses its national champion. President Obama pledged to "throw [his] weight around" in the hope of establishing a playoff system back in 2008. On the Republican side, Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Joe Barton have both held hearings on the subject.

In anticipation of tonight's national championship game between the Oregon Ducks and Robert Gibbs-backed Auburn Tigers, The New York Times details the latest political efforts to bring sanity--or least something resembling clarity--to bowl season. Behold Playoff PAC, a bipartisan political action committee set up by Washington insiders "to support candidates who favor a college football playoff. ensure flexibility to support candidates who favor a college football playoff." Times reporter Katie Thomas runs down the the group's high-powered leadership:

Four of Playoff PAC’s founding members, including [Republican campaign finance lawyer Matthew] Sanderson, are alumni of the University of Utah whose football team was undefeated in 2008 and, though it received a berth in a B.C.S. bowl, was shut out of the national championship game because it did not play in one of the six major conferences

But this is no ordinary group of adversaries who are donating their free time and political skills to keep bowl executives on their toes. Mr. Sanderson...and other members have recruited prominent Washington names to aid their cause. Marcus S. Owens, a former director of the I.R.S. division that oversees nonprofit groups, volunteered to advise on the I.R.S. complaint, as did Joseph M. Birkenstock, a former chief counsel for the Democratic National Committee. Others who have donated time or money include Danny Diaz, a former communications director for the Republican National Committee, and a former Federal Election Commission chairman, Scott E. Thomas, a Democrat.

The PAC's goal is the formation of "a playoff system in college football more akin to the NCAA basketball tournament." In the meantime, they've filed complaints with the IRS detailing "interest-free loans, high salaries, lobbying payments and lavish perks for some bowl executives," plus "accusations about illegal campaign contributions." The Times details the group's charges, which come on the heels of Utah attorney general's office opening an investigation into whether the BCS violates antitrust laws.

Most recently, Playoff PAC described to the I.R.S. an all-expenses-paid Caribbean cruise that the Orange Bowl hosted for 40 athletic directors and conference commissioners, and their spouses, although it appears no business meetings were scheduled during the trip.
In the case of the nonprofit organization that runs the Fiesta Bowl, which is hosting the national championship game, the I.R.S. complaint highlighted evidence of potentially illegal campaign contributions. The complaint also presented evidence that Fiesta Bowl officials had failed to disclose on federal tax returns that they had engaged in lobbying.

Fiesta Bowl officials have acknowledged that the Arizona attorney general’s office has begun an investigation and that the bowl’s board has named a special committee to look into the allegations related to the campaign contributions. The Arizona Republic reported in December 2009 that bowl employees were being reimbursed for donations to political candidates.

BCS officials say the charges are without merit. Fans of Utah, USC, Michigan State, Boise State, and pretty much every other school that's not Notre Dame or currently part of the Big East hope this is not the case.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.