Congress won't legislate after BCS hearings

Updated: December 7, 2005, 6:44 PM ET
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- A playoff system could be used in major college football and the so-called "plus-one" model for determining a national champion should be reconsidered, the head of the Bowl Championship Series told Congress on Wednesday.

When House Subcommittee on Commerce Trade and Consumer Protection Chairman Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., pointed out that lower divisions have playoffs for football, BCS coordinator Kevin Weiberg said: "It certainly, congressman, is possible to have a playoff at the Division I-A level, as well. We have chosen not to go down that path."

Between jokes about needing tickets for bowl games and remarks about more important matters they could be addressing, lawmakers on the subcommittee -- which examined steroids in professional sports earlier this year -- made clear they are not interested in pursuing legislation.

But they did want to know why Division I-A football is the only college sport without a playoff system.

"Why can't it do it? Why can't it do it?" asked Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas. "We're not going to introduce a playoff bill after this hearing. But I hope this hearing causes discussion. I would like to see the NCAA and the major conferences and the BCS come together on their own to develop a playoff system."

Wyoming Rep. Barbara Cubin, who sits on the subcommittee, told witnesses that the current system discriminates against teams in the Mountain West. The University of Utah Utes, for example, were undefeated last year but were outside the top two spots.

"If you're from the Mountain West you're not going to have the chance to play for the national championship," Cubin said. "If you had a playoff it seems to me that might reflect the ability of the players a little bit more."

There are 28 bowls, and four are in the BCS: the Rose, Orange, Fiesta and Sugar. Those take turns hosting a championship game between the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the BCS standings, based on two human polls and computer ratings.

The "plus-one" concept, where the fifth game of the BCS format would be a championship game with two teams advancing from the first four bowl games, was considered in 2004.

Weiberg, the commissioner of the Big 12 and one of six witnesses Wednesday, testified that the "'plus-one' model is one that deserves review. It is not one, as of yet, that has had full opportunity for review."

He said he's open to changing the current setup but noted that school presidents would have to approve playing extra postseason games -- something they have shown no inclination to do.

Weiberg is in his final season as BCS coordinator. Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive starts a two-year tenure in 2006.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, Rose Bowl management committee chairman William Johnstone and other witnesses offered several arguments against playoffs: They would abandon tradition, diminish the importance of the regular season, lower the economic impact of some bowls, and create academic conflicts.

"The bowls are not perfect, and the Bowl Championship Series is not perfect," Football Bowl Association chairman and Alamo Bowl CEO Derrick Fox said. "But a playoff system is dangerous."

Barton questioned the concern about academics, citing a recent report that said 41 percent of this year's bowl-bound college football teams fall below the NCAA's new academic benchmark.

"Let's [not] use [academics] as an excuse not to have a playoff system -- and then ignore it," Barton said.

He also wondered aloud whether money is the biggest reason there isn't a playoff.

"Doesn't it really boil down to that the major bowls ... don't want a playoff system because you think it's going to impinge on the money that the big bowls make?" Barton said.

Delany responded that "an NFL-style football playoff would provide three to four times as many dollars to the Big Ten as the current system does. There is no doubt in my mind that we are leaving hundreds of millions of dollars on the table."

The BCS was created in 1998 by the six most powerful conferences. Since then, the system has been tweaked to make it easier for teams from smaller conferences to qualify for the top games.

Cubin said Wyoming's victory over UCLA in last year's Las Vegas Bowl shows that the system should be changed.

"Wyoming went to the Las Vegas Bowl and played UCLA, and UCLA was furious they had to play Wyoming -- and then we whupped 'em," said Cubin. "People's opinions don't necessarily reflect what the results will be."


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press