- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Talk about bringing change. President-elect Barack Obama’s bullish comments on college football’s need for a playoff system promises to reignite debate among gridiron fans.

Just as President Bush used the bully pulpit to force reforms inside Major League Baseball on the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs such as steroids, Mr. Obama appears to have found his pet athletic cause.

The president-elect has begun his push even before taking office, taking on the college football oligarchy and demanding that they change in the name of fairness and common sense.

Mr. Obama mentioned the issue for the second time in a week Sunday, near the end of a 40-minute interview with CBS News’ “60 Minutes.”

But he went further Sunday than he had before, vowing to use the power of the presidency to push the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

“This is important,” Mr. Obama said. “I’m gonna throw my weight around a little bit. I think it’s the right thing to do.”

“I think any sensible person would say that if you’ve got a bunch of teams who play throughout the season and many of them have one loss or two losses [and] there’s no clear decisive winner, that we should be creating a playoff system,” Mr. Obama said.

“Eight teams. That would be three rounds, to determine a national champion. It would add three extra weeks to the season. You could trim back on the regular season. I don’t know any serious fan of college football who has disagreed with me on this.”

But John Swofford, the commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and current Bowl Championship Series (BCS) coordinator, thanked the president-elect for his advice, but offered a different view of what most people think is the best system.

“I am glad he has a passion for college football like so many other Americans. For now, our constituencies - and I know he understands constituencies - have settled on the current BCS system, which the majority believe is the best system yet to determine a national champion while also maintaining the college football regular season as the best and most meaningful in sports,” Mr. Swofford said in a written statement.

“We certainly respect the opinions of President-elect Obama and welcome dialogue on what´s best for college football,” he said.

The NCAA has resisted calls over the past several years to make such a change, clinging to its tradition-rich bowl system and the Bowl Championship Series, which relies on polls and computer ratings to pick the two teams that play for the national championship.

BCS results have often been the source of controversy, as schools with perfect records or with as many wins and losses as those who make it to the championship have been left out with no chance to compete for the No. 1 spot.

But the BCS has become a lucrative business for the 10 schools that make it to the four major games and the championship game, and for the conferences in which those schools play.

The six major conferences that are guaranteed a spot in the BCS system - the ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-10 and SEC (Southeastern Conference) - all get $18 million each year and $4.5 million for each additional team that makes it into one of the five games.

The BCS also says that “the total economic impact in the host cities from the five BCS games in January 2009 is expected to be at more than $1.2 billion.”

Mr. Obama first mentioned his support for the playoff system during an interview with ESPN during the “Monday Night Football” game between the Washington Redskins and Pittsburgh Steelers last week.

His calls for college football reform are not the first from a lawmaker. Rep. Joe L. Barton, Texas Republican, in 2005 called a BCS official before his subcommittee to review the system.