GLENDALE, Ariz. – Not since the days just after his election as President of the United States have we heard anything from Barack Obama about pushing forward a playoff for college football. The reasons for the silence are obvious – Iraq, the economy, Afghanistan, the economy, health care, the economy, so on and the economy.
The last thing Obama is going to do right now is give his critics fodder by making it look like he's focused on something as relatively trivial as college football's postseason.
Yet there is a simple, symbolic and time efficient way for Obama to make a statement against the exclusion and confusion of the Bowl Championship Series. 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 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?
"We should be creating a playoff system," Obama said on 60 Minutes in November of 2008. "I don't know any serious fan of college football who has disagreed with me on this. So, I'm going to throw my weight around a little bit. I think it's the right thing to do."
Obama doesn't have to throw much of his weight around to do the right thing. Every president in recent years has played host to champions of every NCAA and professional sport. It's a conveyor belt of athletes and coaches featuring a tour of the White House and a brief photo op where the team inevitably gives the President a jersey with his name on it.
It's harmless fun. Adding one more team isn't going to change anything. Anyone claiming that this is a waste of the President's time needs to relax. We're talking about a couple minutes.
Obama doesn't have to make a claim that the Broncos are the rightful champion – that certainly wouldn't be fair to either Texas or Alabama, who did nothing wrong here. Those players and coaches deserve their moment in the Washington spotlight too. It's likely they'd understand since big schools are as wary of the BCS as Boise, TCU, Utah or any other team from the supposed unwashed masses.
Just last season Texas got jobbed by the BCS system when they had to watch Oklahoma, a team the Longhorns had beaten head-to-head and that finished with the same record, advance to the title game. Alabama fans only need to look across their state and remember that in 2004, just like Boise State, an undefeated Auburn team was denied a chance to play for the title because of the BCS.
The system is an equal opportunity disaster. It's not just fans of big schools or small schools. There's a reason a Sports Illustrated poll found 90 percent of college fans have a negative opinion of it – and when you're talking negatives, you're talking a language politicians in Washington understand.
The president could politely explain that he isn't trying to take anything away from the BCS winner; he just wants to give an equal amount of respect for Boise State. In one quick, harmless, non-partisan move, he'd throw a body blow to the credibility of the system he once passionately spoke out against.
Even the officials who run the BCS would likely claim they support this idea since, well, what else are they going to say to the President?
This idea was originally presented to me by a guy named Brian Gordon who follows my twitter feed. Soon others jumped in with jokes about how Boise State should just crash the ceremony because it's not like White House security would stop them. Considering coach Chris Petersen's ability at drawing up trick plays, we have no doubt he could slip even his big offensive linemen into the Oval Office.
Opposing the BCS is one of the last bi-partisan issues in Washington. Both Obama and his presidential opponent, Arizona Sen. John McCain, have spoken out about its inherent unfairness. Utah senator Orrin Hatch, who doesn't agree with Obama on a lot, wants to work with the President on this. In the House of Representatives, a conservative Texas Republican named Joe Barton, and a former Black Panther Democrat from Chicago, Bobby Rush, banded together to push anti-BCS legislation. Pundits ranging from George Will to James Carville agree the system is bunk.
About the only potential landmine is the idea that while the BCS is worthless, Washington politicians have better things to do with their time. This is fine in political theory if you don't understand the real issues surrounding the system.
College football is played mostly by public, taxpayer supported institutions. It currently employs a postseason that is designed to protect the competitive status quo even as it woefully underperforms financially. All so third-party businessmen operating bowl games under the cloak of not-for-profit (tax free) status get to make half-million dollar salaries. Adding a 16-team playoff, with the first three rounds played on campus sites, on top of the current bowl system would add hundreds of millions in additional revenue while allowing bowls to survive.
Since most years less than two dozen schools have athletic departments that are self-sufficient, they are being floated by funds from mostly public universities. In an era of tight tax revenue, college football pulling its own weight would decrease the public burden and allow student fees to be used on the academic side of things.
If you don't think sticking with the status quo is costing citizens in nearly every state, then you haven't thought the issue through.
Still, this kind of a public funding issue doesn't warrant a Presidential level of action. It's a Congressional subcommittee kind of item. So Obama is doing the smart thing in staying away from it. He shouldn't waste his time on it right now.
Inviting the Broncos, though, would take but a few minutes, tops. Boise State boosters could certainly raise private money to pay for the trip.
So go ahead and throw your weight around a little bit, Mr. President, by sending out two White House invites to the college champions this year. It's an easy campaign promise you can keep.
- Barack Obama
- Boise State
- college football