Congress tells colleges to fix bowl system

Thursday, October 30, 2003

WASHINGTON -- The Bowl Championship Series shuts out too many schools in its goal of crowning a college football champion and needs to be repaired, senators told representatives of the bowl system Wednesday.

"I don't know if you guys know how it looks to fans of teams that aren't part of this system," said Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del. "It looks un-American. It really does. It looks unfair. It looks like a rigged deal."

Created in 1998 by the six most powerful college conferences, the BCS guarantees that the champions of those conferences will play in one of the four most lucrative postseason bowl games, leaving only two at-large berths.

Former BYU coach LaVell Edwards said the BCS system also makes it harder for teams outside the alliance to recruit, since there is little chance the players will ever be able to compete for a national championship.

Division I-A football is the only college sport not to have a playoff system.

BYU, which won the national championship in 1984, is the only team other than Notre Dame outside the six BCS conferences to have won a national championship since 1945.

In the 20 years before the BCS started, only one school other than Notre Dame that is not currently in the Big East, ACC, Big Ten, SEC, Big 12 or Pac-10 played in one of the series' four bowls.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a BYU graduate, said the current system raises enough questions of fairness that it is in college football's best interest to fix it instead of forcing Congress to intervene.

NCAA President Myles Brand said he is open to a system that would be more inclusive, but does not believe that there is a need for radical changes or adoption of a playoff system.

Harvey Perlman, chancellor of the University of Nebraska, said the current system is the fairest way to determine a national champion and provides adequate opportunity for schools outside the BCS to play their way into contention.

A team that finishes in the top 12 of the BCS standings is eligible for consideration, and a team in the top six automatically gets a spot.

And Keith Tribble, chairman of the Football Bowl Association and chief executive officer of the Orange Bowl Committee, said the bowl games are attracting more fans, benefiting their host communities and generating more money than ever, paying out $800 million in the last five years.

"For the past 90 years, bowl games have been the heart and soul of college football. It has never been healthier," Tribble said.

Tulane President Scott Cowen disagrees. In 1998, the Green Wave went through the season undefeated, but were shut out of the top-tier games. A year later, the same thing happened to Marshall.

"There is no doubt in my mind that the current system is unjust and unjustifiable," said Cowen, who also heads a coalition of more than 50 schools that are not part of the BCS.

This year, TCU is 8-0 but was only 12th in the latest BCS standings and could be shut out of a lucrative bowl.

The projected revenue for the four 2004 BCS games is $118 million, but only about $6 million will go to the non-BCS schools unless one of them qualifies for a major bowl game.

Cowen's group is scheduled to meet with the presidents of the conferences in the BCS system on Nov. 16 to discuss potential changes to the BCS.

"If they are allowed to continue that kind of monopoly, they will suffer the same fate of any other monopoly in the country. They will become bloated, inefficient ... and eventually kill the golden goose," said Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah.

Congress has limited options. It could ask the Justice Department to investigate whether the system violates antitrust laws, or it could try to craft legislation to fix perceived flaws -- although how it would do that is unclear.

"We just ought to be careful that we don't let lawyers and politicians stick our nose too much into this," Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions said.

Jim McKeown, an attorney specializing in the sports industry, said the BCS doesn't violate any laws or harm college football. As he sees it, the BCS expanded competition instead of reducing it, a key component of the antitrust law, by creating a national championship game.

"It doesn't necessarily seem to me to be the type of arena where Congress wants to get involved and suddenly become the regulator of college football championships," McKeown said.

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