Congress has better things to do than mess with BCS

Congress has better things to do than mess with BCS

Published Jul. 9, 2009 11:42 p.m. ET

Arrogance? How arrogant is it for members of Congress to declare themselves the sports police, threatening to thrust the strong arm of big government into a free-market economic arrangement just because it dissed this senator's or that congressman's favorite team?

"It's just not right" that the BCS should exploit its position of power, Hatch complained on Tuesday, according to The Associated Press.

What isn't right is Hatch using the bully pulpit of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee to rah-rah for his home state's University of Utah, even if there is a case to be made that the Utes deserved a shot at last season's national championship bowl game after going undefeated in the regular season.

It's clear, Hatch said, that the BCS violates the nation's antitrust laws, the AP reported.


Why was it not just as clear to Hatch in 2006 when Boise State went undefeated but got shut out of the national championship game, only to pull off a dazzling stunner against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl?

Or could only the Utah snub have clarified the issue?

Goodness knows there's interstate commerce and huge money involved in football's post-season extravaganzas. But the cold truth wrapped in all this hot air is that Congress has far more important challenges than messing with the messiness that is the BCS.

Healthcare, anyone?

The beauty pageant devised by college presidents uses two polls and six computer rankings to designate two teams that play for the national football championship. Other top teams get to play in the most-lucrative, most-high-profile post-season bowl games. Six of the 11 major athletic conferences get automatic bids into the BCS bowl system.

Neither the Mountain West, in which Utah plays (along with Texas Christian University, by the way), nor the Western Athletic Conference, which includes Boise State, receives an automatic bid.

Those conferences, and devotees of their leading teams, grouse at the unfairness. And they might be right. But is it for Congress to fix? Especially when it's so much armchair quarterbacking?

A lawyer for the Mountain West Conference, at Tuesday's hearing, called the BCS system a "naked restraint" of trade.

A lawyer who's represented the big conferences said the arrangement is pro-competitive, not anti-competitive and doesn't harm consumers, whom antitrust laws are designed to protect.

Back in May, U.S. Rep. Joe Barton of Arlington said it's "like communism" because "you can't fix it."

That hasn't stopped him from introducing a bill and bullying that he'd get it moving if the system doesn't get fixed.

Never mind that congressional intervention could interfere with existing contracts, including a $125 million one that the BCS has with ESPN.

Calling for the Justice Department to investigate the BCS, as Hatch did, is a good way to get quoted. But wouldn't that qualify as wasteful or abusive?

Maybe you can't blame a politician for wanting a little ESPN face time to branch out from C-SPAN. But can we move on now?

At least Hatch wasn't sporting a handy-dandy chart festooned with Xs and Os. Now, that would have been grandstanding.