Congress: Leave college football alone


I just want you to know how much better I slept last night.

Yes, the economy is the worst since the Great Depression.

Yes, people are losing their jobs right and left.

Yes, our 401-Ks are now 201-Ks.

But I slept better last night knowing that Congress is again going to look into the BCS.

Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a man I greatly respect, obviously doesn’t have enough to do. His constituents in Utah are upset that the Utes, at 12-0, didn’t get into the BCS championship game ahead of Florida or Oklahoma. So Senator Hatch does what a good politician does when his constituents are mad—he pushes for Congressional hearings.

So we are going to get another dog and pony show where some members of Congress, who don’t know if a football is inflated or stuffed, ask questions and fawn for the cameras back home. They will blame everything from global warming to the fall of the dollar on the BCS. They will claim that the BCS violates antitrust law and is a classic cartel.

Before that happens please allow your humble servant to inject some reality on the subject.

No. 1, if you want to have a college football playoff that is a discussion worth having. I personally believe that we will have a “Plus-One,” which is the politically correct name for a four-team playoff, after the 2013 season when the contract between the BCS and ESPN comes to an end. In fact, I favor the four-team playoff and hope it happens sooner rather than later.

But that’s not what’s going on here. Regardless of how you feel about the BCS, it should concern you that you will have members of Congress trying to score cheap political points on the back of college football. They are making arguments that are patently untrue. Specifically:

Utah was NOT denied a spot in the national championship game. There are 113 voters in the Harris Interactive Poll, 61 voters in the coaches poll, and six computer polls whose job it is to determine who plays in the national championship game. Those 174 people looked at Utah’s body of work (12-0) and determined that Florida (12-1), the SEC champ, and Oklahoma (12-1), the Big 12 champ were simply better. In fact, they had Utah at No. 7 in the human polls. The six computers looked at the data and had Utah with an average of No. 5. The overall BCS Standings had Utah at No. 6.

So is the argument that the “fair” thing would have been to say that all of those people and polls were stupid and to put Utah in the game ahead Florida, Texas, Alabama, or Southern California? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?

The five Coalition (non-BCS) conferences have more access to the system than ever before. In three of the past four seasons a Coalition team has EARNED spot in a BCS game. All a coalition team has to do to get in is finish in the Top 12. Now you can make the argument that Boise State (12-0) should have also gotten in because it finished No. 9. And in the future maybe the Coalition conferences deserve two in the field if they have two teams in the Top 10 or Top 12. That is a point that can be negotiated.

But understand that at its inception, the BCS was a private contract between ABC and the six original BCS conferences (ACC, SEC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10). If ABC had not guaranteed a spot for each of the six champions, the deal does not get done. Now maybe the government can come in and break that private contract by popular demand. But is that the right thing to do?

And finally, the BCS doesn’t violate antitrust law and the folks who will investigate the BCS already know that. If you’ve ever cracked a law book you know that.

Tom Rhodes of the Atlanta firm of Smith, Gambrell & Russell is one of the best antitrust lawyers in the country. He could barely contain his amusement when I asked him a while back if the BCS violates antitrust law.

“If this was illegal somebody would have already sued them a long time ago,” Rhodes said. “Tulane thought about suing in 2002 but they got their lawyers all cranked up and didn’t file.”

Remember when Tulane president Scott Cowen, in all of his righteous indignation, talked about hauling the BCS into court? Why didn’t Tulane sue the BCS? First of all the BCS conferences decided that, even though they would likely prevail in court, the fight wasn’t worth it. The BCS expanded access for the Coalition conferences by adding a fifth game. In retrospect, it was a bad business decision but kept peace in the Division I-A family for a while.

But the main reason, gentle readers, Tulane and the other schools didn’t sue and haven’t sued is that the law isn’t on their side. Maybe emotion is on their side. Maybe even popular opinion is on their side. But the law is not. I haven’t read all the headlines this morning, but last time I checked we were a nation of laws, not popular opinion.

