Without a doubt, the headline of today's BCS hearings in the House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce committee is Rep. Joe Barton's closing assertion that his anti-BCS bill has "a better than 50-50 chance" of getting the support it needs to make it to the president's desk, where he's already been assured it will be signed. Before scurrying away to catch a plane, Barton warned BCS coordinator John Swofford the mandate could fall this year if no "voluntary movement toward a playoff" is initiated within the Series itself.
And it only took two hours to get there! Luckily for you, the busy reader, the Doc sat through the entire C-SPAN broadcast and offers the following stream-of-consciousness reactions to the great debate:
• Although a playoff proponent, personally, subcommittee chairman Bobby Rush "understand(s) and appreciate(s)" the history of the bowl system. But "college football is big business," and under the current BCS system, six of the 11 Division I-A conferences are guaranteed $18 million apiece, while the other five conferences only receive $9.5 million combined. Notre Dame automatically receives more than $1 million by itself. "How is this fair?"
Rush goes on: The big schools might claim to be better athletically, but last year, the Big East and ACC failed to produce a top-10 team, while both the WAC (Boise State) and Mountain West (Utah) had elite teams. The lopsided financial distribution in favor of the former clearly wasn't in accord with play on the field.
• Joe Barton's biggest regret? That "my team," Texas A&M, is never mentioned in connection with the BCS. ("Maybe with Coach Sherman, that will change." Oh, Joe. So sad.) Compares the BCS to Communism in that "you can't fix it." The whole system has to fall. Quotes Joe Paterno in favor of a playoff, as well as university presidents and President Obama. "It's very clear to me that the reason we don't have a playoff is a very green reason." (Uh, to clarify, he means money, not environmentalism. Playoffs are eco-friendly!) The committee has every right to regulate interstate commerce; the bill he introduced doesn't mandate a playoff, only prevents the BCS from deeming itself "the national championship," which is false advertising and therefore constitutes, legally, a violation of federal trade regulations.
• The wonderfully named gentleman from Texas, Rep. Gene Green, comes armed with a University of Houston helmet. (He doesn't put it on, unfortunately.) Hopes Houston will one day have a chance to earn a bid to a BCS bowl. (Oh, Gene. So sad.) Assures the public the committee has been working on real issues like carbon emissions.
• Rush: Critics of Congressional intervention are "dead-bang wrong." Witnesses are sworn in, including Craig Thompson, commissioner of the "West Mountain Conference."
• ACC commissioner John Swofford (also this year's rotating BCS commissioner) loved his Peach Bowl experience as a player at North Carolina, and wants players to have the same experience of staying in town for several days, participating in events, creating millions in economic revenue, etc. Most fans can't afford the time or money traveling to a multi-round playoff would require, and he can't think of any playoff played at pre-determined sites that may be hundreds or thousands of miles from participating teams. (Except, like ... the basketball tournament?)
According to Swofford, the BCS has three goals: 1. Create the opportunity for a national championship game. 2. Maintain the bowl structure and create quality matchups. 3. Maintain the regular season as the best and most meaningful in college sports. The BCS has achieved these goals: Every conference has a greater chance to reach the highest level bowl games than it did a decade ago while ratings and attendance figures soar. College football is by far the fastest-growing sport in popularity among 12-to-17-year-olds since the formation of the BCS.
And bring on the academic argument: The BCS keeps college football a one-semester sport and is "fully consistent" with the universities' wider mission of education. Submits a letter from conference commissioners and Notre Dame for the record.
• Thompson, whose playoff proposal will be shot down in due course, rehashes Rush's and Barton's statements that the financial distribution is fundamentally unfair. Teams from non-BCS conferences will never have a realistic chance to win a national championship: "Utah was not eliminated by another team, but by the BCS system." Stumps for his eight-team playoff plan, selected by a committee that would replace "confusing computer rankings," and for equal representation -- one conference, one vote -- on the BCS board.
• If anyone today is going to recreate Rafael Palmeiro's dramatic finger wag, it's definitely Derrick Fox, president and CEO of the Alamo Bowl, head of the Football Bowl Alliance and bearer of one solid, Palmeiro-worthy lip warmer. "We don't believe government should have any role in the demise of bowl games." The total economic impact of the Alamo Bowl alone was $73.7 million in 2007. "We don't put on a game, we put on an event. ... Create a playoff, and you'll create a one-day, in-and-out system." Playoff proponents don't understand the economic benefits of the bowl system, which has served college football pretty well for 100 years, as opposed to a format that's never been tested. (O rly? Every other team sport in America might like to address that statement.)
• Boise State athletic director Gene Bleymaier stumps for BSU's unparalleled success over the last decade; he cites 2004, when the unbeaten, No. 9 Broncos were passed over for No. 13 Michigan and No. 21 Pitt; 2006, when BSU upset Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl to finish 13-0; and last year, when three teams ranked lower than undefeated Boise were invited to the BCS instead. "How many years do we need to go undefeated before we get a chance?" Re-emphasizes the imbalance in revenue and in voting representation -- "65 schools get six votes, 51 schools get one vote, and one school gets one vote."
• In the question-and-answer session, Rush asks Swofford directly if Congress should intervene, based on its interest in tax dollars going into the universities; surprisingly, Swofford doesn't just say, "no." He welcomes Congressional input. Fox is more effective here, citing $250 million in bowl proceedings returning to "higher education." But even when pressed by Rush, he won't say "no, Congress shouldn't intervene," either.
Joe Barton, wonderfully, suggests the BCS change its name to the BES, for "Bowl Exhibition System," or just "Drop the 'C' and call it the B.S. system." Barton directly challenges Swofford to explain why half the teams in the country are effectively eliminated from contention from Day One; Swofford answers that the polls reflect what's happened on the field. Barton, citing Boise State, disagrees. (Although he admits it hurts his eyes to watch them on that blue field.) Swofford falls back on the "regular season is a playoff" cliché. Discussion devolves into technicalities about payouts and whether the BCS is a profitable entity (it is not).
• Greene, also wonderfully, matter-of-factly bashes Swofford's ACC as "not a power football conference in recent years." Still waiting for someone to ask, in response to Swofford's reply that "every game in the regular season is critically important," how "critical" Ole Miss' win over eventual BCS champion Florida turned out to be last year, or Kentucky and Arkansas' wins over eventual champ LSU in 2007. No one does.
• Bleymaier gets furtive nods all around for bashing the argument that a playoff affects the bowl system in any way whatsoever, even predicting more bowl games (my god, how?) and smacking the glut: "I don't think there's anything special about two 6-6 teams playing in a bowl game." Laments the impossibility of recruiting decent athletes to Boise because of the competitive imbalance.
• Thank goodness Barton has a plane to catch, or we'd be here all day parsing the possibilities of the plus one. Interesting note: The bowls' nonprofit status depends at least in some part on classifying the participating universities as charities, which should have produce a good laugh when goliath money-makers Ohio State and Texas met in last year's Fiesta Bowl. To Fox: Why wouldn't the Alamo Bowl benefit from being part of a playoff? Mainly, says Fox, because it wouldn't make the cut unless the playoff was too huge to contemplate.
• After Barton delivers his quasi-ultimatum, Rush closes by getting right to the point with the conference commissioners: Is the BCS championship a legitimate championship? Shockingly, Swofford says yes. Shockingly (for real), Thompson also says yes, but Rush, fishing for the answer he wants, gets him to elaborate: "There are better ways of selecting a champion."