After things percolated for a day or two, here’s what simmered to the top in the wake of the Showdown at the DC Corral:
1. Not all politicians are as dumb as we give them credit for sometimes. There are 29 official members of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection, plus three ex officio members. Three showed up for the BCS hearing Friday. Maybe there’s hope for us yet.
2. It’s hard to take Joe Barton seriously. First off, the guy left his own hearing early to catch a plane. Second, Dennis Dodd captures his big threat perfectly here:
Barton: “If we move our bill and the president signs it … you can’t advertise the BCS as a national championship game, because it would be a violation of the federal trade act, would you still do the BCS? Or would you actually change and go to a playoff?”
Swofford: “I don’t know the answer to that. It hasn’t been discussed.”
Barton: “I would encourage you to start discussing it. I think there is a better than a 50 percent chance, and if we don’t see some action in the next two months or a voluntary switch to a playoff system, you will see this bill move.”
Whoa, whoa. That was as testosterone-filled a moment as we’ve heard in the 11-year history of the BCS. The gloves came off and the ruler came out: Mine is bigger than yours.
A more than 50 percent chance of what, exactly? What’s this two-month thing? By my calculation, two months from now would be somewhere around the Fourth of July recess.
Change the name of the BCS title game, really? Is that all you got, Joe? Even the congressman himself reminded Swofford, “You don’t have to change it. Our bill doesn’t say you have to change it.”
No wonder Barton needed to get out of there. My suggestion to the BCS if the Barton bill were to pass would be to call its title game the Duck Bowl – you know, as in “if it walks like a title game and it quacks like a title game…”. The marketing possibilities with AFLAC would be endless. Hey, do you think Barton knows that MLB calls its championship “The World Series” and that the NFL labels its big game “The Super Bowl”?
3. Ladies and gentlemen, the winner of the “Most Disingenuous Comment of the Hearing” Award is… Check out this exchange:
“How is this fair?” asked the subcommittee chairman, Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois, who has co-sponsored Barton’s bill. “How can we justify this system … are the big guys getting together and shutting out the little guys?”
“I think it is fair, because it represents the marketplace,” Swofford responded.
Craig Thompson, commissioner of the Mountain West Conference, which does not get an automatic bid, called the money distribution system “grossly inequitable.”
C’mon, Commissioner. Rep. Rush is a former Black Panther, so he probably is somebody close to being a socialist, but you certainly know better.
Here’s the math lesson for you. The average attendance at all SEC spring games this year was 37,936. G-Day attendance totalled42,458. That figure would have ranked 55th in average regular season attendance last year. Number 54 on that list? Utah, which drew an average of 42,593 per game. Only one other MWC member outdrew Georgia’s scrimmage attendance in its 2008 home games. That kind of relative interest is what Swofford was politely citing to when he referred to the marketplace. A snottier comeback would have been along the lines of “get back with us when San Diego State has a commercial pulse”.
4. Underestimate John Swofford at your own risk. It was a pretty common observation that ACC Commissioner and BCS head John Swofford did a poor job defending his position on Friday. SI.com’s Andy Staples in his hearings summary (more on that in a minute) described it as a “public evisceration” and wished that Big Ten commish Jim Delany had been the one to face off with Curly, Moe and Larry (h/t to Dodd on that one). Now, while I would have enjoyed the spectacle of Delany testifying – if only because I’d have hoped all the way through that Rep. Rush would ask him about the infamous “the SEC has great speed” letter – I thought that Swofford held his ground just fine.
As this report noted, Swofford got his point across:
John Swofford also says the major conferences won’t be part of something that drives down their market values.
So much for that 64-team playoff Barton was jonesing for. And unlike Barton, Swofford backed that up with a real threat, at least from the standpoint of the non-BCS conferences – the termination of the BCS and a return to the old bowl set up, with the small fry conferences cut off from the BCS money completely.
5. The nuclear option. The three Congressmen fumbled around the edges with it, but unlike Barton’s feeble attempt at truth in labeling, the feds do have one serious lever they could push, as Staples notes:
… All the schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision are wholly or partially supported by public dollars (even the private schools receive federal grants). Only a handful boast self-sufficient athletic departments.
So there’s that. Congress can’t pick and choose which schools are eligible for federal grants – and trying to do that on support of a D-1 football playoff would be especially difficult to defend – but would Congress and Obama be willing to use the threat of withdrawing all federal funding support for higher education as a sword to get a playoff? Puhleeze.
6. Tortured analogy, runner up. Scott Michaux of the Augusta Chronicle actually posted this in anger:
… Swofford sounded like a polished politician spinning a bunch of absolute gibberish about how a college football playoff would lead to the ruination of the bowl system (as if that would actually be a bad thing were it to actually occur).
It’s about as ridiculous as saying that disallowing torture techniques will be disastrous to our national security. It’s disingenuous fear-mongering with no basis in reality.
Well, he did qualify it by saying “about”. That’s why he only gets second place.
7. Tortured analogy, winner. Andy Staples, whose writing I often like, wrote an unfortunate piece on the hearings that I expect down the road he’s going to regret having composed. There’s nothing wrong with being in favor of a football playoff, yet questioning the usefulness of what Barton was up to on Friday. Staples, instead, went completely in the bag with a column that went from one cringe inducing observation to the next. The capper, fittingly, was his conclusion:
… If legitimate issues don’t intervene, both houses of Congress could send a bacon-wrapped bill to Obama that could severely hinder the BCS, and Obama has already pledged to sign any such bill into law. If BCS supporters don’t think the government can force a change, they need only look to the auto industry.
“[The bowl system] has served college athletics pretty well for 100 years,” Fox said. Pontiac served car buyers pretty well for 83 years, too. Just not well enough.
First off, Obama has done no such thing. Second, “if legitimate issues don’t intervene”? Two wars and a tanking economy aren’t sufficient? What’s Staples thinking about that would be legitimate enough to derail a frickin’ bill on a college football playoff, for God’s sake?
But, hell, forget all of that. College football is like Pontiac? “Pontiac served car buyers pretty well”?
Andy… dude, no. Here’s the monument to Pontiac’s service to car buyers everywhere.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Pontiac Aztec. You know you want one.
Pontiac lost its way. People stopped wanting its products. That ain’t college football’s problem. We’re still passionate about it. We spend money on it like it’s going out of style. That’s why ESPN and CBS are showering ridiculous amounts of TV money on it – because college football sells.
Which is why Congress and the President should keep their noses out of it. Even Craig Thompson knows it, as Dodd concluded.
… If you needed a reminder of how unlikely it is that the BCS is going to change before then, Rush asked the most important question of the day. To Swofford, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson, Alamo Bowl CEO Derrick Fox and Boise State AD Gene Bleymaier, Rush asked if Congress should intervene in the sport’s postseason.
“The U.S. Congress represents fans and constituencies,” Thompson said. “Our university presidents work with that same group of constituents.”
In other words, no, keep your grimy hands off our game.
That was from a guy who favors an eight-team playoff.
So ended The Time Waster In Washington.