“It’s a loser,” Rhodes said of the antitrust charge against the BCS. “When you claim antitrust, you’re claiming there has been a restraint on the amount of product that is on the market.

“The fact is that the BCS actually created a product that did not exist before. Therefore trade was actually expanded, not restrained.”

Rhodes’ comments beg another question:  Don’t you think the lawyers who work for the BCS conferences  kind of checked this thing out ahead of time? Don’t you think that they made sure there were no antitrust issues before they put it together? Don’t you think they are (at least) as smart as the lawyers who work for Congress?

Again, if you want to have a playoff, then let’s have that argument because there is a good debate to be had. And if the presidents and CEOs in Division I-A decide that a playoff is in the best interest of their respective institutions, it is completely within their power to make it happen.

But do you want Congress, which hasn’t done much of anything right lately, TELLING college football how it can and cannot play?

There will eventually be a playoff, folks. But this is not the way to get there.




84 comments Add your comment

cluett peabody

March 26th, 2009
12:36 pm

I am starting to look forward to “m”.

Thank God and Greyhound.

cluett peabody

March 26th, 2009
12:37 pm

Minnesota Jacket – are you out there?


March 26th, 2009
12:39 pm

It’s not the government’s job ensure fairness, contrary to common and ignorant belief. Maybe if Utah joined a conference this could all be avoided in the future.


March 26th, 2009
12:40 pm

I have to agree with mike and alphar comments. Congress could not make it a bigger mess than the way it is now. A plus one format would solve nothing just add more controversy. Nothing less than than a 16 team playoff. Play 10 regular season games instead of 14. Quit playing the la. monroes and western kentucky and play 10 quality teams. Maybe even all conference games. Get rid of conference championship games. Declare a champion by records and head to head competetion knowing there may be co-champions some years. Tony quit sucking up to college administrators! The system sucks, quit bemoaning other people for tring to change it.


March 26th, 2009
12:51 pm

You dawgs are like war eagles only without wings, talons, a beak, feathers or testicles.


March 26th, 2009
1:04 pm

Bulldogs have testicles. That’s how we got to Uga VII.

[...] college football alone declares Tony Barnhart in his blog at Amen Mr. College Football. Amen. College football is a great game, and [...]

Atlanta Gator

March 26th, 2009
1:16 pm

The short version: I agree with Tony.

The explanation: the U.S. Congress has some serious economic issues that need to be addressed, and hearing regarding a Division I playoff are nothing more than a side show. They can have their hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives and/or the Senate AFTER they have passed a budget for 2010 (on time, for a change), and passed legislation that addresses our financial markets crisis. After that, we can afford a political side show, but not before.


March 26th, 2009
1:36 pm

Tony works in BCS area with BCS goggle eyed fans, what kind of article do you think he’ll write? He preaches to his very large choir. Unless you are part of the cartel you’re school will never have a chance to grow/have access like Miami, South Florida (no history or winning tradition but will go to national championship game if had one loss or undefeated) and Florida State programs have been able to do.


March 26th, 2009
1:36 pm

Honestly, I would rather them spend time reading books and playing raquetball rather than try and “fix” the economy anymore. The bowl system made college football so profitable…what’s that got to do with fairness?

“I haven’t read all the headlines this morning, but last time I checked we were a nation of laws, not popular opinion.”

Tony, please go back and read about the tax of AIG bonus law. Bill of Attainder based on popular opinion and not the judicical system.

I could also point out the steroid investigation and other grandstanding. It’s more about show than go.


March 26th, 2009
2:00 pm

Tony, they won’t blame global warming and all the problems on the BCS, they blame it all on George Bush. Therfore, the BSC is W’s fault also.


March 26th, 2009
2:18 pm


You are saying that Auburn’s FEMALE eagle has testicles…sounds like some Alabama stuff to me! That eagle is inbred from hell


March 26th, 2009
2:34 pm


Isn’t everything W’s fault?


