- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 22, 2009

On Jan. 7, college football will crown its national champion, but I believe this title should come with an asterisk.

That is because the participants are determined by the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), a fatally flawed system established in 1998 to guarantee certain schools in certain conferences a certain amount of money every year. It is simply a cartel, much like OPEC, that ensures the money brought in by the bowls isn’t spread around too thinly.

Instead of playoffs, the BCS uses a computer and complicated algorithms to determine who gets to play in what amounts to a mythical championship game.

Arbitrary computer systems that measure merit with a decimal point cannot possibly match up the teams that should compete for the championship better than a series of postseason games.

The BCS folks consistently trot out college presidents or conference heads to make false arguments about how a modest postseason playoff would harm the academics of the student athletes, hurt attendance at non-BCS bowl games or ruin the integrity and support of smaller, more community-oriented bowls.

To me, that seems long on the B and S in BCS. Fanatic supporters of the teams who play in the Humanitarian Bowl or the Meineke Car Care Bowl won’t sit home. They will still head out to support their schools, and college football fans will still tune in to watch.

It is hard to dispute that the current system is dogged by serious controversy. Some years the sport’s national championship winner has been left unsettled, and at least one school is left out of the money and prestige that accompany the title. Repeated efforts to improve the system have failed for one simple reason — the BCS is all about money, not true competition and fairness.

Need proof? Just look at the numbers. In the 11-year history of the BCS, only 11 teams have ever played in the championship game. That means 109 schools have never had an opportunity to hoist that crystal football trophy at the end of the season, and most never will.

The big conferences that benefit from this billion-dollar behemoth have come up with a system that intentionally shuts out smaller schools.

This year will be no different. Texas Christian University (TCU), Boise State and Cincinnati are all on the verge of going undefeated, but most experts agree none of these teams will have a chance to play for a championship.

Can any of these teams beat the big-school BCS insiders like Alabama, Florida or Texas? I don’t know, but you can bet they’re dying to try. Putting on a playoff between TCU, Texas and the others could produce some astonishing football, and I would be among the tens of millions of college football fans watching those games.

You can’t tell me that those games would not draw a bigger TV audience and larger stadium attendance if fans knew the winner was one step closer to an honestly achieved national championship.

I have spoken to BCS officials directly and even heard them testify at a congressional hearing. Each time they talk first and most passionately about money, market share, attendance and sponsorships — and they never seem to mention what actually takes place on the field or in the lives of the student athletes.

The playoff movement has gained bipartisan support, including that of President Obama.

We must always remember, college football is more than a game — it is a multibillion-dollar business.

This is why, as a congressman and a college football fan, I felt something had to be done. Earlier this year I introduced the College Football Playoff Act of 2009. It doesn’t micromanage; to the contrary, the legislation will prohibit the marketing, promotion and advertising of a postseason game as a “national championship” football game unless it is the result of a playoff system. We don’t dictate what kind of system or how many teams should be involved — that will all be left up to the BCS. If they punt the decision — the NCAA could step in.

It is time for the back-room bullies of the BCS to loosen their tyrannical grip on college football because the only fair, equitable and sportsmanlike way to determine a champion is on the field of play, four downs at a time.

Rep. Joe Barton, Texas Republican, has long advocated for a playoff system to determine the national champion for college football.

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