March 26, 2009
A Senate antitrust panel plans to investigate the fairness of the Bowl Championship Series at the urging of Sen. Orrin Hatch, who argues the system is not only unfair to schools like the undefeated University of Utah, but "un-American.
Hatch, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary's antitrust subcommittee, also announced he plans to introduce legislation to correct the injustice the BCS pushes on universities and colleges across the nation.
As an ardent BCS critic, my first reaction to the senator's upcoming crusade against the Series is this: Do not trust anyone who describes anything as "un-American," and not only because of the shameful history of the term. What does "un-American" even mean, when applied to a uniquely American institution, conceived and executed (so to speak) by Americans and copied by no other organization in any country outside of America? It's a loaded phrase but a bankrupt idea.
Not that the BCS is fair, which I think is what the senator is shooting for, but assuming the means will inevitably effect the ends, the revolution is not supposed to go down this way. A blinkered entity in the hands of another blinkered entity does not equal utopia. Even if the anger is righteous, playoff by legislative fiat is not only untimely, given the rest of Congress' problems, but much less effective than an organic, internal evolution that the power brokers accept and that protects prevailing traditions to the greatest extent possible. No system will "level the playing field" for, say, Utah State. And if the dismantling of the BCS isn't accompanied by something recognizable as a playoff, that's inevitably a regression, probably to the old chaos. Which is not worth the grandstanding, much less hauling anyone before a committee.
But let's not look too far ahead, not when this remains enduring image of Congressional intervention in sports in the 21st Century:
The steroid hearings in baseball a couple years back produced a lot of ink, some tabloid-esque embarrassment and nothing of much substance, and people hate steroids even more than they do the BCS. It was a moralistic sideshow, and, unless you have an emotionally vested interest in Mark McGwire's chances of making the Hall of Fame, a waste of time.
All we can hope from Hatch's committee, if it ever gets anyone of substance in its sites, is that the BCS, maligned and wounded as it is, doesn't come out looking better than the politicians. The system will eventually evolve on its own. In cost or consequence, no good can come from the inquisition.