March 26th, 2009
2:48 pm

The funny thing was watching Utah stomp the sec west champion. Apparently, you toothless sec fans didn’t realize it was going to happen. Sec…the most overrated conference in the world got exposed. It was almost as funny as watching Tech whip them hushpuppies in Athens.

Too Easy

March 26th, 2009
2:54 pm

Or LSU whipping them bees in their near-home stadium. ‘m’ stands for ‘moron’, but even you should know that 3 points ain’t the whipping that 35 is (or 51-7 suffered by your boy Gailey).

SEC Rules

March 26th, 2009
4:13 pm

@M – tell you waht, you get the might utes to come play in the SEC every week and then come back and talk to us with that lame agrument. The MWC and others usually has one senior laden teams that tries to run the table in conference against a bunch of weak opponents. They could not survive with the big boys.


March 26th, 2009
5:08 pm

It fairly mirrors CFB though really. Small groups of very connected people have the bulk of the power and it’s predominantely political. Orrin Hatch…. just pandering to the constituancy.

I personally don’t know how these worthless jerks sleep at night calling what they do a “public service” but hey… maybe one day I’ll get to vote on my own compensation too.


March 26th, 2009
5:49 pm

if congress enacts anti-bcs legislation it will be the best thing that ever happened to college football. maybe for once the voters can put some pressure on our congressmen to actually enact the will of the people. if we could get nike or coke or budweiser to make some strategic donations i think we could have this licked.

i have had enough of the elite minority telling the rest of us how we can live. college presidents and espn have far too much power over the game. college presidents and espn should have the same role in college football that they have in college basketball….observers and reporters – not people who vote for national championships.


March 26th, 2009
5:50 pm

Aw, come on guys! Look at the job they did with the bailouts! Any group that could mastermind such a plan could certainly name a football champion. I think congress should be involved in college football, it would give them less time to screw up anything important.


March 26th, 2009
6:56 pm

a big amen to that athensdawg


March 26th, 2009
7:23 pm

I normally agree with the government staying out of the sports business, but this is the exception to the rule. The Big Six Conferences have a monopoly on college football, and when you have any kind of monopoly, you not gonna just give it up without government intervention. The bottom line; the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Big East, PAC 10, and SEC are in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust act and the law must now step in.


March 26th, 2009
7:45 pm

I think members of Congress are too busy “gradulating” the Gators to actually do anything like having a sensible playoff to determine a true champ. Go Gator!


March 26th, 2009
7:55 pm

The two most frustrating, corrupt enities in this country: Congress and the BCS. Putting the two together might gag a magget. But getting congress to focus on the BCS might distract them from destroying American enterprise and shouting “death to the capitalist for a few days. I do have to agree with Tony that Congress can’t fix the BCS, but his lame defense of the BCS is beyond stupid.

A. Einstein

March 26th, 2009
8:34 pm

Professional football has a playoff, but who cares about that? Personally, I like the controversy in college football. It generates excitement and passion among the fans. Prior to the BCS, the national champion was mythical anyway. Several years resulted in different teams being crowned national champ by the various voting services. There was even co- champs in the same poll one year. Schools still gripe about being left out of the NCAA basketball tournament, which has 65 teams, so what makes anyone think that a 4 team or 8 team football playoff will prevent any complaints? We’ve become a society where everyone and every institution is aggreived in some way. Leave the BCS alone or return to the previous bowl arrangement, but Keep the controversy. Otherwise it’s no different than pro football. Gag!


March 26th, 2009
9:32 pm


March 26th, 2009
9:37 pm

Well, I do think congress needs to investigate why the NCAA plays favorites because we are talking about a lot of money to be made here. For instance: Reggie Bush’s family definitely received money from someone who hoped to be their agent yet has the NCAA taken any action? Similarly, USC basketball player O.J. Mayo received benefits while in school, yet has the NCAA punished USC? On the other hand, they punish FSU who deserved it while looking the other way for USC?


