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The BCS, Conservatism, and Government Intrusion


Cincinnati Celebrates their Big East Conference Victory (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)




Last week a United States House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee approved a bill aimed at reorganizing the Division I College Football National Championship.  The current system allows the regular season champions of 6 Bowl Championship Series (BCS) conferences and 4 at-large choices to compete in 5 BCS Bowls, the Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, and the BCS National Championship game.  The participants in the National Championship game are determined by a complex formula that uses rankings, strength of schedule, and losses to choose the 2 best teams in the country.  There are several perceived injustices of this system.  Firstly, no matter how well any team plays, ultimately only 2 teams will have the opportunity to compete for the national championship.  This season, Alabama and Texas will be playing in the BCS championship game; Texas Christian, Boise State, and Cincinnati each had undefeated seasons but will not have the opportunity to compete for the title. 


Secondly, the complex BCS ranking system is not used to award the 4 at-large BCS Bowl bids.  At-large bids are awarded based on many factors including a team’s national appeal.  How many viewers will watch and be exposed to the copious advertising is too large a factor in choosing at-large teams, giving larger schools a disproportionate advantage.


Additionally, teams in BCS conferences have a huge financial advantage over non-BCS conference schools. 


This bill mandates that no team be named “National Champions” unless their victory is the result of a playoff system.  As a practical matter, part of the fun of college football is the constant debate about rankings and why the AP Poll is more accurate than the Coaches’ Poll (usually only on weeks when it has my Ohio State Buckeyes ranked higher) or how the BCS rankings formula can be tweaked to improve its accuracy.  In college football every single game matters in a way that does not exist in any other sport.  A team who’s been riding high all year and is ranked in the top 5 could have its dreams crushed by one bad game.  There are virtues and drawbacks to this sort of system.  It’s not an ideal model.  But it’s the system that’s in place and it supports an incredibly rich (and profitable) tradition in college football.


One Congressman representing Ohio, Representative Zack Space (D-OH) has come out strongly against this bill.  Asserting that at a time when Americans are struggling to make ends meet, this bill sends the “wrong message,” making Congress look out of touch. 


Although the effect of his opposition is good, its motivation is wrong.  This is not about sending a bad message to the American public at an economically difficult time.  This argument is primarily a political one, meant for talking points and press releases.  Representative Bobby Rush (D-IL), a co-sponsor of this bill, said, “We (Congress) can walk and chew gum at the same time.”  He’s right.  Thousands of people work at the Capitol and each of them does not have to be consumed with health care or jobs at every moment of every day in order to ensure that these important issues are not being neglected.  That having been said, the United States Congress has no business being involved in regulating college football’s playoff system.  Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX), whose district borders Texas Christian University, is leading the charge for change at the BCS, accusing the NCAA and the BCS of acting like a “cartel” in ensuring profits for big schools.  First of all, institutions of higher education in this country should, as a rule, try to find profit wherever they can, relieving some burden on taxpayers while promoting collegiate athletics and scholarship.  Additionally, where does this regulation stop?  Within the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), a BCS conference, Florida State, North Carolina, and Duke are incredibly profitable from a sports perspective, while Wake Forest and Boston College have a harder time achieving the same kind of success.  What is the government going to do for them?  This is a slippery slope that the United States Congress should never even think to consider.  Just because college football is profitable does not mean that additional regulation of and intrusion into it is necessary.  They pay taxes just like anyone else.  Republican Congressman Barton’s “leadership” on this issue provides a classic example of the way in which conservatism has been hijacked by those who have spent too much time in power; there is no principle of responsible, restrained government that supports Congress picking national champions in college football.


This bill has a long way to go and will almost certainly not become law.  The BCS system is not perfect and they will, of their own accord, keep tweaking it.  However, this is not about politics.  It's about principle.  Representative Barton, a self-proclaimed conservative, needs to start acting like one.  He should stand for the ideals of an actually conservative government, no matter which team his districts supports on Saturdays.


  • Bill 5 years ago

    The government helped create the BCS to begin with. The Supreme Court ruled the NCAA could not control post season play. Roone Arlidge, the bowls and BCS conferences stepped in to put together their own national championship game. Nothing is keeping the other conferences from establishing their own championship. The BCS is being punished for being successful. Not the American way! Don't like the NF? Start the AFL.

  • thomas68 5 years ago

    Congress should think about what matters..What the colleges do is there business....If TCU or Boise State does not like the system solutions simple keep winning So you are legit.year in and year out not just a flash in the pan.

  • EP 5 years ago

    I completely agree. How is this even a topic for consideration? Do something about the mortgage crisis, compromise on health care reform and leave the business of college sports to the colleges.

  • Jeff 5 years ago

    Thank you. I have to laugh when I see these Boise State or Utah western conservatives turn into whiney liberals when their team doesn't play in the BCS title game (like its some sort of entitlement program).

    The BCS is evidence of the free market. The market determines fairness and the victor.

    We DON'T need a playoff system, there already is one on the FCS level. Bowls and the annual national argument over who is better makes FBS football unique and great.

  • Mary 5 years ago

    Zach Space is an angry racist mistake of nature. God will judge monsters like him...let's "deport" him in 2010! His anti-immigrant talks makes me sick!