WASHINGTON — Dismissing complaints from some members that Congress had more pressing matters, a House subcommittee approved legislation Wednesday aimed at forcing college football to switch to a playoff system to determine its national champion.
"We can walk across the street and chew gum at the same time," said the subcommittee chairman, Illinois Democrat Bobby Rush, one of the bill's co-sponsors. "We can do a number of things at the same time."
The legislation, which still faces steep odds, would ban the promotion of a postseason NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision game as a national championship unless it results from a playoff. The measure passed by voice vote in the House Energy and Commerce Committee's commerce, trade and consumer protection subcommittee, with one audible "no," from Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga.
"With all due respect, I really think we have more important things to spend our time on," Barrow said before the vote, although he stressed he didn't like the current Bowl Championship Series, either.
The BCS selections announced last weekend pit two unbeaten teams, No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Texas, in the Jan. 7 national title game. Three other undefeated teams — TCU, Cincinnati and Boise State — will play in a BCS bowl game, but not for the championship.
"What can we say — it's December and the BCS is in chaos again," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He said the BCS system is unfair and won't change unless prompted by Congress.
The legislation, which goes to the full committee, would make it illegal to promote a national championship game "or make a similar representation," unless it results from a playoff.
There is no Senate version, although Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has pressed for a Justice Department antitrust investigation into the BCS.
Shortly after his election last year, Barack Obama said there should be a playoff system.
In a statement before the vote, BCS executive director Bill Hancock said, "With all the serious matters facing our country, surely Congress has more important issues than spending taxpayer money to dictate how college football is played."
Yet Barrow wasn't alone in criticizing his colleagues' priorities; Reps. Zach Space, D-Ohio, and Bart Stupak, D-Mich., made similar arguments. Space said that with people facing tough times, the decision to focus on college football sends the "wrong message."
The legislation has a tough road ahead, given the wide geographic representation and political clout of schools in the six conferences that have automatic BCS bowl bids — the ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-10 and SEC.
The current college bowl system features a championship game between the two top teams in the BCS standings, based on two polls and six computer rankings. Eight other schools play in the Orange, Sugar, Fiesta and Rose bowls.
Under the BCS, the champions of those six big conference have automatic bids, while other conferences don't. Those six conferences also receive far more money than the other conferences.
For more information
Information on the bill, H.R. 390, can be found at thomas.loc.gov
Bowl Championship Series: www.bcsfootball.org
House Energy and Commerce Committee: energycommerce.house.gov