Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

03 Dec 2005

Congressman Says BCS "Deeply Flawed"

Texas Congressman Joe Barton is calling for a Congressional hearing to address the "deeply flawed" Bowl Championship Series system. I'm glad our representatives are spending their time investigating the important issues that are facing our country. Next month, look for a Georgia Congressman to call for a hearing to investigate why the Falcons are so low in the FoxSports.com power rankings.

Posted by: Al Bogdan on 03 Dec 2005

39 comments, Last at 06 Dec 2005, 5:40pm by Richie


by Björn (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 2:11pm

Do the politicians in your country really have nothing better to do?

And do we really need a congressional hearing to tell us that the BCS sucks? Everyobody knows that.

by fromanchu (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 2:19pm

well this is only the next logical step. eventually spots in the championship will decided by congress, except in times of emergency when the president will overule them to place his alma mater in the big game.

seriously, the storoid hearings were bad, but this is the worst sports related news i've ever heard.

by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 2:31pm

Do the politicians in your country really have nothing better to do?
Considering what they do when they concentrate on more important topics, I'm personally thankful that they fill their days with this sort of nonsense.

by Fnor (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 2:42pm

We've had a pretty do-nothing congress this term in particular. It usually isn't this bad.

Steroids make sense, though, seeing as steroids are both illegal and often difficult to detect. Baseball actually has special laws written for it by congress, so, while they would never actually DO anything to the sport, they have some measure of oversight, in addition to the pertinent legal questions.

This, however, is ridiculous. I'll file it under "Joe Barton is insane" and leave it at that.

by Duane (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 2:44pm

A: 1. The check's in the mail.
2. I'm from the government and I'm here to help.
3. I won't...
Q: What are the three biggest lies?

by Kevo (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 2:47pm

There's a committee in Congress that is supposed to regulate American sports. That's who is bringing up this BCS hearing. I don't blame them because it's their job.

The steroids hearings were a different matter, brought up by the whole of Congress, who really should be worrying about other things. This BCS thing is just Congressmen doing their jobs; the steroids thing was Congressmen sticking their noses where they didn't belong.

by Duane (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 2:59pm


Does this committee have carte blanche as to what they can regulate? The BCS was created because the polling system was seen to be flawed. Why did they never see fit to investigate that? My admittedly cynical viewpoint is that Congress is "inventing" exposure for themselves, just as entertainers do.

by doktarr (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 3:09pm

The thing is, the BCS poll is actually not all that bad. The idea of merging human polls and computer rankings into an aggregate score is a decent one, and the formula is not too bad.

What's flawed is the idea that ANY system that goes from five major conferences and dozens of contending schools that play non-intersecting schedules, down to ONE championship game, will satisfy anyone.

The most optimistic theory is that the NCAA is on a secret 5-year plan to get a four team playoff. It starts with adding another major bowl game, then they move the championship game a full week later, and finally they say "hey, as long as they're playing one week later anyway, let's just have the top four teams in two bowls, with the winners playing in the championship."

by Al Bogdan :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 3:17pm

There were some questionable replay rulings during the Giants/Seahawks game last Sunday. Should there be a Congressional hearing on that?

by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 3:39pm

While we're at it, the Patriots' cheerleaders were wearing outfits baggier than Bill Belichick's, at their last home game.

Won't somebody think of the taxpaying public, here?

by Drew (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 3:42pm

Strange that he would do pick now to do this. Assuming Texas wins against Colorado, the BCS will have accomplished its stated task perfectly this year.

No system will ever be perfect. The old system was worse than the BCS. And while it might sound tempting, a playoff wouldn't help either.

If you go to a 4-team playoff, the controversy would be about how to tell #4 from #5. About the only way to fix that would be to make the playoff field so large that, after a day or two, no one cares that much about who gets snubbed, like with the NCAA basketball tournament. A 64-team college football playoff would be awesome.

by Ryguy (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 3:46pm

Not to take the opposite side on this, but Congress runs around 100 committees per day like this and the steriod thing. Yes they do have a lot of better things to do but college football, since it has become heavily commercialized and less amateur, Congress would like to make an example of the BCS to try and promote fairness in sport. If they do anything in this it's to get mid-majors a better opportunity to participate.

