Congress Tackles Grid Grumbling

The question of whether the Horned Frogs are doomed to share the fate of the Thundering Herd and the Green Wave is not your typical topic of discussion in official Washington.

But senators could look to the plight of the undefeated Texas Christian University Horned Frogs on Wednesday as they inquire about the fairness and legality of the Bowl Championship Series — the method in place for crowning college football's national champion.

Now 8-0, the Horned Frogs follow in the footsteps of the Marshall University Thundering Herd and the Tulane University Green Wave before them as "little schools that could," but ultimately could not because they were shut out of the BCS bowls by a process critics say is unduly restrictive and exclusive.

To automatically qualify for an elite BCS bowl game, a team must finish in the top six in the BCS rankings and in the top 12 just to be eligible. The process favors the nation's six powerhouse football conferences and Notre Dame. The Horned Frogs are currently 12th.

"It makes it virtually impossible for any BCS school to become a guaranteed at-large" team, Tulane University President Scott Cowen said Tuesday. He was testifying Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"There's no rationale for it other than they want it to be exclusive and have a concentration of money and power," he said.

It was 1998 when Tulane went through its season undefeated, but had to settle for playing in the Liberty Bowl because the more prestigious bowls were taken by big-name teams, most with losses on their records. It won its bowl game.

The difficulty mid-major teams have had cracking into the BCS has some questioning whether the setup violates federal antitrust laws.

Jim McKeown, an attorney specializing in the sports industry, believes it does not. As he sees it, the BCS created a competition that didn't exist in football before — a truly credible national championship game — meaning it expanded competition instead of reducing it, a key component of the antitrust law.

To keep that credible championship alive, it is necessary to make sure that the top teams are committed to the BCS. Otherwise, it would be easy for another entity to put up big money and lure one of the top teams into a non-BCS bowl.

"It doesn't necessarily seem to me to be the type of arena where Congress wants to get involved and suddenly become the regulator of college football championships," McKeown said.

Cowen said he isn't looking to scrap the current system now. Rather, he wants to replace it when it expires in 2005 with a system that's more inclusive and that benefits all Division I schools by providing them with a reasonable shot at postseason bowl games and the national championship.

The case against the BCS also will be made by LaVell Edwards, the longtime football coach of Brigham Young University, which in 1984 became the only school outside the six elite conferences to win the national championship since 1945. The chairman of the committee, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is a graduate of BYU.

Also scheduled to testify were Harvey Perlman, chancellor of the University of Nebraska; NCAA President Myles Brand; and Keith Tribble, chief executive officer of the Orange Bowl Committee.

The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the issue earlier this year.