A new playoff is coming
As campaign promises go, the one from President Barack Obama on a college football playoff system doesn't have the significance of his pledge to pull troops out of Afghanistan or seek reductions in nuclear stockpiles.
(It's one of two light-hearted promises in our Obameter database of 508, the other being his vow to buy his daughters a puppy, which earned a Promise Kept.)
But Obama's promise about college playoffs became reality Tuesday when 12 university presidents agreed on a deal to create a four-team playoff system to replace the Bowl Championship Series.
As far as we can tell, Obama didn't twist the arms of NCAA officials, but he made at least four public statements between November 2008 and April 2009 that he thought college football needed a better way to determine its champion.
To ESPN's Chris Berman in February 2009: "I think it is about (time) that we had playoffs in college football. You know, I'm fed up with these computer rankings and this and that and the other. Get eight teams, the top eight teams right at the end, you've got a playoff; decide on a national champion.”
In remarks to the Florida Gators football team in April 2009: "I don't want to stir up controversy. You guys are the national champions -- I'm not backing off the fact we need a playoff system. But I have every confidence that you guys could have beat anybody else. And so we'll see how that plays itself out.”
He made the original promise on 60 Minutes in November 2008 that he would "throw my weight around a little bit. I think it's the right thing to do.”
As we noted in previous posts, Congress held hearings and considered bills about the BCS system, with some lawmakers decrying the bowl games as economically unjust. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, have been especially vocal in revising the current approach to naming a champion.
"It`s one of the things that President Obama and myself agree upon. And go Obama. I`m for him all the way,” Barton said in a 2009 interview on MSNBC.
Matthew Sanderson, a spokesman for the federal political action committee, Playoff PAC, said Obama had some influence, although he didn't have an actual role negotiating the new playoffs.
"His use of the bully pulpit did help, though,” Sanderson said.
Obama called for eight teams, not four, but the central idea of a single-elimination draw was the same. And his voice seems to have played a role. We rate this a Promise Kept.
Email interview with Matthew Sanderson of Playoff PAC, June 27, 2012
Playoff PAC, Playoff is an important step forward, but …, June 26, 2012
CBS News, 60 Minutes, Obama calls for NCAA playoffs, Nov. 17, 2008
NBC, Today, interview with President Barack Obama, Feb. 1, 2009
ESPN Monday Night Football, interview with Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., Nov. 3, 2008
The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, Remarks by the President to the 2008 Football National Champion Florida Gators, April 23, 2009
Senate Judiciary Committee, BCS or Bust: competitive and economic effects of the bowl championship series on and off the field, Oct. 29, 2003
ESPN.com, NCAA presidents approve four-team college football playoff beginning 2014, June 26, 2012
CQ Newsmaker Transcripts, MSNBC, interview with Rep. Joe Barton, R-Utah, Dec. 9, 2009 (subscription)
Justice Department, letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Jan. 29, 2010
Benched: Obama's promise to push for college football playoff system
With the BCS national championship decided last night -- and Auburn claiming the title with a thrilling last-second field goal to beat Oregon -- we thought this would be a good time to update one of President Barack Obama's more lighthearted promises from the campaign: to push for a college playoff system.
This promise came out of the locker room strong, but, to push the puns one step further, it now appears to be buried under the bench.
In early 2009, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, the top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced H.R. 390, otherwise known as the "College Football Playoff Act of 2009." The bill sought to ban the promotion of the BCS championship as the "national championship game" unless a playoff system were adopted. The bill passed by a voice vote in the House subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection. But it never went any further.
In July, 2009, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, hosted a hearing before the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee about the legality of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) that currently determines the national champion. In October of that year, Hatch wrote to President Obama asking the Department of Justice"s Antitrust Division to investigate the BCS. In March, 2009, we rated this promise In the Works.
On Jan. 29, 2010, the Justice Department responded to Hatch, acknowledging that the White House shares Hatch's belief that "the current lack of a college football national championship playoff with respect to the highest division of college football...raises important questions affecting millions of fans, colleges and universities, players and other interested parties."
The letter noted that both Utah and Boise State recently had undefeated seasons but were not afforded an opportunity to play for the national championship. This year, Texas Christian University also went undefeated but was left out of the BCS national championship game.