But Steroids was important only because there were HS kids who did end up taking steroids and be involved in some fatal accidents. And plus it shouldn't be legal for athletes to do something that is illegal to do anyway.

by fromanchu (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 4:06pm

no it shouldn't be illegal for baseball players to take steroids. but the government should never, ever randomly test people. if mlb wants to test its that sign contracts them it has the authority. but if the government can randomly test baseball players it can randomly test anyone.

by the K (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 4:13pm

My thought on this is similar to the investigations held over steroids in baseball. It's merely a smokescreen designed to target something many Americans love--in this case college football--and thus distract the population from whatever ludicrous legislation they're trying to push through at this moment. Patriot Act anyone?

by Stereochemistry (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 5:24pm

There seems to be a problem with the link: It's not directing me to The Onion Sports page like it should.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 5:36pm

I'd rather have these guys applying their "expertise" to this matter, as opposed to meddling around with something of national importance, and I suppose that cartels such as the NCAA which do business over state lines are subject to regulation by the federal government.

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 5:39pm

and thus distract the population from whatever ludicrous legislation they’re trying to push through at this moment. Patriot Act anyone?

Is that the legislation proposed by Congress that would require the NFL to enact whatever rules changes Bill Polian deemed necessary to get the Colts to the Superbowl?


by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 6:26pm

The K (#14 )--

The USA-PATRIOT act (It's an acronym. Don't ask.) passed at the end of 2001.

The hearings on steroids took place this past spring. (Mid-March?)

The renewal-extension debate about sunsetted provisions in the USA-PATRIOT act took place largely this past fall, and have pretty much ended with insufficient support for renewal.

Other than that, it's a nice conspiracy theory.

PatsFan (#17 )--

Polian's authority is derived from NFL bylaws. More inscrutable than Acts of Congress, but with no sunset provision.

by Kibbles (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 6:40pm

It's nice to see that Congress cares, but they really need to focus first on the REALLY important issues in the country. Like blocking the DirectTV monopoly and making Sunday Ticket accessible to everyone in the country.

by fromanchu (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 6:46pm

the patriot act as such was not renewed, but all of its parts were subsequently tacked onto other bills and passed individually.
so yes, while congress may not ahve anything better to do, there's a lot of worse things they could be doing

by Ruben (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 7:44pm


The NFL is a private entity, promoting a private good. They, in turn, contracted with another private entity (DirecTV) to exclusively air all games to all customers (not unlike Disney's exlusive promotion contracts w/McDonald's).

From what I understand, the NFL has a standing monopoly exemption anyway (NFL vs. USFL, I believe?); they are well within their rights to extend these contracts. I also believe they did this with EA Sports, leading to BLITZ: The League, starring Ron Mexico, of the Atlanta Warbirds.

Anyway, Kibbles, I know you probably said what you did tongue-in-cheek, but between you and TMQ, I just can't stand for misplaced griping.

Here's a solution: Cut down the trees in your neighborhood, and/or buy DirecTV. :-)

by Trogdor (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 9:38pm

From Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution

"The Congress shall have Power ... To regulate Commerce ... among the several States"

I am a big fan of limited government. I believe Congress frequently oversteps its bounds, and passes any freaking law it wants to without regard to its enumerated powers. Thanks to some wonderful leaps of logic by our ever-wise past Supreme Courts, any law that gets challenged on these grounds can be upheld by invoking the interstate commerce clause, even if they involve only one state and no commerce. In other words, I think Congress sticks its nose in a lot of places the Constitution explicitly forbids, and I'm not overly thrilled with it.

However, in this case, you are talking about a massive industry which takes place in, among, and with the several states (as in, pretty much all of 'em). It involves recipients of federal funds, as well. In other words, Congress has every right to step in and investigate what the NCAA and the TV networks are up to, and if they don't like it, they can tell them what to do. Sorry, that's just how it is.

