Congressional committee expresses dislike for BCS system

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 5, 2003

WASHINGTON -- While reluctant to take any action, lawmakers put college football on notice Thursday they don't care for what they called an emphasis on marketing over fairness in the way it picks a national champion.

''I think you're throwing the baby out with the bath water by allowing this to continue,'' House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner told college football officials during a hearing on the Bowl Championship Series.

Created in 1998 by the six most powerful college athletic 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.

Email newsletter signup

One of those four bowls each year will pit the top two teams in the BCS standings in a championship game, which will be the Sugar Bowl this season.

Smaller schools complain that the BCS makes it almost impossible for them to win the national championship and puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to making a profitable bowl game and reaping the financial windfalls that come along with it.

''Fundamental fairness trumps the fundamental of good marketing,'' Sensenbrenner said, telling college executives they need to make changes to the BCS system to assure that the ''noble aspirations of amateur athletics do not yield to the cold reality of corporate profits.''

Colleges that don't belong to the six big conferences -- Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Pacific-10, Southeastern -- can get only two slots in the big bowl games and national power Notre Dame, an independent, is the only school to earn one of those berths in the system's five-year history.

BYU is the only school from a non-BCS conference other than Notre Dame to win a national championship since Army in 1945.

Former NFL quarterback Steve Young, who played at BYU, said the disparities hurt recruiting since athletes will sometimes choose to attend schools that have a better shot of going to a bowl game.

''In soccer, basketball, baseball, tennis, golf, etc., equal access is granted. Not so in football,'' he said.

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.

Big Ten Commissioner James Delany said the long history of absence from bowls by schools outside of major conferences justifies the current profit sharing.

In the 20 years before the BCS started, only one school other than Notre Dame that is not currently in those six conferences played in one of the series' four bowls.

''The large majority goes to those who make the greatest commitment,'' NCAA president Myles Brand said. ''The current revenue structure is a result of the free market at work.''

Brand said he was opposed to a full playoff tournament, like the ones used in lower divisions, because it could take time and resources away from academics.

However, some lawmakers support a different revenue sharing agreement that would put more of the bowl proceeds into smaller colleges' coffers.

Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the top Democrat on the committee, said the exclusion of non-BCS schools ''is resulting in those schools having lower athletic budgets, inferior athletic facilities, and rising deficits.''

Neither supporters nor detractors of the bowl system called for congressional legislation, although Tulane University President Scott Cowen called for more congressional hearings if talks between BCS officials and non-BCS schools fail.

Tulane went undefeated in 1998 but was excluded from the BCS bowls because it finished 11th in the BCS standings.

Cowen's Presidential Coalition for Athletic Reform and BCS representatives will meet on Monday in Chicago, and they hope for solutions to emerge within the next six months to a year, in time for new television contracts to be signed. The current BCS contract expires after the 2005 season.