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Brian Frederick

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President Obama, It's Time to (Live Up to Your Word to) Fix College Football

Posted: 12/ 6/2011 6:57 pm

Just over 100 years ago, President Theodore Roosevelt invited football leaders from Harvard, Yale and Princeton to the White House for a summit.

"Football is on trial," he told the assembled group. "Because I believe in the game, I want to do all I can to save it."

At the time, there were no formal rules for the sport and it was rife with violent injuries that sometimes resulted in death.

The meeting only lasted a couple hours and not much was resolved, except that the group issued a joint statement:

At a meeting with the President of the United States it was agreed that we consider an honorable obligation existed to carry out in letter and in spirit the rules of the game of football relating to roughness, holding, and foul play and the active coaches of our Universities being present with us pledge themselves to so regard it and to do to their utmost to carry out these obligations.

On its surface, the meeting didn't produce much and Roosevelt did receive some flack from the media for focusing on football. But the meeting did clean up the game, lead to the eventual creation of the NCAA and a more formalized set of rules. (For more on Roosevelt's interest in football, check out John J. Miller's The Big Scrum.)

A century later, presidential leadership is once again sorely needed. The current college football system, especially its postseason, is rife with corruption and hypocrisy. Because an elite group of conference commissioners and university presidents refuses to share the wealth with other NCAA schools by allowing a postseason playoff, we have an arbitrary method of determining a champion, based on computer formulas and biased human polls.

It is a system that leads to absurd conference realignments because schools seek TV revenues that only the conferences (and ESPN) can deliver. Yet, everyone (even BCS proponents) agrees a postseason playoff would generate 3-4 times as much revenue. This is money that our schools could sorely use right now. Instead, we rely on taxpayers and university students to help offset the debts that 90% of Division I athletic programs are incurring.

Meanwhile, the schools who do get invited to bowls, including BCS bowls, often end up losing money (!) for participating in the bowls. They're forced to buy up blocks of expensive tickets they can't sell and stay in blocks of hotel rooms because the bowl organizations have received kickbacks from those hotels.

And to cap it off, the system doesn't even deliver a fair or just national championship. How can computer models and human polls fairly determine whether an 11-1 SEC team is better than a 11-1 Big 12 team?

Shortly after he was elected, President Obama said of a college football playoff, "I'm going to throw my weight around a little bit. I think it's the right thing to do."

Well, what better time than now? Yet another season has ended in controversy and the NCAA has thrown its hands up in the air, admitting it has no power over its most profitable product -- postseason football.

President Obama, please convene the top educational leaders and figure out how to solve this BCS mess. You may receive some flack for worrying about football in these difficult economic times. But point out that a playoff would generate up to $1 billion more for schools and universities around the country.

And football fans from Boise to Morgantown will have your back. So far over 27,000 of us have signed a petition asking you to take action. (Your White House website promises responses to petitions with over 25,000 signatures.)

Even if the only result of the meeting is simply a pledge from those gathered that they will do their utmost to institute a playoff, it would be a welcome and significant start. And it would win you, the First Fan, some points with your fellow football fans around the country.


 

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