Football and Politics
When I was younger, the college football season culminated in an exciting flurry of high-powered match-ups. The games were played in a short span of time (not over several weeks) and they had fun names like the Fiesta Bowl, not the Tostito’s Fiesta Bowl.
In short, it’s become big business. And a lot of that is due to the BCS system, which seems to find new ways each year to squeeze the teet of its golden cash cow.
But along with an increase in money comes an increase in scrutiny. One of the main points of contention is that the champions of the major football conferences across the U.S. (e.g. the SEC, the Big Ten, the Big 12) get automatic bids to the BCS games, while the smaller schools must play near perfection in order to gain recognition (e.g. Boise State and TCU).
The schools that play in the BCS games get the best TV time slots, the most critical prestige, and the most money. For example, the PAC 10, Big Ten, Big 12, and SEC each received over $100 million over the past five years, while the smaller, non-BCS conferences have barely crossed the $100 million threshold when combined together. In fact, the SEC and Big Ten have individually made more than all non-BCS teams combined.
See a list of the most profitable schools here.
A lot of sports journalists and fans are also upset that the BCS does not have a playoff like college basketball or the NFL. In fact, people work themselves into such a lather that they do things like call the commissioner of the Big Ten the ayatollah, saying he’s “hijacked” college football.
And now the Justice Department has gotten involved, leading to articles with strange headlines like “Justice Department asks NCAA why it doesn’t have football playoff,” which could be an Onion headline.
Given the conflict between Republicans and Democrats over the state of our economy (i.e. government cuts? tax hikes?) it’s striking to see that government intervention on behalf of the less privileged sports conferences is perceived as a political win for both parties:
Attorney General Eric Holder referenced Varney’s letter at a Senate hearing Wednesday, in response to a statement from Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican and BCS critic. Hatch called the BCS a “mess” and said that “privileged conferences” have tremendous advantages over the unprivileged.
“And I just hope that you’ll continue to follow up on that particular issue,” he said. “It’s an important one, I think.”
“I don’t disagree with you,” Holder responded. “You and I have talked about this issue, and I think I’m free to say that we have sent a letter to the NCAA about this issue and will be following up.”
Before he was sworn in as president, Barack Obama said in 2008 that he was going to “to throw my weight around a little bit” to nudge college football toward a playoff system.