Politics

Lobbyists Blitz Congress as Bill Takes on Controversial BCS

| by OpenSecrets

House Resolution 390 will not result in troop deployments to Afghanistan, an overhaul of the
U.S. health care system or the bolstering of an economy in tatters.

But because it advocates a new college football playoff format, the
legislation, in the minds of millions of fans and at least a few
congressional members, is all the same a matter of national import.
 
So
considering a House of Representatives' subcommittee last week approved
legislation aimed at dismantling the current system for determining a
national college football champ -- the Bowl Championship Series --
expect an escalation in what's already been a robust federal lobbying
and political influence effort by the system's supporters and foes
alike.
 
The BCS itself has spent $670,000
on federal lobbying since 2003, when it began engaging in such
activity, Center for Responsive Politics research indicates. The BCS
coordinates college football's five premier post-season games: the
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, FedEx Orange Bowl, Allstate Sugar Bowl and Rose
Bowl, plus a national championship game between the nation's two most
highly ranked teams based on a complex system that includes two polls
and six computer rankings.??
 
News Corp., which broadcasts BCS games on its Fox property, has also extensively lobbied Congress in opposition to H.R. 390, also known as the College Football Playoff Act of 2009. The pro-BCS Football Bowl Association, for its part, has spent $10,000 this year.
 
Meanwhile, the University of Michigan, Purdue University and the National Collegiate Athletic Association have lobbied on the separate, but similar H.R. 599, which seeks to slash federal aid to colleges participating in a Division IA college football season that lacks a head-to-head playoff. The Atlantic Coast Conference has lobbied Congress as well, to the tune of $250,000 this year. 
 
"When
Congress knocks on your door, you have to have people respond. You want
people in Washington to represent you," BCS Executive Director Bill
Hancock told Capital Eye in explaining his entity's lobbying
efforts. "With everything else happening in this country, surely
Congress has better things to do than manage college football. It's
something that Congress as a whole, I think, isn't terribly interested
in. But we need to stand up for what we believe."
 
BCS opponents have likewise launched federal lobbying campaigns. 
 
The Mountain West Conference, for example, spent $250,000 on federal lobbying efforts during the first nine months of this year, CRP data indicates.

Both conferences aren't among the six NCAA conferences -- the ACC,
Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-10 and SEC -- that the BCS grants
automatic births. And?guaranteed inclusion in top-flight bowl games
means big money for the lucky conferences' schools. Hancock maintains
the BCS has actually helped smaller-conference schools earn money and
national stature, citing wildly successful Boise State University as a prime example. 
 
The upstart Playoff PAC,
meanwhile, hasn't spent money on federal lobbying, nor has it raised or
spent any cash as of mid-autumn, according to the most recent federal
campaign finance data available, which would not include?data from
recent weeks.
 
But the organization, which says it endeavors to
mobilize support for a college football playoff regime and "elect
pro-reform political candidates," plans to soon enter the congressional
scrum on behalf of anti-BCS forces.
 
"We see ourselves as a grassroots movement, and we aim to ratchet up the political pressure on lawmakers," said Matthew Sanderson,
a lawyer and Playoff PAC co-founder who during 2008 served as U.S. Sen.
John McCain's presidential committee campaign finance counsel. "College
football's reach extends well beyond the playing field -- football
helps fund university's capital projects, it funds scholarships, other
sports programs -- and there's an overwhelming majority who want change
in college football. So we feel this is an appropriate issue for
government to be spending time on."
 
Playoff PAC, which
officially formed October 14, will likely release the names of its
steering committee members sometime during the next few weeks,
Sanderson added.
 
Some congressmen welcome the uptick in lobbying and political activity against the BCS.
 
For Rep. Joe Barton
(R-Texas), sponsor of the College Football Playoff Act of 2009, the BCS
discriminates against athletic conferences that aren't part of the
six-conference automatic bid pool. It also all-but-eliminates highly
ranked football programs such as Texas Christian University from
national championship contention since they don't compete within an
automatic-bid BCS conference, Barton has argued.
 
"For the
congressman, it's a matter of fairness. The BCS is a cartel," Barton
spokesman Sean Brown told Capital Eye. "From the minute non-BCS schools
kicked off the ball in their first game this year, they didn't have a
chance at the national championship no matter how hard they played."
 
And
that's why Barton is all too happy to turn the BCS into the most
political of political footballs, injecting Congress into a debate that
others would just as well leave to … college football.
 
Among those others: Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.), who last week voted against Barton's bill.
 
Although
the congressman says he's personally no BCS fan, "he just respectfully
disagrees that this is the way to approach the situation, with
legislation," Barrow Communications Director Jane Brodsky said.
 
H.R. 390 now moves to the full House Energy and Commerce Committee, led by Rep. Henry Waxman
(D-Calif.). It's unclear what the bill's chances of passage are,
although Barton spokesman Brown says he's confident the committee, of
which Barton is the ranking Republican, will take up the measure
sometime next year.

And President Barack Obama?

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The nation's sports fan-in-chief hasn't recently addressed the issue, although Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has?called on the president to launch an antitrust probe of the BCS through the Justice Department. 

But shortly after his election last year, the Obama made his disdain for the BCS clear.
 
"I'm
going to throw my weight around a little bit." Obama said after his
election last year, arguing that a college football playoff system is
"the right thing to do."

The BCS, however, has an influential?White House heavy of its own:
Ari Fleischer, President George W. Bush's former press secretary, whose
sports public relations firm began representing the BCS last month.

Check out the original article on Open Secrets.