Oh, and the NFL doesn't have an antitrust exemption. If you recall, USFL vs NFL went to court, and the USFL actually won. Then they were flipped a judicial finger with the massive $1 award, and told to go to hell. So the NFL doesn't have an officially protected monopoly, but the court sure acted like they did in that case. MLB, on the other hand, does have an exemption, and if they want to keep it they know they need to kiss Congress's collective sphincter.

by Ruben (not verified) :: Sat, 12/03/2005 - 11:30pm


I generally agree; Congress routinely oversteps its bounds in judicial intervention. One case comes to mind in which the commerce clause was stretched absurdly (Katzenbach vs. McClung; check the link), and that time it was via the power delegated by Congress to the Supreme Court.

But after re-thinking over dinner, it occurred to me that they wouldn't need an exemption anyway; the NFL can market its product anyway it pleases. They are, in effect, doing a voluntary public service by piping their product over the public airwaves of FOX and CBS.

As far as public subsidy goes, not all NFL stadiums are subsidized by the taxpayers (Gillette?), and shame on those public officials who are tricked into providing said subsidy.

Nevertheless, no one has disputed my main point: That DirecTV and the NFL are well within their rights to broadcast their product as they see fit. I don't see anyone whining about the inability to see a Broadway show on-demand.

by Dennis (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2005 - 12:49am

Of course it's totally ridiculous that Congress should even be discussing this.

The BCS isn't flawed at all - it works pefectly when there are exactly 2 undefeated teams. But then you don't need formulas to figure out who should play in the championship when that happens. And as others have said, when you don't have that perfect result, no system that only picks two teams is going to make everyone happy.

by Catfish (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2005 - 1:52am

Re: 11

True, there may be controversy over who is #4/5, but isn't that a lot better that a controversy over who is #2/3, or even #1/2/3?

Re: 22

I generally agree with you, but it's not true that the Constitution "explicitly forbids" Congressional intervention in these sorts of cases. The problem is, it never explicitly allows this intervention either. This is the issue that's been debated pretty much since the constitution was signed (The First Bank of the United States, etc.)

by Sean (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2005 - 2:10am

I've never understood why the playoff concept is wedded to the rankings. Have the playoff field consist of every conference winner, from SEC down to Mountain West. You keep the significance of the regular season intact by forcing teams to win their conferences rather than getting at-large bids, and you give the smaller conferences a chance to show their stuff against the big teams.

That all said, it's truly creepy watching this Congress flail around with one desperate attempt after another to get people to stop noticing that pesky Iraq business.

by Todd S. (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2005 - 2:39am

#25 I think the Constitution does explicitly forbid it: see 9th and 10th Amendments.

(Of course, my reading of this document is often different than the Supreme Court, so what the heck do I know? Still shocked that BCRA got through...)

by Tarrant (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2005 - 11:39am

If you only take conference champions, with no at-large type of slots, then nonconference games simply become exhibitions, and it becomes to a team's advantage to join the worst conference it can find.

However, as long as the BCS is only taking 2 teams, I do think that those two teams should have to win their conference in order to participate.


by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2005 - 1:26pm

Sean (#26 )--

Isn't it simpler to credit the Congresscritter with ordinary stupidity, rather than some wacked-out conspiracy theory over your favorite political hobbyhorse?

I mean, it takes an extra-special sort of stupidity to believe that anything regarding the BCS will subtract a single column-inch from the daily outpouring about what a moron GWB is, and what a sack of bastards his administration is. I see you're keeping up your end.

Then again, I've already read your opinion of heartlanders in general, which clearly indicates your willingness to credit them with any sort of stupidity. So I'm really just writing this to pick on you. Feel free to ignore.

by Dennis (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2005 - 5:58pm

A playoff should have the 10 conference champions and then 6 at large teams. Yeah, there would be some squabbling over the at-large teams, but any arbitrary cutoff is going to leave some squabbling. If you limit it to just the conference champions, the independents (not that there are many left) would be totally shut out.

I disagree with #28 that it would lead to teams moving to weaker conferences. You make a lot more money being in the SEC or Big Ten than you would in C-USA or the WAC.

by Sean (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2005 - 6:04pm

Re 29: It's hardly a conspiracy theory, and it's not even particularly stupid. It's just another in a line of trial balloons thrown up in the hope of arresting that downward projectory a lot of Congressmen are experiencing in the polls. Steroids in baseball, BCS flaws in football- it's a good thing David Stern cut them off at the pass with that dress code, otherwise there might need to be a Congressional investigation.

