Saturday, December 03, 2005

BCS Bull

Yesterday Joe Barton, a Republican congressman from Texas and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce sub-committee, announced that he would hold hearings looking into the “deeply flawed” bowl championship series.

Right. It’s not like there’s a war going on or anything.

I’m on record as saying that I think the BCS was a mistake, not because a playoff would be better, but because I don’t really care about a national championship. All the BCS managed to do was increase the pressure for a playoff system, and a playoff would be terrible for college football. The bowl system is better then any playoff could be. Currently there are twenty seven bowl games in the post season. That means that fifty two teams get to play a post-season game on national television over the holidays, between the New Orleans Bowl on December 20th and the rose Bowl on January 3rd. Fifty two schools will get bowl money that help them support not only their football programs but all athletic programs at their schools. It is a well known fact that it is football money—much of it bowl money—that pays for wrestling, swimming, and volleyball throughout the country. Over five thousand student athletes (assuming approximately 100 players per squad) will travel to a bowl game. Not only that, but 27 schools will finish the year with a victory. That is much better for athletes and students, for school pride, for recruiting and for the financial well being of our institutions of higher learning then to have one team end the year with a victory and be able to claim the mantle of national champion. A playoff would—no matter what people say about matching it to the bowl system—fundamentally alter college football and college athletics. Let’s assume they add five bowls, expanding to thirty two, with sixty four teams getting into the tournament. That means you would need a six round playoff to determine the national championship. That’s adding six weeks to the football schedule. This year, if you began on the weekend of the 17th of December, you would finish on the 21st of January. Teams would end up playing right through finals (colleges on the semester system begin finals right around the seventeenth, colleges on the quarter system will have finals in January). Now all the games happen over the winter break. Student athletes and student fans are able to participate without sacrificing their schooling. Mind you, this is not, to my mind, the best argument against a playoff. The best argument against a playoff is that having an undisputed national champion is football really doesn’t mean anything. Who really cares? I’ve been a college football fan my whole life, and I don’t care. Hell, I think it’s better for football to have the controversy. It builds buzz around the game. The more I think about it the more I come to believe that the only group of people that would benefit from a playoff would be ABC and ESPN, as they would broadcast most of the games (they already have the BCS and all but two of the bowl games right now—FOX has the Cotton Bowl and NBC Gator Bowl, the two biggest non-BCS bowl games). Why, I ask you, should we harm student in order so that the Walt Disney Corporation, the parent company of ABC and ESPN, can increase their profits?

But this is about more then the bowl series. This is about spin doctoring at its best. Why on earth would congress want to regulate college football? Ok: it can be considered interstate commerce in a weird sort of way, but only if you look at colleges as businesses and not as institutions of learning (I do not believe any of the colleges that play NCAA division 1-A football are for-profit corporations). Why is congress meddling in the BCS? The reason is simple. Like steroids, the BCS is a nice, juicy target that will earn a lot of press for the chairman while distracting people from the real problems in the world. As long as BCS and Steroid hearings are getting all the attention from the liberal press, then congressional scandals, senatorial scandals, Whitehouse scandals, the president’s low approval ratings, oil prices, and God forbid the war, will not be the focus of the evening news. It makes Congress look like they are tough on evil doers, so long as those evil doers are people who play games that we all watch but which really don’t matter. There is nothing substantive about going after either athletes or the BCS. It has nothing to do with the duties of congress, especially in times like this. It is all about playing for the cameras. That’s it. It is cynical and disgusting. Congress has more important things to do. So Congressman Barton, stop wasting our time.


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