Utah Exhibit A in push for college football playoff

Published May 1, 2009 5:47 pm
BCS » One Congressman compares it to 'communism'
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Two congressmen who support a college football playoff held a hearing Friday to pressure the Bowl Championship Series to change its format, with one going so far as to equate the complicated mixture of computer programs and polls to communism.

Texas Republican Rep. Joe Barton said minor tweaks can't save the BCS, which determines what two teams will play for the national title.

"It is like communism; you can't fix it," Barton said. "Sooner or later, you are going to have to try a new model."

Fans, commentators and a growing number of politicians have become increasingly frustrated with the BCS, which favors six big conferences and almost annually causes a controversy over which two teams deserve a shot at playing for the national championship.

Last year, the University of Utah was the only Division I team to go undefeated, which included a BCS victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. But the Utes were never seriously considered for the big game.

"Utah was eliminated this past season not by a team, but by the BCS system," said Craig Thompson, commissioner of the Mountain West Conference, which includes the U. and Brigham Young University.

Barton, a leading congressional critic of the 11-year-old BCS system, has sponsored legislation that would bar any advertisement for a national championship game unless the participants were determined by a playoff.

He told BCS coordinator John Swofford that if he doesn't see the conferences moving toward a playoff system in the next two months, he would aggressively push his bill. And he also pointed out that he isn't the only Washington power player to lean on BCS officials. President Barack Obama has repeatedly said he wants a playoff, and Utah GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch has promised to hold anti-trust hearings in the Senate.

Swofford, who is also the commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference, defended the BCS, saying it "represents the marketplace" with the more bankable conferences getting a bigger share of the money and the power. He also said the system maintains the importance on the regular season. And he noted the BCS has taken steps in recent years to boost the opportunities available to teams in the five non-BCS conferences.

But that is not enough for Thompson, who as the head of the Mountain West presented a playoff proposal to BCS officials. That proposal, which is still under consideration, would allow the top eight teams to vie for the championship in a playoff, adding a week and a half to the season. Instead of one postseason game, the top teams could play as many as three. The MWC has hired Washington lobbyists to push its plan on Capitol Hill.

Under the Mountain West proposal, the BCS would scrap the two polls and six computer rankings and instead create a 12-member committee to select the participants. Also, the BCS money would go to the conferences who have teams in the playoff, not automatically to the six bigger conferences.

Right now, the six conferences with automatic bids are assured of splitting $18 million in revenue, while the 51 teams in the five other conferences get a combined $9 million. Thompson called the revenue sharing "grossly inequitable," making it difficult for smaller schools to compete for recruits, pay for facilities or cover scholarships.

Thompson told the committee this plan would allow the actions on the field to determine the championship, giving every school a chance.

Derrick Fox, who represented the Football Bowl Association, strongly resisted any move to a playoff, which he sees as a "threat" to traditional bowl games. He said bowls are more than a football game, they are tourist events that bring in more than $1 billion to cities annually.

"We don't believe the government should play any part in the demise of the bowl games," he said.

Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., who led Friday's commerce subcommittee hearing, defended the right of Congress to intercede in college sports.

"It is indeed about money and it is about money at taxpayer-funded colleges and universities," said Rush, who is a co-sponsor of Barton's legislation.

mcanham@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">mcanham@sltrib.com

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