And I said nothing about the heartland. Now if the heartland rises up as one and embraces this particular "initiative," I might have to say something after all.

Re 28: I have no problem with non-conference games being exhibitions. You see that in basketball all the time. You play the tough non-conference games to test your team, then turn your attention to the real games- the ones inside your conference. To me that beats the hell out of keeping the polls and picking the top four teams or the top eight teams or even the top sixteen.

by Zac (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2005 - 10:07pm

Not to make this about a playoff system (again), but I think 8 teams would be enough. If we had say USC, Texas, Penn State, Ohio State, Oregon, Notre Dame, Georgia, and Miami, could any team really gripe about that too badly?

by Sean (not verified) :: Sun, 12/04/2005 - 11:44pm

Yes- every team that won their conference and didn't ever get a chance to compete for a championship. There are teams in smaller conferences that go undefeated or lose only one game all the time. Ten conference champions plus six at large teams- I like that idea a lot.

by Dennis (not verified) :: Mon, 12/05/2005 - 12:26am

Re #32: The problem with only 8 teams is when you have teams from the smaller conference go undefeated or only lose one game like #33 mentioned. It's too hard to decide if an 11-1 Miami of Ohio or Boise State should get in ahead of say a 10-2 LSU team that lost in the SEC championship.

by Jon Fuge everybody (not verified) :: Mon, 12/05/2005 - 2:36am

Zac, Oregon is horrible. They don't deserve to be part of a playoff. But a playoff would be so much better. It would give closure to the season and make it feel like the best team was found. That said I feel shafted as a Penn State fan. Everyone will expect us to beat FSU so winning the game won't prove anything. That makes the game pretty pointless for a team that I think could give Texas or USC a good fight.

by Another Craig B (not verified) :: Mon, 12/05/2005 - 3:08pm

Next month, look for a Georgia Congressman to call for a hearing to investigate why the Falcons are so low in the FoxSports.com power rankings.

What a ridiculous waste of taxpayer dollars, making a fruitless investigation of this issue when everyone knows that the reason is that Aaron is biased against the Falcons.

by Another Craig B (not verified) :: Mon, 12/05/2005 - 3:19pm

A playoff should have the 10 conference champions and then 6 at large teams.

That seems unnecessary, since the at-large teams will have already been "sorted out" through conference play. If a team can't win its conference, there's clearly no unfairness in denying it an opportunity to play for the national title.

However, I agree that in fact, the TV networks would require the extra though unnecessary bids for the major-conference also-rans, much as they do in basketball.

If I were Lord High Emperor of college football (note to self : figure out how to become Lord High Emperor of college football) I would announce a playoff system with 12 slots for I-A conference champions only (there are 11 conferences now), with four getting a bye (five until a 12th conference is organized) and games played on the last two Saturdays of December and the first two of January.

I wouldn't touch the bowls.

by Parker (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2005 - 1:52pm

I'm just happy that Texas will play USC. If the BCS did not exist, that is the matchup that I would want to see but that would never happen.

I like the BCS better than the old system. Teams that think they have been screwed by the BCS would have been screwed under the old system too.

Penn State didn't get shafted, they lost a game. It's pretty clear what you need to do to in order to be in the running for a Championship. A) Win all your games. B) Win by as much as you can. C) Play a tough schedule.

Under the old system, Penn would play USC in the Rose Bowl, so I suppose if they won and Texas lost as well, then Penn State would have a good shot at the title. But that would be just because they got to play USC because of some prior agreement. Replace USC with Georgia and suddenlt Penn State once again has no chance at a title under the old system. Win all your games, PSU.

by Richie (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2005 - 5:40pm

Yes- every team that won their conference and didn’t ever get a chance to compete for a championship. There are teams in smaller conferences that go undefeated or lose only one game all the time. Ten conference champions plus six at large teams- I like that idea a lot.

That's exactly the way I'd like to see it done.