"This seemingly discriminatory action with regard to revenues and access have raised questions regarding whether the BCS potentially runs afoul of the nation's antitrust laws," the Justice Department wrote.
According to the letter from Ronald Weich, Assistant Attorney General, "The Department of Justice is reviewing your letter as well as other materials to determine whether to open an investigation into the legality of the current system under the antitrust laws."
In addition, the letter said that the Obama Administration is "exploring other options that might be available to address concerns with the college football post-season." Among those options: "encouraging the NCAA to take control of the college football post-season...asking a governmental or non-governmental entity or commission to study the benefits, costs, and feasibility of a playoff system...asking the Federal Trade Commission to examine the legality of the current system under consumer protection laws, exploring whether other agencies may be able to play a role, and legislative efforts aimed at encouraging adoption of a playoff system."
So the issue is on the Obama administration's radar. But so far, not much has come of it.
On Sept. 23, 2010, Playoff PAC, a federal political committee "dedicated to discarding the Bowl Championship Series and instituting a competitive post-season championship for college football," filed a 27-page legal complaint with the Internal Revenue Service against bowl organizations affiliated with the BCS. The complaint alleges a number of tax irregularities.
And in November, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff met with U.S. Department of Justice officials to discuss a joint antitrust suit against college football's Bowl Championship Series.
But again, there's not much tangible progress to report, and there's no evidence President Obama has gotten involved.
Matthew Sanderson of Playoff PAC says it's fair to say Obama's efforts on this promise appear to have fizzled. The president missed an opportunity to send a powerful symbolic message on this issue last year when he did not invite undefeated Boise State to the White House when he honored the Alabama Crimson Tide for their 2010 BCS National Championship, Sanderson said.
That would have sent a very public message that he disapproved of the BCS system, Sanderson said.
"We haven't seen him throw his weight around yet," Sanderson said. "That's not to say his administration won't end up doing something."
Sanderson said Playoff PAC remains "reasonably optimistic" that the Department of Justice will open an antitrust investigation that could eventually pave the way toward a college football playoff system.
"We get the sense they are taking it seriously," Sanderson said.
Because the Justice Department hinted in its letter last year that the White House is "exploring options" to push for a playoff system, and because Obama is still only halfway through his presidential term, we're not ready to say the clock has run out on this promise. But as any TCU fan is likely to agree, this promise is Stalled.
New York Times, "Political Heavy Hitters Take On College Bowls," by Katie Thomas, Jan. 9, 2011
Technorati, "Obama's BCS Promise, We're Still Waiting for Change," by Jason Matthews, Nov. 18, 2011
Playoff PAC website, Complaint filed with IRS against several bowls, Sept. 23, 2010
Library of Congress website, H.H. 390, "College Footballl Playoff Act of 2009"
USA Today, "BCS attracts political critics from all sides," by Catalina Camia, Jan. 10, 2011
Sen. Orrin Hatch's website, "In case you missed it: Hatch's opening statement at BCS hearing,"July 7, 2009
Sen. Orrin Hatch's website, "Obama Administration Mulling Action Aganist BCS," Jan. 29, 2010
Sen. Orrin Hatch's website, U.S. Department of Justice letter to Hatch re: BCS, Jan. 29, 2010
Interview with Matthew Sanderson of Playoff PAC, Jan. 10, 2011
Hatch vows to take on BCS
This promise grew out of a softball question at the end of a
interview on Nov. 17.
A smirking Steve Kroft asked what Barack Obama would do, as president, to get a playoff system in college football.
"This is important," Obama said, in mock seriousness. "I think any sensible person would say that if you've got a bunch of teams who play throughout the season and many of them have one loss or two losses — there's no clear, decisive winner — that we should be creating a playoff system. Eight teams. That would be three rounds to determine a national champion. It would add three weeks to the season. You could trim back the regular season. I don't know any serious fan of college football who has disagreed with me on this."
"So I'm going to throw my weight around a little bit; I think it's the right thing to do," Obama said. Then he smiled broadly.
Honestly, we didn't think this one would come up so soon, certainly not in the middle of March Madness, not to mention the ongoing economic recession.
But on March 25, Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, ranking minority member of the subcommittee, announced their agenda of hearings and legislation for the new session of Congress. And among the 18 items on that list: college football's Bowl Championship Series.
