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Joe Barton vs. The BCS

By John A. Tures
Associate Professor of Political Science
LaGrange College

December 24, 2008 By now, even if you're like Ralphie in "A Christmas Story" and ask yourself "What's a football?" in a moment of panic in front of Santa Claus, you've heard of the BCS controversy where Oklahoma was selected in place of Texas to play in the college football national championship game in January against the University of Florida.

This has been largely treated by the media as a "whining" issue, where the University of Texas feels cheated by being left out of the game.  Enter Joe Barton, Texas Congressman, the ranking minority member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, who has introduced a bill to eliminate the Bowl Championship Series (BCS).  But Barton's quest has been ripped by the media as part of the "sour grapes" theory.  So let's do a little mythbusting of this Barton bill to see if there's any merit to this legislation.

Myth 1: Barton is only doing this because Texas was cheated out of the National Championship Game.  True, he is from the state of Texas, but Barton is a graduate of Texas A&M University, a bitter rival of UT for those of you who don't know Texas sports.  He also has a co-sponsor in Democratic Congressman Bobby Rush, a former Black Panther from Chicago who was the last man to beat Barack Obama.  Furthermore, Barton's district is in Waco (where annual UT foe Baylor University plays) and he's a Republican.  Austin, where UT is located, tends to vote with the Democratic Party.

Myth 2: This bill has nothing to do with the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.  Well, playing in that game generates some huge monetary revenue in merchandising for the lucky school chosen.  "The legislation we are introducing today will prohibit the marketing, promotion, and advertising of a post-season game as a 'national championship' football game, unless it is the result of a playoff system. Violations of the prohibition will be treated as violations of the Federal Trade Commission Act as an unfair or deceptive act or practice, and provides the FTC with civil penalty authority," said Congressman Barton in a December 11th statement to the press.

Myth 3: There's no pro-Oklahoma bias in the BCS.  Actually, OU has been the beneficiary of several "lucky" selections to play in the national championship game.  In the 2003 season, they were chosen to play LSU instead of USC.  Two years later, when there were three undefeated teams, it was USC and OU in the title game, and Auburn was frozen out.  OU is playing in the national championship game despite having lost to Texas, a team that finished with the same record, on a neutral field.

Myth 4: There's always an argument about who should play for the National Championship.  Perhaps there is.  Even Congressman Barton admits that his bill won't eliminate controversy.  But there is every indication that the humans who vote in polls are quite incompetent.  As Dennis Dodd reveals in his December 2nd CBS Sports column "Harris Poll Voter Absent…" Harris Poll voter Pat Quinn (a former sports information director at OU rival OSU) told a Daily Oklahoman columnist that Penn State should be in the national championship game because they were undefeated, not realizing that PSU had lost earlier in the season.  A Fox Sports column "Page 2" on the following day revealed that a former SMU quarterback, Lance McIlhenny claimed he watched only highlights before voting because he was too busy fly fishing on Saturdays.

If Congress is going to take on the steroids issue for its involvement in deceptive practices, then it should penalize the BCS for claiming their system picks a true "national champion" under the current heavily-flawed system.


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