Washington Sketch: College Football Fan Hatch Takes One for His Team

Florida bested Oklahoma for the coveted BCS championship this year.
Florida bested Oklahoma for the coveted BCS championship this year. (By J. Pat Carter -- Associated Press)
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By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, July 8, 2009

If you're an ordinary college football fan and your team gets passed over for a national championship game, you probably hurl a few choice words at the Bowl Championship Series, the group that sets the bowl pairings.

But Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah is no ordinary college football fan. When his University of Utah Utes were denied a chance to play in last season's championship game, despite an undefeated record, Hatch, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, ordered up a congressional hearing.

"The University of Utah finished the season by routing a team that had been ranked number one for much of the season," Hatch informed the hearing room, packed with young male staffers, in his opening statement. "It's hard to imagine what more Utah could have done with its season in search of a national championship, yet under the BCS system, they were eliminated from such consideration before the season even started."

The senator turned his indignation on one of his witnesses, University of Nebraska at Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman, a fan of the BCS system. "Let's take last year's Utah team," Hatch said. "What more could they have done to play their way into a national championship game?"

"Senator," Perlman replied, "it's hard to respond to this without appearing to be disrespectful of Utah."

"And you don't want to be, in this room," Hatch told the witness.

Perlman offered his haughty answer: "They could've played the schedule Nebraska played last year."

"Well," Hatch argued, "they played a lot of big-time teams."

Perlman offered pity for the spurned Utes. "That's the way the world is, I'm afraid," he said.

Hatch, denied a championship shot for his team, instead created a matchup of his own in the Judiciary Committee hearing room: a grudge match between the leaders of the University of Nebraska (who supports the BCS) and the University of Utah (who opposes it). Hatch, from his prime seat on the 50-yard line, cheered on his team and badgered the opposition.

In theory, an antitrust case could be made that the six athletic conferences that dominate the BCS have an unfair advantage over the five other conferences, which are not traditional football powerhouses. But the argument has been largely confined to bars and sports pages, because nobody seems terribly eager to fight it out in court.

Few in the Senate shared Hatch's enthusiasm for taking on the BCS. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y) took his seat 47 minutes into the hearing, then left three minutes later without saying a word. The only other senator to participate, antitrust subcommittee Chairman Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), left after the opening statements and allowed the Republican Hatch to chair the hearing.

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