Saturday, October 24, 2009

Hey, Congress: Stop Playing Games with College Football

It's a beautiful Saturday afternoon, and across this great nation of ours, cheers ring out across college campuses far and wide as fans enjoy the weekly ritual of college football. Some teams will win, while others will lose; a lucky two will make it all the way to a supposed national championship game under the aegis of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), which has certainly had its share of detractors over the years.

Among other things, there's a fairly loud chorus of voices calling for some sort of playoff game, since, inevitably, an undefeated team (or at least one with a better record than those listed as #1 or #2 at the end of the season) will be left out of the big dance. But some note that the college football season is too long as it is, while others want to keep the decades-long tradition of the bowl games from falling by the wayside (and the current bowl setup allows many teams to close the year on a winning note), and a playoff system that started after the bowls would extend the season into the spring semester. I've even weighed in on this myself as far back as late 2004.

But about a year after that, an unwelcome party entered into the debate: Congress. Even more strange was that fact that one of the loudest voices in Congress was right here in the area: Rep. Joe Barton of Ennis, who's usually very much against big government. But in this case, Barton was right there in the middle of it, even holding a Congressional hearing on it in late '05. As he said at the time,
"College football is not just an exhilarating sport, but a billion-dollar business as well that Congress cannot ignore. This committee is vested with the responsibility for overseeing sports."
But--as I asked then, as now--are they really? Is there nothing that's free from the oversight of an overreaching government?

That proposed legislation failed to come to pass back then, but fast-forward four years to now, and they're at it again, with Barton once again leading the call by announcing that he and a fellow legislator are backing a federal political action committee called Playoff PAC, whose mission appears to be to take down the BCS. The stated purpose of the group is this:
Playoff PAC is a federal political committee dedicated to establishing a competitive post-season championship for college football. The Bowl Championship Series is inherently flawed. It crowns champions arbitrarily and stifles inter-conference competition. Fans, players, schools, and corporate sponsors will be better served when the BCS is replaced with an accessible playoff system that recognizes and rewards on-the-field accomplishment. To that end, Playoff PAC helps elect pro-reform political candidates, mobilizes public support, and provides a centralized source of pro-reform news, thought, and scholarship.

The new group “helps elect pro-reform political candidates, mobilizes public support and provides a centralized source of pro-reform news, thought and scholarship,” according to a press release. “Change will only happen when there are more college football reformers in Congress,” the group said.
But again, the question remains this: Is it really Congress' business to get involved in this? Brian Davidson of the National Collegiate Scouting Association makes a good point at the above link when he asks, "Is it the responsibility of Congress to dictate to Universities how they decide sports championships? The schools do receive enormous amounts of federal money in addition to the state revenues that help fund their sports teams. However, if a playoff fails to generate the current amount of revenue won’t taxpayers be called upon to fill the gap?"

As I said last December, we need Congress "fixing" the BCS about as much as we need football coaches making laws (although they couldn't do any worse than the current Congress, but that's another post for another time). Really, it comes down to this: If our elected "leaders" feel like they have time to do this, then they must have solved all the other pressing problems of the nation already. What's that--they haven't? OK, get to work on real business, then, and let the schools and their supporters figure this one out.

But if they really do end up tackling (heh) this problem, we can find some solace in a quote by David Boaz, from a post earlier in the year at the blog Cato at Liberty:
The best thing that can be said for this is that it’s probably actually safer to have Congress screwing around with amateur sports championships than with matters of war, spending, and central planning.
Amen to that.

And if nothing gets done this time, does anyone doubt that we'll be talking about this in another four years?

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