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Congress to tackle battle over the BCS bowl games

Some argue matter should be left to schools

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WASHINGTON — Congress will step into the debate about the college football postseason with a hearing Thursday that will include testimony from some of the sport's most powerful figures.

Some schools shut out from the automatic bids in the Bowl Championship Series say the system amounts to an illegal monopoly, giving the biggest schools the best shot at the lucrative bowl postseason.

But even one of the Bowl Championship Series' most vocal opponents wants Congress to stay out of the postseason plan.

"Whatever issues may exist, it really should be worked among the university presidents without the intervention of Congress," Tulane president Scott Cowen said.

He founded an anti-BCS organization designed to give schools such as Tulane a better shot at one of the big end-of-season bowl games.

Joining Cowen on the witness list at a House Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday on the BCS are NCAA president Myles Brand, Big Ten commissioner James Delany and former BYU and NFL quarterback Steve Young.

While no one expects legislation to result, both supporters and detractors of the bowl system were hoping to put the best public face possible on their arguments.

Cowen's Presidential Coalition for Athletic Reform and BCS representatives are to meet in Chicago next Monday to discuss the series' future. The current BCS contract expires following the 2005 season.

BCS supporters say the system does not violate antitrust rules because it is open to all schools through two at-large bids.

"The BCS is giving the public exactly what it wants — a national championship game and other high-quality bowl matchups that appeal to fans while being open and inclusive of all Division I-A institutions," Delany and Kevin Weiberg, the Big 12 commissioner, wrote in an opinion piece offered to newspapers last month.

The BCS was established before the 1998 season to determine the national champion by matching the top two teams in either the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl or Fiesta Bowl.

The champions from the Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-10 and Southeastern conferences receive automatic bids. There are also two at-large bids that are open to all Division I-A schools.

Teams from non-BCS conferences are guaranteed a bid to one of the four bowl games if they are ranked in the top six.

But in the system's five-year history, no team from a non-BCS conference has played in one of the four major bowl games.

In the 20 years before the BCS started, only one school other than Notre Dame that is not currently in those six conferences played in one of the series' four bowls.

The projected revenue for the four 2004 BCS games is about $90 million. But if no team from outside the six BCS conferences makes one of the bowls, only about $6 million will go to the non-BCS schools.