Will government intervene in BCS mess?
Now we're getting somewhere.
For nearly two decades, railing against the Bowl Championship Series was like tilting at windmills. The guys who hijacked college football's postseason in 1992 and kept it through several name changes -- Bowl Coalition, Bowl Alliance -- had no reason to budge. They had TV contracts, sponsors aplenty, college presidents, conference commissioners and chambers of commerce in a handful of cities in their pockets. They even had a quasi-secret formula to justify their decisions, backed by computers powerful enough to run NORAD.
All we had was public opinion.
"It's like communism," Texas congressman Joe Barton said about BCS not long ago. "It can't be fixed."
Just about everyone, though, from President Barack Obama to the 90 percent of fans who cast votes against the BCS in a recent Sports Illustrated poll, knows what's required to fix it: a playoff. What they haven't figured out is the best way to get one.
Thanks to Boise State's habit of crashing the BCS party, they're going to get several more chances. Broncos coach Chris Petersen hasn't lobbied to be No. 1, but there's no shortage of people willing to take up the cause.
Government intervention may seem a bit heavy-handed, but Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah has been raising the specter of antitrust violations ever since his beloved and at-the-time unbeaten Utes were denied the chance to play for the BCS championship last year. And Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has been moving ahead with a possible lawsuit on the same grounds.
Barton, meanwhile, who took up the cause after his Longhorns were hosed, just steered a bill through his House subcommittee that would require the BCS to conduct a playoff, or else drop the word "championship" from its title to avoid violating truth-in-advertising statutes governing interstate commerce.
Barton's bill likely won't be voted out of committee anytime soon. And while Hatch has dragged BCS officials before Congress and asked the Justice Department to investigate possible antitrust violations, the real value of both efforts may be to make BCS officials feel squeezed.
Besides, Yahoo! Sports columnist Dan Wetzel, passing along an idea from a reader of his Twitter feed, came up with a way for the government to intervene at little cost and even less fuss.
"When it comes time to invite the winner of Thursday's BCS championship game either Alabama or Texas for the traditional trip to the White House, he," Wetzel wrote, referring to the president, "can ask for the 14-0 Boise State Broncos to come also.
"In one five-minute Rose Garden ceremony Obama can say what so many college fans scream, that the BCS is not a legitimate way to crown a college football champion. One of the BCS's chief arguments is that it makes every week of the season a playoff. Well, if so, which week was Boise State eliminated?"
The logic is flawless. It also happens to provide the punchline for some 30-second ads that a new political action committee -- Playoff PAC -- plans to run ahead of Thursday's BCS game in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Salt Lake City and Boise, Idaho, markets.
Along with highlights of TCU and Boise State playing, it features BCS executive director Bill Hancock explaining what he would tell an undefeated team doesn't get a chance to play for the national championship.
"You guys had a great season," Hancock says, adding, "not everybody can play" for a title.
"They can," the commercial ends, "it's called a playoff."
Hancock responded to the ads by saying, "Negative campaigning has permeated politics and I sure would hate to see it permeate college football. We're going to stay respectful."
But he better stay on his toes as well. Matt Sanderson, a Utah graduate and former campaign-finance attorney for GOP presidential contender John McCain, founded Playoff PAC with a half-dozen similarly politically savvy friends.
"We wanted to give a home to the tremendous grass-roots energy that's formed around the BCS and channel it toward a proven method to get results -- in this case, political pressure," Sanderson said.
"Look, the most damning thing about the BCS is the way they distribute revenue. The schools in the six conferences the BCS made automatic qualifiers got $430 million more in bowl money than the five (conferences) that are non-automatic qualifiers.
"That's not just unfair, it's something that has real consequences. ... And even schools in the big conferences aren't too happy about the way the championship slots and opportunities are doled out by the BCS on what often seems like a whim."
He won't get an argument there.
"We were sitting in the same position last year," Texas coach Mack Brown said Tuesday from Los Angeles, where he was asked about Boise State's predicament.
"We were 0.128 out of the national championship picture (according to the BCS rankings), we beat a really good Ohio State team (in the Fiesta Bowl) and we said the same thing and nobody cared."
They did. Most of them just didn't know how to do anything about it.
That might not be a problem much longer.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press
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