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EDITORIAL: Government tackles football

- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 13, 2009

Unemployment is over 10 percent, the national debt is bigger than ever, the dollar is sinking, Iran is getting nukes, and we have troops in combat without a plan for victory. Amid all this tumult, Congress has focused its attention on regulating college football. It's offensive that the political class has decided to fiddle while America burns.

The United States used to be the land of freedom. Now, however, federal regulations dictate how many gallons of water our toilets and washing machines can use and the miles per gallon our cars must get. Proposed legislation is targeting what freedom still remains to pick the level of health insurance individuals can choose. Just about every aspect of our lives is regulated in major and minor ways.

The sheer number of regulations is bad enough, but the reality is worse because most are just plain stupid. Political hacks and bureaucrats rarely have any expertise in the areas that are being regulated or even an understanding about why people make the decisions they do, yet regulations are passed hastily so gratuitously earnest politicians can pretend to be doing something to please some constituency.

There's only so much that 100 senators and 435 House members can handle. The House of Representatives is so overwhelmed that members are told they can't have adequate time to read major stimulus, health care and global warming bills. The nation is facing federal deficits of at least $9 trillion during the next 10 years because Congress has neither the time nor the interest to keep America's books balanced. The list of important issues that demand our leaders' attention is long. So, while the United States teeters on the brink of disaster, Congress has chosen to carve out time to regulate whether and how college football can hold a national championship game. Brilliant.

The legislation approved Wednesday by the House subcommittee on commerce, trade and consumer protection specifically bans the "promotion, marketing and advertising of any post-season NCAA Division I football game as a national championship game unless such game is the culmination of a fair and equitable playoff system." Fairness, you see, is in the eye of the beholder. The motivation for this example of stupid government isn't any better than the proposed legislation itself. Some legislators are simply peeved because universities in their states or districts haven't been included in particular bowl games.

The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) relies on polls and computer selection models to rank college football teams. The top two teams play in the BCS National Championship Game. A total of eight teams get to play in one of the four BCS bowl games. At stake is valuable publicity for the selected schools as well as the chance to pocket a share of $17.5 million in revenue for each game. Pandering to those who think they are entitled to a piece of the action, lawmakers and President Obama want to expand the number of schools in BCS bowl games by setting up a tournament for the top 16 teams. That would include twice the number that currently play in BCS bowls.

This plan is no less arbitrary than other federal attempts to regulate American life. Why not 32 teams? With just 16 schools included, the 17th-, 18th- and 19th-ranked teams are being left out of the tournament. Where should the line be drawn? Making a federal case out of this competition is absurd; there shouldn't be a law to decide where this line is drawn, and regulating the BCS only invites more government intrusion into the sport. For example, there are debates over how long the season should last and the number of games teams play. Politicians aren't more capable to make these decisions than the schools and athletic conferences directly involved.

Americans are suffering through economic hard times and are looking for political leadership, which is in very short supply these days. Far too frequently, the only proffered answer to government failure is to give the government even more power. Bureaucrats and elected officials in this country can't even manage what they are supposed to handle, let alone competently run all other aspects of our lives.

The suggestion that government can or should regulate the college football post-season is a sad reflection on our times. The American people used to solve problems through hard work, creativity and a system that rewarded private initiative. If government is the only answer to everything, especially something as relatively unimportant as sports, America truly is in decline.