In response to the Justice Department sending a letter to the head of the NCAA, asking a few questions about why college football doesn’t have a generic playoff system in lieu of its highly successful Bowl Championship Series (BCS), Senator Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) encouraged the Obama administration to “follow up” on this “particular issue,” adding, “It’s an important one, I think.”
The American public, however, presumably thinks that there are even more important issues for the federal government to be addressing, such as, for example, our $14 trillion national debt and the fact that, for every $4 that the federal government brings in this year, it is spending $7. But here are a few additional items that Hatch might want to consider before he encourages the federal government to invest any more of Americans’ tax dollars in this vein:
1. The University of Utah has played in two BCS bowl games in the past seven years. Prior to the advent of the BCS, not a single team from a smaller conference like Utah’s had played in a bowl game of that stature in a more than a quarter-century. TCU and Boise St. have likewise each played in two BCS bowls (TCU played in the Rose Bowl last season), while Hawaii has played in one. That’s 7 small conference teams in 7 years that have played in major bowls under the BCS, compared to 0 teams in 27 years immediately prior to the BCS. The BCS has clearly opened the door, which was previously rather shut, to letting smaller conference’s teams play in the sport’s biggest games.
2. Partly due to its success, Utah is poised to join what will soon become the Pac-12. As such, the Utes will be vying annually for a spot in the Rose Bowl. This seems like a strange time, therefore, for Hatch to be pushing for a federally imposed playoff. Moreover, if the BCS had been in place in 1984, undefeated BYU would not have been relegated to the Holiday Bowl.
3. College football has the most meaningful regular season in all of sports, and its popularity is on the rise. College basketball’s exciting season-ending tournament, on the other hand — which is far less likely to result in its two best teams playing for the championship (a fact that’s obvious to anyone who has been watching in recent years) — has decimated its regular season, and that sport’s popularity has not remotely kept pace with college football’s. Despite this, college basketball’s tournament, rather inexplicably, keeps expanding.
Baseball, the crown jewel of American sports when it had just two teams go to the postseason, is now poised to move to a 10-team playoff, making it seem more like the NHL than like the national pastime of old, and making its 162-game regular season seem like a long marathon after which the winner is determined by a series of three (soon to be four, in some cases) short sprints bearing little relation to a grueling test across six months. Hear of a great pennant race lately?
Even if college football didn’t have the best regular season in all of sports, a growing fan base, and a unique and rewarding postseason featuring tradition-rich bowl games — which allow half of their participants to emerge as winners — while sports with generic, regular season-sapping playoffs struggle to keep up, is this really the federal government’s business? Does Hatch really think the federal government is the right entity to design the postseasons of America’s sports, or to force others to redesign them so as to better reflect some conformist notion that all postseasons must look more or less alike?
Former coach and current ESPN commentator Lou Holtz has said it well: “As a taxpayer, I have very low expectations. I don’t expect our Congress to read a 1,500-page stimulus bill before they spend $787 billion we don’t have. I don’t expect them to read the 2,500 pages in the health bill before we spend a trillion dollars. I don’t expect them to recognize how we went $1.4 trillion in debt in the last four months, but I expect them to read the 32 pages of the Constitution, and I defy you to find somewhere in there where you should be worried about the BCS system.”
Jeffrey H. Anderson (with Chris Hester) created one of the six computer rankings used in determining which college football teams will play in the national championship game.