Playoff legislation on House docket

Updated: December 9, 2009, 3:50 PM ET
By Lester Munson | ESPN.com

Federal legislation that could lead to a college football playoff tournament will move a step closer to reality on Wednesday in a hearing before a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection will consider a bill that would allow the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to prohibit any bowl game from calling itself a "national championship" unless the game is "the final game of a single elimination post-season playoff system." The subcommittee is expected to vote on the proposal on Wednesday after a line-by-line consideration of the bill.

"With everything going on in the country, I can't believe that Congress is wasting time and spending taxpayers' money on football," Bill Hancock, the BCS executive director, said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. "We feel strongly that managing of college sports is best left to the people in higher education."

Written and sponsored by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the bill is a direct attack on the BCS and, if enacted, would bring the long simmering controversy over the BCS to an end. In a legislative process that is long and can be tortuous, the hearing is a significant step. This is the furthest any bill on the BCS controversy has ever progressed on Capitol Hill.

At a hearing on the BCS issue in May, Barton demanded a playoff and warned BCS officials that if "they sit on their hands and yawn, this legislation could end up on the President's desk for his signature." This week's development, according to a spokesman for the committee, is Barton's response to the BCS's refusal to consider a playoff.

Wednesday's hearing is known as a "markup," a procedure that allows any committee member to propose amendments to the bill, followed by committee action on the amendments. The procedure is frequently used to iron out technical problems in the bill's language and to provide a forum for compromises among committee members on substantive issues.

Barton's bill is supported by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), the chairman of the subcommittee. If the subcommittee approves the bill, it will move to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, where Barton enjoys some leverage as the ranking Republican. The next steps would be a vote on the floor of the House, passage by the Senate, and approval by President Barack Obama. Obama has said in numerous interviews on ESPN and on "60 Minutes" that he supports a playoff system.

The bill would give the FTC the authority to regulate the college football postseason with the power to obtain injunctions and to assess huge fines against any organization that promotes a "national championship game."

If enacted into law, the rule would become effective for the 2011 college football season and would affect bowl games played late in 2011 and in January of 2012.

"We're pleased that Congressman Barton's bill is moving forward because it will require the BCS to choose -- either make college football's championship a competitively earned honor or admit that it's currently the equivalent of being elected homecoming king," said Matthew Sanderson, a founder of Playoff PAC, a political action committee aimed at electing members of Congress who favor a playoff system.

Lester Munson is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.