Saturday, December 13, 2008

Congress and a College Football Playoff; Steroids and Major League Baseball

This morning the Indianapolis Star chimes in on its editorial pages as to a bill introduced in Congress by a Republican Texas Congressman to force a college football playoff. Division I universities are the only ones not currently using a playoff system. Division I instead uses a convoluted system where the national champion is determined by polls and computer rankings that no one who is not an MIT mathematics major understands.

I certainly agree with the Star that Congress should have other priorities, especially now. And I don't agree with the Congressman trying to use a roundabout way of forcing the NCAA to adopt the football championship. His approach reminds me a bit of how Congress forces states to adopt certain laws outside the constitutional powers given to Congress under Article I, Section 8 by threatening to take money away from the states if they do not do pass the law Congress wants.

However, I fall far short of the Star's position that this not something that Congress should never take up. Congress represents you and I. Most of these schools whose sports are regulated by the NCAA are public schools that we fund with our tax dollars. I have no problem with Congress using the bully pulpit to raise the issue and pass a resolution expressing the people's collective will, as represented by their legislators. But force the NCAA to do something through some roundabout way of threatening their funding? I'd stop well short of that.

I should say I do not care much by the part of the Star's editorial where it was suggested that a justification for its position by saying that the NCAA is a "private entity." Technically that is true, but the NCAA is also a private entity funded by many public schools in this country and those public schools are funded by taxpayers. In that sense, the NCAA is in the same boat as the IHSAA. Both have screwed up a lot and both should be publicly scrutinized, including by our elected officials. Are they a priority? Absolutely not. But they are not organizations that should operate, regulating sports in our public schools, without scrutiny over their activities.

I remember when Congress got panned for dipping its legislative foot into the steroid cesspool that Major League Baseball had become. Congress was roundly criticized for taking the issue up and to this day people talk about how the Congressmen got involved in something they should not have. Perhaps. But the fact is MLB was not taking care of the problem on its own. MLB officials knew about the problems with steroids for decades and did nothing about the problem. As a result we have a whole generation of steroid-inflated baseball statistics that have ruined the integrity of the baseball's history, a key factor why people across the generations used to love the sport. It was only after Congress got involved and used the bully pulpit to bring publicity to the steroid problem, that changes were finally made in MLB to correct it. Now if there just some way of correcting the record book's steroid-fueled records.

So Congress, a resolution is appropriate. The Congressman's bill goes too far.

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