- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2008

If President-elect Barack Obama were to free college football fans from the chains of the oft-criticized Bowl Championship Series, how would he go about doing it?

Obama said in an interview with “60 Minutes” on Sunday he will use his influence as president to push for an eight-team playoff to determine a national champion in college football - the second time in less than a month he has publicly addressed the issue.

In doing so, Obama echoed the concerns of many fans who see the current BCS system as confusing and occasionally unfair and who as much as possible want to see a national title determined on the field rather than by computer rankings.

“If you’ve got a bunch of teams who play throughout the season and many of them have one loss or two losses, there’s no clear, decisive winner,” Obama said. “We should be creating a playoff system.”

It’s unclear how serious Obama is about the issue, and he has offered no specific plan of action nor promised he would push for action. But he has addressed the issue on multiple occasions.

“I’m going to throw my weight around a little bit,” he said in the “60 Minutes” interview.

If, however, Obama did press the issue, he would have a number of options available to him, legal experts said - though they cautioned that few of them had strong legal backing.

For instance, they said Obama could potentially attempt to impose an executive order on the NCAA to create a playoff. But such a measure likely would be shot down because the NCAA has repeatedly defended its status as a private institution.

Obama also could ask the Justice Department to explore whether the BCS is a violation of antitrust law on grounds that the system often excludes teams from non-major conferences.

“I haven’t seen a compelling argument,” said Michael McCann, a professor at Boston University School of Law and a contributor to Sports Illustrated. “I’ve seen different arguments offered that all seem somewhat flawed.”

McCann said a more likely effort might focus on the NCAA’s tax-exempt status. Obama or members of Congress could threaten to remove the NCAA’s tax-exempt status if it did not create a playoff system for college football.

Threatening to take away the tax exemption would be controversial, however. Defenders of the exemption said its removal would hurt many of the non-revenue producing sports, such as cross country or field hockey.

Obama has one other, powerful tool at his disposal: the bully pulpit. The president simply could voice his concerns and hope that the symbolic strength of his office alone will enact change, and the mere threat of governmental involvement could be persuasive.

President Bush managed to do this in his State of the Union speech in 2004 - his plea for a crackdown on steroids in sports was met with a wave of congressional hearings followed by stiffer testing by Major League Baseball.

“While he has high approval ratings now, Obama will have more ability to [sway] public policy at the moment than at any other time,” McCann said.

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