Earlier this week, Senator Orrin Hatch (Republican, Utah) whined in an opinion essay (for Real Clear Politics) that the Senate needed more time to review the "large and complex record" of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Perhaps Hatch and the other members of the Judiciary Committee could devote more attention to Sotomayor if they canceled a hearing, scheduled for next week, to investigate the College Bowl Champion Series (BCS). The upcoming hearing is a colossal waste of time.
Hatch, who sits on the Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, sought the hearing to determine whether the BCS violates any antitrust laws. Keep in mind that the Judiciary Committee must first approve Sotomayor before the process moves to the full Senate.
Although reviewing Sotomayor's record has supposedly stymied Hatch, he found time to write yet another essay (published in Sports Illustrated), which explains his theory of the possible antitrust issues related to the BCS. Hatch believes the automatic bid for the major NCAA conferences might violate the law. This sounds preposterous to me, but I am not an antitrust scholar. Neither is Orrin Hatch.
BCS Is the New Wasteful Obsession for Congress
Next week's BCS hearing is the second to take place in Congress this year. In May, Representative Joe Barton (Republican, Texas) hauled BCS officials into the House to testify before the Committee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection.
Barton has sponsored legislation that would prohibit "the marketing, promotion, and advertising of a post-season game as a 'national championship' football game" unless the victor was chosen through a playoff system. And if the NCCA fails to comply, Barton's proposal would allow the Federal Trade Commission to prosecute the organization for an "unfair or deceptive act or practice."
Apparently, the First Amendment means nothing to Barton. Neither does the need for serious legislation. Also, calling the victor of the BCS Championship game the "national champion" cannot deceive the public when the public already knows that the BCS does not utilize a playoff system. Barton, however, says that calling the victor the national champion is "patently deceptive" because a computer chooses the competitors. Barton's statement distorts the selection process that the BCS utilizes.
Furthermore, under Barton's logic, Major League Baseball violates consumer protection laws because it sponsors the World Series and calls the victor the "world champion." Many professional baseball teams exist outside of the United States, but the MLB world champions do not compete with any of them (except for the one Canadian team that remains a part of MLB). Even if baseball only existed in the United States, the MLB champion cannot accurately claim a "world" title for a geographically localized sport. In fact, doing so seems far more deceptive than picking a national champion under the BCS system.
Conservatives Sponsoring "Big Government"
Despite the economic crisis, Barton apparently believes that the FTC should expend resources forcing the NCAA to select a champion in a way that the federal government deems appropriate. Perhaps Congress could hold hearings next year to redesign the uniforms worn by NCAA football teams as well.
The BCS hearings demonstrate that Congress continues to have an unhealthy fascination with sports figures and athletic organizations. Every year, some athlete makes the trek to Washington to deny (or fail to recall) using steroids. Steroid use by wealthy athletes is hardly a vital national issue that warrants intense congressional scrutiny. The manner that the NCAA picks its championship team also fails to warrant a hearing in Congress.
Finally, it seems extremely contradictory that Barton and Hatch, two "limited government" conservative Republicans, would support this wasteful and invasive process. But if hypocrisy disqualified people from politics, Washington would become a ghost town. Also, Barton and Hatch are lawmakers from Texas and Utah. The University of Texas and the University of Utah both believe that they received a raw deal from the BCS this year because they were not selected to play in the highly profitable and prestigious championship game. Barton and Hatch have discarded their purported conservative values in order to gain points with the folks back home and, possibly, to direct some cash to their states. Apparently, big government is not a problem for Barton and Hatch if it can win them some votes. Great!
PS: Earlier this year, President Obama foolishly placed his voice in this debate as well, calling explicitly for a playoff system.