Over the Christmas break, my sister lamented the fact that Congress was "wasting" its time on the issue of college football's national championship.
Not so, I pointed out - it is a matter of interstate commerce, which the Constitution specifically tasks Congress with regulating. There's a lot of money involved. And, as long as Congress is focusing on football, it can't be screwing up important stuff.
And no one is giving Congress more reason to get involved than Bill Hancock.
Hancock, the executive director of the Bowl Championship Series, uttered a series of laughers to the Associated Press in defending the still-flawed major college championship system. Hancock was responding to an effort by the Playoff PAC to sway Congress with television ads this week in favor of a bracketed tournament for the final holdout in the four divisions of NCAA football (a story on this appears on Page B4 in Tuesday's edition of The Sentinel).
Now, there's no argument from me that the BCS is better than the preceding system, under which any number of entities proclaimed national football champions. The AP, United Press International (yes, it still exists, believe it or not), USA Today (which took over the UPI poll) and Harris, normally thought of as a political pollster, all have offered their thoughts on who's No. 1.
The geeks came along with their electronic abacuses in the 1990s, and began to play a serious role in the selection with the creation of the BCS, which uses the Harris and USA Today coaches polls - but no longer factors in the AP - along with six computer scoring systems.
Penn State fans ought to be in favor of the machines, simply because one of the early ones - Cosgrove - declared the Nittany Lions as national champions in 1994 when the humans gave the title to Nebraska. That was at least the second time the Nits were wronged, as an unbeaten 1969 Penn State team fell victim to President Richard Nixon, who apparently suited up as a Longhorn that year.
But for the most part, the polls - the human ones, that is - served adequately at choosing what the BCS folks like to call the "mythical" national championship. Apparently, even though the BCS only pretends itself to choose a "real" champion, folks like Hancock believe they have a claim of ownership that no other entity - even the ones his organization uses - can match.
Truth be told, since the first poll-determined champion in 1936, there have been only 11 split titles - although all of them were in the past 55 years. But the truth is, even Hancock doesn't have a good enough party whip to keep his pollsters in line - in 2003, after the BCS title went to LSU, the AP gave its nod to USC, which doubled up on Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
To be fair, even the AP didn't consider that a 1-2 matchup - although it's interesting to see how many times the AP has gotten it right in the BCS era. AP's Nos. 1 and 2 met in the 1999 Fiesta Bowl, the 2000 Sugar Bowl, the 2003 Fiesta, the 2005 Orange, the 2006 Rose and the since-created BCS title game every year since. The BCS and AP agree in 1999, 2000, 2003 and every year since 2005.
Wait, you must be saying, is this argument for or against the BCS?
It's against - not just the BCS, but the cabal of college football that has squeezed out good, unbeaten teams like, oh, Boise State and TCU (until Monday night when it lost to Boise State), which just happen not to be in the right conference. Sure, it's possible that Alabama would crush Boise State the same way that Penn State rolls over powerhouse opponents like Coastal Carolina.
But I remember a time when no one knew what Gonzaga was (I thought at first it was the newest Muppet on Sesame Street) until the Bulldogs made a name for themselves in a few bracketed basketball tournaments.
"Not everybody can play" for the title, Hancock told the AP. No, but shouldn't it be two teams we know earned their way there, rather than a couple of clubs selected in a popularity contest more fitting for the homecoming queen?
Then he puffs about the negative impact a real national championship would have on the regular season. Yeah, like a loss to an FCS team as the only one in a season wouldn't doom a big conference club's bowl chances today. I need waders when this guy opens his mouth.
"Because of the BCS, TCU and Boise State have a national stage and a primetime TV slot to showcase their success, and they deserve to enjoy the spotlight," he says.
Actually, it's despite the BCS - but he's right on the second count. It's just too bad his system will never really give them a chance.
Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.