Congress and the BCS: The four-year waiting game

The Senate subcommittee with antitrust oversight, led by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), held its hearing on the Bowl Championship Series last Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

The room was packed but the highlights were few. Well, there was one highlight. Hatch is asking the Justice Department to investigate the BCS for violations of antitrust laws.

The entire hearing focused on old ground. Words like "conspiracy" were thrown around.

The BCS system is flawed. That is clear. The BCS can be unfair to schools -- like Utah -- that are not part of the six power conferences (ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-10, SEC). We saw that last season. A playoff would be the best way to settle things.

So, now what? Well, nothing for now. We'll have to wait another four years, when the current BCS agreement ends in 2013.

For now, this is simply the start of a long fight that will move into the later rounds, when the BCS will eventually be forced to evolve into a better system (playoff?) for picking a national champion.

It's no surprise that Hatch is taking the lead here. Remember, it was unbeaten Utah -- not one-loss Florida or one-loss Oklahoma -- that was left out of the national championship game last season. And then the Utes go and pound Alabama, which had been No. 1 for a good portion of last season, in the Sugar Bowl to complicate matters, and strengthening the case for changes to the BCS.

During last week's hearing, Rep. Joe Barton of Texas threatened that if a playoff wasn't set up Congress would move to pass his bill banning the BCS from calling its title game a national championship unless its outcome is decided within a playoff system. So if Texas goes and wins the national title in 2009, will Barton not celebrate the Longhorns as champions?

Barton has a stake in this as well. Texas beat Oklahoma last season, but the Sooners went to the national title game despite both teams having identical records.

Actually, Barton should be taking a hard look at the Big 12 before he slams the BCS. In fact, the Big 12, together with the BCS system, sent Oklahoma to the national title game. The first tie-breaker in the Big 12 is BCS ranking, not head-to-head matchup.

Outside of Hatch and Barton, no other senator really cared about the hearing. In fact, most stayed away.

The Mountain West Conference, which has Utah as a member, agreed to sign the BCS agreement last week. The MVC said in its statement that it had no choice, but will continue to fight for an equal system in college football.

By the time the current agreement ends, ESPN will have the television rights for all of the BCS games, including the national title game. And don't underestimate the power ESPN could have in changing things.

The American Football Coaches Association is experimenting with various scenarios for its poll, including no preseason poll, and perhaps a top 15 or top 10 each week, rather than the usual top 25. That would clearly impact how the BCS formula is calculated.

My guess is that college football will work out its own problems. It's just going to take some time.

Comments (2)

Why can't there be an equal playoff system in college football? Boise State has already proven they can play and even beat the BCS like they embarassed Oklahoma in that memorable marriage proposal game. This was also the same year Boise State finished with an undefeated season and was cheated out of the #1 spot and the National Championship.

Also little Northern Illinois has beaten the big bad ACC ie Maryland a few years back and it was a shut out too, I beleive 22-0.

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