The Senator from Utah took the time to answer some questions posed by the staff at RealClearSports about his continued interest in D-1 football’s postseason (h/t The Wiz of Odds). In case you might be wondering if there would be any surprises in the interview, the first question – not the answer – should dispel that thought:
RCS: Most college football fans wouldn’t know it, but you may represent the best hope to reform the nearly universally detested BCS. Other than the President, you have been the most prominent and outspoken BCS opponent in Washington. In fact, you’ve previously held hearings about the BCS and you’re on the record calling the BCS “Un-American.”
But, although loathed, the BCS is the status quo, has some powerful support and has proven resilient. Practically speaking, what can Congress do bring about BCS reform?
There’s a guy who’s got a future as a Fox News producer.
Anyway, here are a few choice snippets from Sen. Hatch.
First, on his misunderstanding of the underlying economics of college football:
… My biggest concern with the BCS is that it creates inherent disadvantages for those conferences that don’t receive automatic bids. Nearly half of all the teams in college football are left to share relatively small amounts of BCS revenue, while the teams from the six automatic bid conferences each have a share in a much larger pot, even if they don’t win a single game…
No, the BCS doesn’t create the disadvantages; it merely amplifies them. The BCS isn’t the reason San Diego State can’t get a stadium lease signed and it isn’t the cause as to why the WAC doesn’t have the same TV contract the SEC does. In college football, the money flows where the attention goes.
Next, once again, we’ve got college football turning ostensibly conservative pols into flaming – dare I say it? – socialists.
… When you look at it, a lot of schools depend on the revenue from their football programs to keep all their athletic programs running, or to pay even for some of their academic programs. So for all those things, on the outside looking in on the BCS, which once again is nearly half of all the teams in Division I, the problems with the system extend well beyond the football field. So, as you can see, this is not some itty-bitty problem, this is a pretty important set of issues we’re raising here. I would hope that, given the size of these disparities, the DoJ and the FTC wouldn’t shy away from these issues.
Share the wealth, baby! And if you won’t, well…
RCS: Your colleague, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa has made a point in the past that if these schools and sports programs are run like businesses then they should be treated like businesses and not non-profits. Thereby they’d lose their tax-exempt status.
Is threatening to take away tax-exempt status an option for BCS reform legislation?
Sen. Hatch: Not as far as I’m concerned. I don’t want to do that. But, in the end, that is one option at Congress’s disposal…
Then, we get a dose of Orrin Hatch, the reluctant warrior.
… Look, I’m not itching to get the Senate involved in the regulation of college football. And, like I said, I would also rather not see the matter addressed in the courts, or by the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. There are people right now with the power to reform the BCS system, and it’s always been my hope that they’ll do so without government involvement…
Which is why he strongly opposes Congressional hearings… oh, wait.
He does have a villain for us.
… All of us have been raised in America seeing the elite have advantages that others don’t have. We’re kind of used to it. But when it comes to something like collegiate football, and you clearly have about 50% of these teams not treated fairly; that’s taking elitism too far.
I know what the break down is. One team has a vote. Just one team in this country: Notre Dame. That’s a great team, a great school, and has seriously had great teams all these years. But that’s not right. I don’t care what anybody says…
There goes the Catholic vote.
The most revealing part comes from Hatch riffing off of Andy Staples’ observation that “Swofford couldn’t decide whether the BCS exists for financial or competitive reasons.” Except that wasn’t the problem – it was Swofford’s questioners who couldn’t pose that issue coherently. Swofford was simply left to deal with the fumbling around.
All of which is perfectly illustrated in this quote from Hatch.
… You know this isn’t just Utah that’s being treated unfairly. You can go to Boise State and ask them — they were undefeated at the end of the regular season last year. In fact, both Boise State and Texas Christian finished higher than two teams with automatic bids last season. Yet two teams with multiple losses were able to qualify for a lucrative BCS game, even though they were ranked lower in the BCS’s own poll. In addition to Utah last year, other teams in recent years, including Boise State and Hawaii, have gone undefeated, but were left out of the national title picture.
We all know that college sports in general are big on tradition. There are schools that have winning traditions, and there are teams that are always going to be favored in the media and even among fans, like Notre Dame. We’ve all been raised with that, and I think most people accept that.
But there’s another tradition: The Cinderella story. The team that defies the odds, and despite its humble location and unknown roster, plays its way into National prominence. Now we see that in NCAA Basketball Tournament all the time. The BCS, more or less, makes it impossible for these Cinderella teams to contend for the National Championship. I think that takes a real good aspect of the game away. I’m serious. I think this is important.
What is he after here for the non-BCS conference schools? A share of the pot, or a shot at the title? In 2007, Hawai’i got the former and didn’t deserve the latter. Was that really unfair? Or does it simply not appeal to Hatch’s personal sensitivities about how a postseason should be formatted?
And as much as he tries to keep the homeboy out of the interview – “You know this isn’t just Utah that’s being treated unfairly”, my ass – he lets his slip show in the end.
RCS: Alright Senator, last question. Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow, and Colt McCoy are all returning to school this year. Which one of them will win the Heisman – or do you have a dark horse candidate in mind?
Sen. Hatch: Well, let me just say this: I think you better watch Max Hall at BYU.