Thursday, December 10, 2009

The BCS Bowl System: Like It or Hate It -- Look What Congress is Getting its Fat Nose into Now!!!

As sure as the college football regular season comes to a close and it’s closing in on just two weeks left of Christmas shopping comes the annual fury about the bowl system and how the national champion is chosen.

This is nothing new. In the past, debates flourished. Was it the Orange Bowl or the Rose Bowl that truly established a national champ? Since the BCS was initiated in 1998 growing out of the Bowl Alliance and Bowl Coalition which started earlier in the decade, rather than legitimizing the selection of a true champion by having a precisely defined system to rank teams providing for a face off between #1 and #2, the debate appears to have gotten louder.

The current system selects the top teams from the five elite national conferences: the ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 10, and SEC. Additional slots are awarded to “at large” teams that may include teams outside the five major conferences.

The BCS uses an elaborate system of carefully defined metrics, polling results, and all kinds of data stuffed into computers to determine their rankings. Are they any better than the AP Writers’ Poll or USA Today’s Coaches poll is hard to determine?

In establishing a rotating location for the grand finale at the site of the great traditional bowls, those famous bowls once held on New Years Day have lost some of their prestige, and that the bowls are spread out for maximum TV exposure, sure reduces the quality of what games are played on New Years Day. The major bowls, removing the corporate naming conventions are: The Orange Bowl, Miami Florida; the Sugar Bowl, New Orleans, Louisiana; the Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California; and the Fiesta Bowl, Glendale, Arizona. While they are all subject to the BCS process, the Rose Bowl, for instance, will typically feature teams from the Pac 10 facing the Big 10.

Aside from teams and conferences feeling they’ve been slighted if they don’t achieve what they would consider proper consideration from the system, for decades the major bowls have provided great football and the debates on which teams are truly reflective of the legit contenders and who the number one team is perhaps adds to the interest. Sports fans never shy from a good debate.

The current method of determining the National Champion is far from scientific or objective despite all the efforts made to develop a sophistication selection process. Many are proponents of a playoff system. Some of them are politicians. One is the President of the United States who has stated on numerous occasions including an interview on ESPN, he would like to see a playoff system instituted. There’s nothing wrong with politicians having their preference one way or another. Likewise, though many of us would love not to hear their posturing and bloviating, they have every right to express their stance on the issue knowing full well they have a unique position for their views to become well known.

What is totally unacceptable is Congress thinking that how college athletics and the NCAA determine the national champion is their official business. Only if there were some substantial scandalous institutional corruption where public money is involved could they get their foot in the door to act. Even if the system is unfair, it’s not their business if the conduct is legal. Organizations in a free society must have the freedom to determine their own rules and policies.

How bad is it?

While congressmen and senators have been banging their chests on this issue for a long time, now it’s getting way too serious. The House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection approved legislation to allow the Federal Trade Commission to prevent any bowl from identifying itself as a “national championship” unless the game is the final game of a single elimination playoff system.

The bill was written and is sponsored by Rep. Joe Barton (R – Texas). Radical rep, Bobby Rush (D – Illinois) is a key supporter. The next step would be a full house vote, senate action, and then how would the President respond when he is already on record wanting that playoff system.

If enacted, the FTC would be empowered to assess costly fines against any organization promoting a “national championship game.” The law is designed to take effect and cover the 2011 season.

Thankfully, this insane legislation is not without strong opposition including senators Orrin Hatch and John Cornyn.

That a measure like this would even be debated reflects badly on the state of today’s congress which in this case is truly bipartisan madness. Most obviously, this represents a blatant attempt for congress to once again stick its nose where it does not belong regardless of what bogus reasons they use to justify. There is no fraud or sinister purpose in the current bowl system. It’s truly a disagreement on what method should be used to determine a championship. The member schools and their representative organizations have decided one way. Many others have a different idea.

Given that many of the top BCS programs are from major state universities and states have a huge investment in the BCS bowl system, one would think state legislatures would go on record on this issue if they thought their schools were slighted by an unfair system.

As long as the bowls enjoy huge attendance, rake in substantial sponsorship and advertising dollars, and gather strong television ratings, where is there any motivation to change?

If fans were outraged by the BCS system and found the games illegitimate, they’d stop watching. When the economy is sputtering, unemployment massive, and many important issues being left unresolved, it is insulting that members of congress would waste public time to intervene on an issue that is governed by the appropriate interscholastic authorities against which no charges of corruption or malfeasance have been indicated.

To drive this point home, consider that Congress is currently attempting to pass legislation that would have the government seize control of all aspects of modern medicine aside from the sacred cows exempted for the sake of their special interest status largely due to their financial contributions to the benefit of our elected leaders. The public is well aware than many elected officials have not found it necessary to read this legislation which impacts well over a trillion dollars in the near future just as they did not read measures rushed through spending billions of dollars that were supposed to provide an economic stimulus to a faltering economy funding hundreds of entitlements and federal mandates rewarding more special interests supportive of such congressional action. The cost of the so-called stimulus was at the cost of fattening up a Federal deficit now in the trillions of dollars.

When trillions of dollars are at stake and some elected officials have gone so far as to ridicule the notion that they would study and read health care and stimulus legislation, how on earth can they justify spending the people’s time designed to establish a playoff system to determine a national football champion?

While sports fans can and should debate such a change to the college football landscape that what should be a conversation for the guys over a beer or two, that our elected leaders would consider the topic as official business shows their incapability to responsibly set their priorities and behave responsibly. Take all these measures collectively, the public sees an institution drunk on power and its sense of importance clearly out of touch with reality failing miserably to execute the public trust bestowed upon them.

Big government is so pervasive now it is messing with how sports conduct themselves. What next?

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