Saturday, January 30, 2010

The BCS, Antitrust Laws and Politics

Back in October, Senator Orin Hatch wrote a letter to President Obama asking for a Justice Department probe of the Bowl Championship Series, the method currently in use to determine the national champion in Division I football. The Department of Justice acknowledged that it is reviewing the Senator's request.

I have three reactions to this.

The cynic in me wonders whether the federal government, and particularly the Department of Justice, doesn't have anything better to do with its time. Gone are the times when the Attorney General would go to Congress and explain that some federal laws would go under-enforced for lack of attorneys to enforce them (I have in mind here the debates over the Voting Rights Act back in 1965).

The college football fan in me hopes they succeed. For the life of me, I cannot understand the appeal of the BCS, nor do I, or anyone anyone, believe the arguments proffered by University Presidents against a college football playoff. The usual response is their worry that a playoff would cause too much disruption to the lives of student athletes. Tell this to college basketball players who participate in the three-week long basketball tournament March Madness -- or to the scores of student athletes who take part in playoffs for lower divisions within the NCAA, or those players who appear on ESPN night games on ESPN, some of which ended long after 11:00pm. The Presidents' want to tell us they care about the students, but their hypocrisy is too apparent.

The American citizen in me is tantalized. We know this much: Senator Hatch and President Obama do not agree on many things. After the recent State of the Union address, for example, Senator Hatch issued a statement labeling the President "stone deaf" for refusing to hear the American people on health care. He also called the President's budget for the fiscal year 2010 "simply awful."

And then there is college football and the BCS. For his part, Senator Hatch has been a longtime critic of the system. President Obama similarly said in 2008 that he was going to "to throw my weight around a little bit" to move college football towards a playoff.

Strange bedfellows, don't you think?

Maybe the BCS violates antitrust laws, maybe it doesn't. The real lessons, however, lie elsewhere. When the President reaches out to Republicans, as he recently did during a House Republican retreat, it might be a good idea to air their policy differences over a game of basketball, maybe touch football. Or perhaps they should debate our country's many problems while watching a football game.

Super Bowl Sunday might be a nice place to start.