Here's what the news release said: "The Bowl Championship Series ('BCS') generates revenue for participating schools at a level that is unmatched in the history of collegiate sports. Even teams that never play in a BCS game are able to reap the financial benefits simply by virtue of their membership in one of the six original BCS conferences. Though the BCS claims to represent all of college football — even going so far as to call the winner of the BCS Championship Game the 'National Champion' — the BCS system leaves nearly half of all the teams in college football at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to qualifying for the millions of dollars paid out every year. This system"s critics allege that the system is not only unfair to the football fans throughout the country, but also to the colleges and universities nationwide that depend on revenues from their football teams to fund their other athletic programs. They further argue that, at the very least, a fair system would provide equal opportunity, regardless of conference, for all teams to play their way into one of the BCS"s bowl games and, if they"re good enough, to compete for the national championship."
The announcement notes that the subcommittee "will hold hearings to investigate these issues" and that Hatch will introduce legislation to "rectify this situation."
It's no coincidence that Hatch is leading the charge. As a senator from Utah, Hatch (BYU, Class of '59) has been railing against the BCS system ever since undefeated Utah was kept out of the national title game this year. Under the BCS, some powerhouse conferences get automatic bids to participate in the series, while others from smaller conferences do not. The two teams that play in the championship game are selected based on various polls and computer rankings. This year, it was No. 1 Florida (12-1) against No. 2 Oklahoma (12-1); Florida won 24-14 and claimed the title.
Hatch called the BCS "anticompetitive," "unfair" and "un-American” and warned that it also might violate antitrust laws. And he swears he's not just saying that because of Utah.
"The problems with the BCS go beyond last year"s debacle, which left the University of Utah, the only team to finish the season undefeated, out of the national championship picture," Hatch said. "Put simply, the BCS is a system that ensures that particular conferences and teams maintain competitive and financial advantages over the rest of the schools in the country."
He said he hoped college football would adopt reforms without the involvement of Congress. But it looks to us like Congress is itching to get involved. Hatch's office did not provide any details of what his proposed legislation may look like, and said it's not likely to come up until the fall (conveniently in the middle of football season, we note). The announcement was made simply as a placemarker for the subcommittee's coming agenda this year.
The House has also joined the fray. In January, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, the top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced H.R. 390, otherwise known as the "College Football Playoff Act of 2009."
We quote Section 3, Prohibited Act: "It shall be unlawful for any person to promote, market or advertise a post-season National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) football game as a championship or national championship game, unless the game is the final game of a single elimination post-season playoff system for which all NCAA Division I FBS conferences and unaffiliated Division I FBS teams are eligible."
We note that both of these proposals are being driven by Republicans, though Barton's bill has a Democratic co-sponsor. There's no indication that the White House has exerted any influence in moving this forward.
And for the record, this still wouldn't qualify Columbia University (where Obama got his undergraduate degree) or Harvard (where he got his law degree) to compete for a national championship, as they play in a lower division in football. And needless to say, it would still leave out Occidental College (where Obama attended for two years before transferring to Columbia). The Oxy Tigers play in Division III (and went 9-0 in the regular season last fall, before losing in the first round of the Division III playoffs).
This is still way early, and again, there's no evidence that Obama has begun to "throw his weight around" yet. But we thought there's been enough to move this to In the Works.
"Senate set to hold hearings on BCS,"
March 25, 2009
Sen. Orrin Hatch Web site, Press release: Hatch Calls for Changes to Bowl Championship Series , Jan. 30, 2009
Sen. Herb Kohl Web site, Press release: Kohl, Hatch Announce Antitrust Subcommittee Agenda for the 111th Congress , March 25, 2009
Sen. Orrin Hatch Web site, Press release: Hatch Statement onMountain West Conference Proposal to Change BCS , March 4, 2009
Star-Telegram, "Rep. Joe Barton, a Texas Aggie, proposes bill to kill BCS" by Anna M. Tinsley, Dec. 11, 2008
YouTube, Obama Calls for NCAA Playoffs in 60 Minutes interview , Nov. 17, 2008
CQ.com, H.R. 390, the "College Football Playoff Act of 2009," Jan. 9, 2009