Swofford: Playoff system would threaten college bowl games

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WASHINGTON – The coordinator of the Bowl Championship Series told Congress Friday that a switch to a playoff system – favored by fans, President Barack Obama and some lawmakers – would threaten the existence of celebrated bowl games.

Sponsorships and TV revenue that now go to bowl games would instead be spent on playoff games, “meaning that it will be very difficult for any bowl, including the current BCS bowls, which are among the oldest and most established in the game’s history, to survive,” said BCS coordinator John Swofford in prepared testimony. “Certainly the twenty-nine games that are not part of the BCS would be in peril.”

Swofford was appearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s commerce, trade and consumer protection subcommittee, some of whose members back legislation aimed at prodding the BCS to switch to a playoff system.

Under the BCS, some conferences get automatic bids to participate while others do not. Conferences that get an automatic bid – the ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-10 and SEC – get about $18 million each, far more than the non-conference schools. Swofford is also commissioner of the ACC.

Craig Thompson, commissioner of the Mountain West Commission, which does not get an automatic bid, said in prepared testimony that the current system is patently unfair.

“Such economic disparities and anomalies cannot be justified and should not continue,” he said. “Many have said the current BCS system ensures a permanent underclass. They are right.”

The MWC has proposed a playoff system and hired a Washington firm to lobby Congress for changes to the BCS, which currently features a championship game between the two top teams in the BCS standings, based on two polls and six computer ratings.

The MWC proposes, among others things, scrapping the BCS standings and creating a 12-member committee to pick which teams receive at-large bids, and to select and seed the eight teams chosen for the playoff. The BCS has previously discussed, and dismissed, the idea of using a selection committee.

The four current BCS games – the Sugar, Orange, Rose and Fiesta bowls – would host the four first-round playoff games under the proposal. Thompson argued that a playoff system would be a boon for those bowls, because they would help determine the national champion.

Thompson said that under the current system, teams that don’t come from a conference with a guaranteed bid have no realistic chance of winning a BCS championship.

Swofford argued that criticism that the BCS guarantees berths and money to only some conferences “states the situation exactly backward.” Prior to the BCS, he said, the conferences that now have automatic bids were guaranteed an attractive bowl slot for its champion.

“If the BCS were to disappear tomorrow, each of those conferences would return to the marketplace and obtain a similarly attractive bowl slot on its own through individual negotiation, most likely in one of the current BCS games,” he said. But there would no longer be guaranteed annual bowl game pairing the top two ranked teams.

Among those participating at Friday’s hearing is Texas Rep. Joe Barton, the committee’s top Republican, who has introduced legislation that would prevent the NCAA from labeling a game a “national championship” unless it culminates from a playoff system.

In an interview before the hearing, Barton called the BCS system “more about cartels and revenue sharing” than athletic performance. “It’s big money,” Barton said. “We’re going to start looking into where the money goes.”

The BCS is in its final season of a four-year deal with the Fox network. A new four-year deal with ESPN, worth $125 million per year, begins with the 2011 bowl games.

The BCS has come under attack from a range of politicians. Last November, as president-elect, Obama told “60 Minutes” he would prefer an eight-team playoff system.

“I don’t know any serious fan of college football who has disagreed with me on this,” he said. “So I’m going to throw my weight around a little bit.”

In the Senate, Utah Republican Orrin Hatch has put the BCS on the agenda for the Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee this year, and Utah’s attorney general, Mark Shurtleff, is investigating whether the BCS violates federal antitrust laws.

Fans were furious that Utah was bypassed for the national championship despite going undefeated in the regular season. The title game pitted No. 1 Florida (12-1) against No. 2 Oklahoma (12-1); Florida won 24-14 and claimed the title.

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patriciathomas 05/01/09 - 11:11 am
It's simple. The current

It's simple. The current "traditional" bowl games were established during a time when the national champion was chosen instead of having one that won the position. If it's important to keep the bowls, let some of the playoff games be played in the bowls. Only the traditional days of the games will have to be changed. Let the earlier games be called by the lesser bowl names and the later games in the playoff be called by the famous bowl names. Of course, they'll not be able to be played in the usual stadiums. The times need to change to make the championship fair.

markmjtx 05/01/09 - 01:43 pm
Congressional hearings about

Congressional hearings about the BCS!........National security, economic issues, foreign affairs, the budget deficit, I suspect these issues are on hold and can wait. Not to mention government regulation and how it relates to the Constitution. Orrin Hatch and Joe Barton should know better. The BCS is flawed, but Congress has other pressing matters.

justthefacts 05/01/09 - 03:27 pm
mark, I agree wholeheartedly.

mark, I agree wholeheartedly. PT, let's just go back to the system used prior to the BCS. The bowls were more meaningful and had better matchups.

SAugustateacher 05/01/09 - 11:29 pm
A playoff system would

A playoff system would destroy college football. Every game is a playoff game. That is why college football is more exciting than the NFL. I wish congress would worry about more "pressing" issues.

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