Rage Over College Football Sparks Political Action

Posted October 22, 2009 at 1:36pm

Every armchair analyst has an opinion about the legitimacy of college football’s Bowl Championship Series, and Members of Congress are no exception. With the launch of the bipartisan Playoff Political Action Committee earlier this month, the issue got even more exposure.

Football fans are skeptical of the computer system that has chosen two teams to play in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s championship every season since 1998. Some, like the founders of Playoff PAC, would prefer playoffs pitting the top eight teams against each other.

Matthew Sanderson, a campaign finance lawyer who is one of six co-founders of the PAC, said his group has two goals. The first involves typical PAC-related functions, including making contributions to like-minded candidates, commissioning polls and conducting issue studies. The second is becoming the go-to site for those fans who rally against the BCS, an alternative to the series’ official site.

“We’re going to be aggregating all that information sort of like a college football think tank,— he said.

Sanderson’s PAC hopes to bring momentum to an issue that has been plodding along in bills and Congressional hearings for years. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) has quarterbacked anti-BCS action in the House as ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and as, of course, a disgruntled Texas A&M alum.

“The entire BCS system is a farce,— Barton said in the news release announcing the creation of Playoff PAC. “It arbitrarily selects champions and reduces competition between conferences. College football’s post-season championship should be decided on the field, and that’s why a playoff system is needed.—

Harvey Perlman, chancellor of the University of Nebraska and chairman of the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee, has testified before Congress twice on BCS-related matters and disagrees with Barton.

“Football’s not a game that can easily define the best teams,— Perlman said in a phone interview last week. Playoffs “would not end controversy because the most you could conceivably do would be an eight-team playoff and somebody would complain about being the ninth team and being left out of the playoffs.—

In fact, nearly everyone involved seems to have a jilted team on his mind. For Barton, it’s the Aggies. For Sanderson, it’s the Utes — he’s a 2005 University of Utah graduate. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who interrogated BCS officials at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing earlier this year, is also a Utes fan and a Brigham Young University alumnus.

The only politician who has made a bold statement against the BCS but doesn’t appear to be making a play for his team is President Barack Obama. In an appearance on “Monday Night Football— shortly before last November’s election, Obama encouraged a playoff system for college football. He repeated his call in front of a less receptive crowd in April during a White House visit from the University of Florida Gators after the team won the BCS national championship.

Sanderson said Playoff PAC officials haven’t talked to Obama about his support yet, but they are pursuing other politicians, including some who aren’t yet active on the issue, such as former college football players Reps. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).

“We’re absolutely dedicated to picking up the ball and running with it,— he said.