March 26th, 2009
9:50 pm

Einstein is right. At the end of the regular season AP writers vote for number 1 and that’s it. Then we can argue winter, spring and summer. It was this way for a long time and it worked well: stadia were full and college football ruled.
As a Gator, I would take a win over UGA, FSU and Miami over a National Championship.


March 26th, 2009
10:23 pm

Barnhart, if we could only distract those idiots in Congress with even MORE issues of little consequence, maybe we’d be able to keep more of our hard-earned money.

[...] if you read Tony Barnhart’s post on the subject yesterday, he makes a good point about antitrust and the [...]

Marble Rye

March 27th, 2009
2:09 pm

The BCS is better than the previous ways to determine a NC because it pits No. 1 versus No. 2. However that’s where it ends. It doesn’t care if either won their conference. It doesn’t care about the other BCS bowl matchups – that’s up to the bowls themselves which means it’s all about money and ratings and sexiness and not about pitting the best remaining teams against one another. It’s a five-foot stack of frosting with a quarter-inch of cake in the middle.

I view the BCS the way I view AIDS in a clinical sense. Like AIDS, it’s not the syndrome itself that kills but it’s the spinoff diseases (pneumonia, cancer) that kills. The Bowl Contract Syndrome is the same thing – it’s the surrounding fallout outside of No. 1 v. No. 2 that’s a cancer to college football because it prevents a better way to determine a national champion. It’s a colorless, tasteless, odorless intangible that is CFB’s silent killer. All the BCS is at its core is a mere piece of paper (a contract).

Congress won’t do squat in terms of eliminating the BCS and forging a playoff. The only entity that can make something like that happen is whatever massive sports network that is tied to the BCS. Now it’s FOX, next year it’s ESPN. It’s really up to these media giants.

Soapbox moment over. Here’s my playoff pitch…

1. End of regular season/conference championship games, take all 11 FBS conference champs plus the top independent (12 total teams) and seed them according to post-regular season BCS standings (so polls do matter).

*KEY: ONLY conference champs and top indie allowed. If you don’t win your conference, you’re not in the playoff. There are plenty of other good bowls out there for you.

2. First four seeds get a first-round bye.

3. Remaining 8 teams play in a Qualifying (first) Round. The lower-seeded conference champs/top independent host the higher-seeded ones on their home field.

4. Winners of the Q-Round go on to play the first-four seeded teams in the “BCS” round in the Rose, Orange, Fiesta and Sugar.

5. Those winners (4) play in a Football FInal Four in The Cotton Bowl (which ideally is the fifth BCS Bowl). One venue, two games. One afternoon, the other that night.

6. The two winners to on to play for the National Title in the first BCS bowl that was played from item #4 above.

All five BCS bowls rotate venues similar to today – one of them also gets the National Title game and another gets only the Final Four.


March 28th, 2009
9:33 pm

Well put Tony. I hate the BCS format but I hate the Congress far more.
Hatch has a habit of sticking his stinking hands in other sports too. Baseball for one, during the strike years ago. I would rather see the BCS run the show than the new “Socialist Regime in Washington” eventually screw it up. Keep you filthy hands off our game. At least we are in the Black.


March 30th, 2009
9:11 am

Funny, you deride Congress for not knowing if a football is “inflated or stuffed”, yet you have no qualms about commenting how legistlation should be handled.


April 7th, 2009
9:10 am

Just to make the arguement for or against the bowl system for football understandable to all, will you show us how the basketball season would have ended if the teams were handled like the football bowls instead of the great, exciting NCAA March Madness? Remember Duke won the ACC and Mississippi State won the SEC. That would put Miss. St. in the “Sugar Bowl” as one of the best teams in the country. You get the idea.


April 7th, 2009
4:35 pm

So, Tony, you’re admitting that global warming is real?!