A Recap of the Senate BCS Hearing

You can watch today's Senate BCS hearing online (skip ahead to about the 17 minute mark), but it's mostly just five people treading old ground.

Anyway, it was far less of a waste of time than the House hearing earlier this year because it wasn't being run by clowns and the BCS defenders actually believe in the current system (unlike the plus one-proposing John Swofford from last time). I was kind of surprised, since my opinion of our legislative branch is similar to that of Mark Twain's.

The people who came off the best to me were actually the two BCS defenders: Harvey Perlman, chancellor of the University of Nebraska, and William Monts III, Esq. who was some kind of antitrust lawyer. They and I disagree on whether college football should have a playoff, but they definitely had their acts together. Until he engaged in some mostly harmless pandering at the end, Perlman made the majority of university presidents' case clearly and reasonably, and Motts appeared to have done the most pre-work out of anyone (Sen. Orrin Hatch included).

The BCS opponents were Michael Young, president of the University of Utah, and Barry Brett, Esq. who was also some kind of antitrust lawyer. Young did a fairly good job, but he kept jumping around aimlessly from point to point as though he hadn't planned ahead which order he wanted to use them in. Brett could have been replaced by a tape recorder, really, since he only had about two points and simply repeated them in the very few occasions he actually spoke.

Here are some other things I noticed:

--Hatch was completely blindsided by the fact that the BCS has had a system by which the non-automatic qualifying conferences could earn an automatic bid since the contracts were redone a few years ago. Perlman brought it up and Monts actually thought to write it down and bring it to the hearing. Hatch apparently had never heard of it and speculated that it must be kept a secret by the BCS administrators. In fact, you can find it on the BCS website (scroll all the way to the bottom).

--As I suspected, no one put a dollar value on the merit of being named "champion." If I've said it once, I've said it a million times: until someone puts a dollar value on the title of "champion," blathering about it before Congress is useless because Congress regulates trade, not symbolic titles.

--Score one for Perlman for pointing out that if the Big 12 gets one team in the BCS next year and the Huskers aren't it, the $1.5 million they would receive represents just two percent of the program's total $75 million budget. Another home game, by comparison, would bring in more than double that amount. It was a tactful yet forceful way to drive home the point that the richest programs didn't get there with BCS money, and climbing up the power and revenue ranks by the smaller schools requires a lot more than a bigger slice of the BCS pie.

--Perlman then loses maybe half a point for his list of demands for an alternative system to the BCS. His final requirement is that any new system must preserve the relationships with bowl games, which is basically a weasel-y way of saying that he will never agree to a playoff.

--Also as I suspected, there was a fundamental difference in starting point for the two parties. The proponents of the BCS made their case by looking at the past and saying that the BCS is better for non-power conference schools than the old bowl system was. Opponents make their case by looking at an ideal scenario of some sort and showing how the BCS falls short of it. Until someone decides which of those is the correct way of looking at the issue, it'll all be people banging their heads into walls.

--Finally, anther dichotomy became apparent. The BCS supporters essentially argued that BCS game slots should go to the teams that can draw the biggest TV revenue. The BCS opponents essentially argued that BCS game slots (and their accompanying paydays) should go to the teams with the best performance on the field.

We hear every year about how the NBA or NFL will assign officials in certain ways because they "want" specific teams in big TV markets to do well in the playoffs. Conspiracy theories aside, no other sport gets the chance to choose between these two options as college football does. The BCS does something of both, because while highly ranked teams are the ones playing in the bowls, there are biases inherent in the system (such as, oh I don't know, opinion polls) that prevent it from being truly egalitarian.

The idealists say record should determine your cut of the money, while the pragmatists say your glamor factor should. It strikes right to the heart of the sport: is it an enterprise whose purpose is to honor the spirit of competition (in which case the idealists win), or is it simply an entertainment vehicle where results don't matter as much as how you look while doing it (in which case the pragmatists win). The truth, as it usually does, lies somewhere in between since people will whine endlessly about Notre Dame going to BCS games but will reliably tune in to watch them play.

Until and unless these last two conundrums get solved to some degree of certainty, we'll never move past the debate we saw today. At least it's preserved online for viewing; anytime anyone wants to have this little discussion again, you can just send them a link and tell them it's all been done before.

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