John Swofford, the coordinator of the BCS, rejected the idea of switching to a playoff, arguing it would threaten the existence of celebrated bowl games. Sponsorships and TV revenue that now go to bowl games would instead be spent on playoff games, "meaning that it will be very difficult for any bowl, including the current BCS bowls, which are among the oldest and most established in the game's history, to survive," Swofford said.
Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, who has introduced legislation that would prevent the NCAA from labeling a game a national championship unless it's the outcome of a playoff system, said that efforts to tinker with the BCS were bound to fail.
"It's like communism," he said at the House Energy and Commerce Committee's commerce, trade and consumer protection subcommittee hearing. "You can't fix it."
Barton, the top Republican on the committee, quipped that the BCS should drop the "C" from its name because it doesn't represent a true championship.
"Call it the 'BS' system," he said to laughter.
Under the BCS, some conferences get automatic bids to participate while others do not. Conferences that get an automatic bid -- the ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-10 and SEC -- get about $18 million each, far more than the non-conference schools. Swofford is also commissioner of the ACC.
"How is this fair?" asked the subcommittee chairman, Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois, who has co-sponsored Barton's bill. "How can we justify this system ... are the big guys getting together and shutting out the little guys?"
"I think it is fair, because it represents the marketplace," Swofford responded.
Craig Thompson, commissioner of the Mountain West Commission, which does not get an automatic bid, called the money distribution system "grossly inequitable."
The MWC has proposed a playoff system and hired a Washington firm to lobby Congress for changes to the BCS, which currently features a championship game between the two top teams in the BCS standings, based on two polls and six computer ratings.
The MWC proposes, among others things, scrapping the BCS standings and creating a 12-member committee to pick which teams receive at-large bids, and to select and seed the eight teams chosen for the playoff. The BCS has previously discussed, and dismissed, the idea of using a selection committee.
The four current BCS games -- the Sugar, Orange, Rose and Fiesta bowls -- would host the four first-round playoff games under the proposal. Thompson has argued that a playoff system would be a boon for those bowls, because they would help determine the national champion.
Gene Bleymaier, athletic director at Boise State University, noted that his school's football team went undefeated several times, yet never got a chance to play for the national championship under the BCS.
"The BCS system not only restricts access but essentially precludes schools from playing in the national championship," he said.
Asked by Rush whether Congress should intervene, Bleymaier responded, "The only way this is going to change is with help from the outside."
The BCS is in its final season of a four-year deal with the Fox network. A new four-year deal with ESPN, worth $125 million per year, begins with the 2011 bowl games. That deal was negotiated using the current BCS format. While ESPN has said it would not stand in the way if the BCS wanted to change, the new deal allows the BCS to put off making major changes until the 2014 season.
The hearing, with the appealing combination of sports and politics, attracted considerable attention on a relatively quiet day on Capitol Hill. The subject also is a boon to lawmakers, who have some constituents still seething because their team was passed over. Last year, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania made headlines when he questioned the NFL's destruction of tapes in the Spygate case. The league disciplined the New England Patriots for videotaping signals from the New York Jets' sideline during a game.
The BCS has come under attack from several politicians. Last November, as president-elect, Barack Obama told "60 Minutes" he would prefer an eight-team playoff system.
"I don't know any serious fan of college football who has disagreed with me on this," he said. "So I'm going to throw my weight around a little bit."
In the Senate, Utah Republican Orrin Hatch has put the BCS on the agenda for the Judiciary's antitrust subcommittee this year, and Utah's attorney general, Mark Shurtleff, is investigating whether the BCS violates federal antitrust laws.
Fans were furious that Utah was bypassed for the national championship despite going undefeated in the regular season. The title game pitted No. 1 Florida (12-1) against No. 2 Oklahoma (12-1); Florida won 24-14 and claimed the title.