Former chair of BCS Presidential Oversight Committee renews playoff debate

9 03 2010

President Frohnmayer stands in the Knight Law School's conference room to discuss recently proposed legislation regarding a college football playoff; discourse he knows too well with his affiliation as former chair of the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee.

Dave Frohnmayer has held many titles in his lifetime: Oregon gubernatorial candidate, Attorney General of Oregon, President of the University of Oregon, President Emeritus, and chair of the Bowl Championship Series Presidential Oversight Committee.  The latter probably being the most controversial of his tenure.

Frohnmayer goes beyond taking the controversy head-on, he owns it.

The former chair of the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee is unapologetic when describing a university’s position as to why the BCS bowl system, a lightning rod of controversy, is beneficial to schools like the University of Oregon.

Frohnmayer anecdotally remembers his 1995 Rose Bowl experience and the overall impact it had financially for the university.  “It’s an unparalleled opportunity to raise philanthropic funds, which by the way, go to far more than athletic endeavors…. I can count tens of millions of dollars that came to the academic enterprise of the university.”  He is convinced that the amount of money the academic department received wouldn’t have been raised without the intensity and enthusiasm of a community event like the Rose Bowl.

However unpopular the BCS may be with fans, television commentators, President Obama, Senators Joe Barton and Orrin Hatch; a change from the current system is met with staunch resistance from many college presidents and athletic directors nationwide.

Many proponents of the BCS share Frohnmayer’s view that the current bowl system is a proven, positive and an integral method for the economic and philanthropic vitality of a university.  Frohnmayer forcefully answers BCS critics, “I don’t think they’ve done the math, I don’t think they’ve done the economics and I don’t think they remotely understand the importance of the regular season.”  Many Division-I programs use sell-out crowds during regular season football games to pay for all sports within an athletic department.  “If you care about equity in women’s sports or Olympic sports… then the best way to pay for them is to have a successful football regular season.  Which is again, something the critics of the BCS and the advocates of a national playoff utterly forget,” Frohnmayer said.

Senator Orrin Hatch has a different angle to his criticism of the BCS.  He feels it breaks the Sherman Antitrust Act with the non-automatically qualifying conferences receiving a smaller piece of the monetary pie that the BCS provides.  According to Frohnmayer, “The bigger conferences are the ones that brought the money to the table in the first instance; they are called the equity conferences for a reason.”

It’s a philosophical debate within the academic community, but many institutions in the equity conferences have made judgments and invested in intercollegiate athletics.  The belief is that high profile athletic departments with an emphasis on football is in the overall academic and institutional interests of that particular college or university.  “They’ve made that investment over many years and they’ve joined in conferences of people and institutions that have similar beliefs,” Frohnmayer concluded.  He made the analogy that a more equitable revenue sharing model for lesser-invested athletic programs is as preposterous as the idea that schools that charge more in tuition should have a tuition sharing model for the lesser-invested schools.

The issue that Frohnmayer believes politicians and fans ignore, which trumps even the business side of collegiate athletics, is the strain on the academic calendar.  “They disrespect and ignore our academic calendars.”  According to Frohnmayer, having a playoff start in the first few weeks of December interferes with academics on all levels.  Even if you send a handful of student athletes, many playoff advocates do not take into account the band, cheer squads, along with the student and faculty interest in attending the game.  The amount of fervor and distraction entering dead week and finals is, “an academic disaster.”

Should the U.S. government mandate a college football playoff to determine a true champion?  Frohnmayer leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind. “The notion that the Congress of the United States ought to be designing football playoff systems is a preposterous misuse of the political process.”