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Congress tackles footblah, blah, blah

I was bartending the other night — believe it or not, this column doesn’t pay all my bills — when this gal at the bar mentioned how excited she was that NFL training camps are opening soon. Naturally, she was a Denver Broncos fan, as people in most states have other things to hold their interest in the summer. I gave a weary groan, in my own obnoxious way, to let her know what I thought of football talk in July, and that was basically the end of it. Sadly, though, football discussion has become a year-round pursuit, and unless you’re a rabid pigskin fan, it gets mind-numbingly boring.

This offseason, in particular, the football blather has reached unprecedented heights, and I blame our new commander-in-chief, who made a point of saying he was in favor of a Division I college football playoff to determine a national champion, rather than the ridiculous Bowl Championship Series, which is neither a bowl nor a championship nor a series. The BCS has had its detractors basically since the day the major football conferences dreamed it up, but this year, emboldened by President Obama, those naysayers have taken the fight to new levels, by which I mean the U.S. Senate.

Leading the anti-BCS chorus this time around has been Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, who spoke in front of a standing-room-only crowd in a Senate subcommittee last Tuesday and urged the Justice Department to investigate the BCS for what he sees as violations of antitrust laws. And back in May, Congress held a hearing on the BCS wherein Rep. Joe Barton of Texas touted his proposed bill that would prevent the NCAA from calling a game a national championship unless it was the outcome of a playoff.

The BCS has been in existence since 1998 and hasn’t changed appreciably in all those years, so why are Hatch and Barton so fired up about it now after having stayed mum for the last decade? It could be that they’re simply jumping on the bandwagon started by President Obama, but as both are Republicans this seems unlikely. The truth is actually quite a bit more self-serving.

The last BCS championship game featured two one-loss teams, Florida and Oklahoma, and shut out both Utah, which finished the season undefeated, and Texas, which also had one loss. Shocking that the newest anti-BCS crusaders just happen to be from those two states, isn’t it? I’m sure that if Boise State goes undefeated this year and doesn’t get to play for a national championship, Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho will be howling for a playoff next spring. Likewise, if Utah finishes with a couple of losses, Hatch will probably lose interest in the subject.

Now, no one hates the BCS anymore than I do. It’s elitist and stupid and most likely is in violation of antitrust laws, but with the economy in ruins, joblessness soaring and our troops fighting two wars, is college football really what we want our elected officials worrying about? I’d like to think that the bills being written in Congress now would have to do with getting the country back on its feet, not slapping some insipid gag order on the NCAA.

Lest you think that all the football talk this summer has been negative, however, I’d like to point out that there is some good news on the gridiron front, and, unlike a lot of what’s going on these days, this news will make you proud to be an American.

It seems football is finally expanding its global appeal, as evidenced by the 2009 Junior World Championship of American Football, which wrapped up on July 5 in Canton, Ohio, home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The tournament featured teams of high school-age players from as far away as New Zealand, Japan and Sweden, proving that football is not merely an American game anymore.

The U.S. won the title, barely, by beating France 78-0 and Mexico 55-0 before toppling Canada 41-3 in the championship game. (OK, so maybe football is still merely an American game.) Thankfully, though, the winner was determined by a playoff instead of some arcane system of polls and computer formulas such as the one used by the BCS. Otherwise the powerful Japanese media may have succeeded in having their one-loss team anointed champion.

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Todd Hartley

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