Political football

A congressional committee tackles slippery BCS issue as some look to score points for their favorite teams


WASHINGTON -- It would have been daunting enough for the Bowl Championship Series to endure legislators' philosophical questions about how college football determines a national champion.

But what if the House Energy and Commerce Committee interrogators decided yesterday to put aside their public-policy hats and act like the fans and alumni that they are?

What if Rep. Fred Upton (Michigan '75) decided to demonstrate his allegiance to the maize and blue for everyone to see? What if Rep. Lee Terry (Nebraska '84) was unashamed to let his inner Cornhuskers flag fly?

Then the hearing might become akin to a spirited booster meeting. Then the hearing might become ... interesting.

That's what happened yesterday when the Republican Upton asked: "How did Iowa get a better bowl than Michigan when we beat them there?"

And when Terry, also a Republican, announced with a smile: "We need more" tickets for Nebraska rooters at the Alamo Bowl.

And when GOP Rep. Barbara Cubin passionately argued that the University of Wyoming - in her home state - is disadvantaged because the BCS caters to the elite conferences.

"What about somebody in the Mountain West? Forget about it," Cubin told Kevin Weiberg, the BCS coordinator. "If you're from the Mountain West, you're not going to have a chance to play in the national championship."

Weiberg told Cubin there is no "exclusion" on the Mountain West.

Weiberg was one of a half-dozen witnesses representing the BCS, the bowl games and other college football entities at the two-hour hearing.

Nearly all who testified were criticized by someone on the committee, either for opposing a college football playoff system - which many of the panel members support - or for some perceived slight of an alma mater.

Like linebackers hitting ball carriers out of bounds, the legislators couldn't seem to resist the chance to score some points for their schools or states.

Some of the lawmakers' statements were intended as jokes, as when Republican Rep. Tim Murphy, who has a daughter at Penn State, proclaimed: "I still believe that Michigan didn't have one second left" when the Wolverines beat the Nittany Lions this season on the last play of the game.

The subject of the hearing was, "A Comprehensive Review of the BCS and Postseason College Football." Members of the committee's Commerce and Trade subcommittee said they didn't plan any legislative remedies, but wanted to hold the hearing, anyway, to educate themselves and the public.

Was the hearing a waste of taxpayers' money?

It sounded like Rep. Adam Schiff thought so when his opening statement began: "Today, with an ongoing war in Iraq, thousands of Katrina evacuees still in need of homes, millions of Americans without health insurance, the potential for an avian flu pandemic, soaring home heating costs and an $8.12 trillion debt, Congress held a hearing on the best way to pick a college football champion."

But the California Democrat couldn't help but weigh in, anyway.

"I also want to express my strong opposition to changing the postseason football schedule or altering the successful Bowl Championship Series," Schiff said.

Schiff's angle? He represents Pasadena, home of the Rose Bowl. "If the BCS was replaced with a playoff system, this would not only undermine the almost 120 years of tradition established by the Tournament of Roses, but it would also seriously undermine the economic vitality of the city of Pasadena and its surrounding areas," Schiff said.

Also opposing an NFL-style playoff system was a bowl administrator who cited the Maryland Terrapins as an example of why he believes the current system works.

Derrick Fox, chairman of an association that represents the 28 bowl games, said there was added interest when North Carolina State defeated Maryland this year because each team entered the game with a 5-5 record and needed a win to be bowl-eligible.

"What would have been the importance of it without a bowl-game invitation on the line?" Fox said.

The BCS was created in 1998. By rotating the national championship game among existing major bowls, it aims to preserve the current bowl structure while producing a clear champion.

"It just hasn't worked out very well," said Texas Republican Joe Barton, the Energy and Commerce committee chairman. "The fact that only two teams remain undefeated this year does not mean that the system works."

Even this year, Barton said, teams "such as Penn State" that aren't in the title game could have won the championship. "Unfortunately, under the current BCS structure, we won't get the chance to find out."

For the record, Barton attended Texas A&M - not Penn State.


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