But some fans have a big gripe with this system, too. They complain that the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) system, which gives priority to the champions of the “major” conferences in the race for the national championship, unfairly discriminates against the smaller schools–the so called “mid-majors” in Division I-A. So this obscure power struggle between parochial interests got kicked up to the American institution that remains, even with a GOP leadership which had promised to get rid of pork-barrel projects, the undisputed national champion of power struggles between parochial interests: Congress. As it happens, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is an alumnus of Brigham Young University, one of the mid-majors with the biggest gripe; his Judiciary Committee speedily set about scheduling hearings.
“Many sports fans in Utah and all across the nation have strong feelings about the BCS,” said Hatch, in the fine, grandiloquent rhetorical tradition senators usually employ when speaking about weighty matters of state, like Social Security reform or campaign finance. “First, [they feel that] the current system is unfair. Second, they care deeply that it isn’t.”
Hatch, a once-promising high-school halfback, argued that the current system disadvantages universities like BYU because the power schools retain most of the $90 million generated by the BCS bowls and because top talent flows to schools that can offer recruits a chance to play for a national title. Life might not be fair, Hatch asserted, but to ignore that unfairness would be to “chip away at the American dream.”
As though to excuse the panel’s tenuous jurisdiction over college football’s post-season–BCS’s practices, Hatch and others insisted, raise antitrust concerns–he argued that looking at this attack on the American dream was “worth a couple hours of this committee’s time.”
If Hatch had a parochial interest in attacking the BCS system, the few other senators in attendance (only four of the committee’s 14 members showed up) had similar cause to defend it. Ohio’s Republican Sen. Mike DeWine noted that last year, the Ohio State Buckeyes won the national championship by defeating the University of Miami in a game that would not have taken place before the BCS existed. “If we assume the BCS actually does cause harmful effects on competition, we need to balance those effects against the benefits that the BCS brings,” said DeWine, adding, “Obviously, I’m a little prejudiced.”
The only senator at the hearing who didn’t have a direct home-state interest in the BCS debate was Joseph Biden (D-Del.). Biden’s alma mater, the University of Delaware, plays in Division I-AA–a lower-tier league of competition for smaller schools that does, in fact, have postseason playoffs. Speaking with a mix of regional pride and the earnestness of one who still thinks congressional hearings are for solving problems, Biden suggested that a system that works for the Delaware Blue Hens could work for the bigger schools as well. “There are a whole lot of us in the East that would much rather see a playoff system,” he said, adding, “there’s a whole lot of us in the East that don’t give a damn about the Rose Bowl.”
Hatch got favorable press treatment in the Utah papers the next day. The Washington media were less kind. “I need to hear Orrin Hatch on the Orange Bowl like I need to hear Alec Baldwin on the Brazilian rain forest,” said The Washington Post‘s Norman Chad.