The Bowl Championship Series matchups are set and no matter how they play out, a postseason that begins with five unbeaten teams is guaranteed to end with more than one having a legitimate claim to the increasingly mythical national championship.
So here's a suggestion for those without a dog in any of those fights: Root for Texas congressman Joe Barton instead.
As rule, fans should oppose making a federal case out of any matter that can be decided on a playing field. But because the BCS effectively controls college football's postseason through its TV contracts, that won't happen until 2014. Unless, that is, Barton's version of an end-around -- a bill called the College Football Playoff Act of 2009 currently winding its way through a House subcommittee -- makes it onto President Barack Obama's desk
"The president has told me directly that he'll sign the bill," Barton, a Republican, said in a recent interview.
The measure would require the BCS to conduct a playoff, or else drop the word "championship" from its title to avoid violating truth-in-advertising statutes governing interstate commerce.
It's a longshot, to be sure. But Barton is convinced he'll gave enough the votes to get the bill out of committee and the full House, and into the Senate where Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, one of several senators sympathetic to the idea of a playoff, will pick up the ball.
"It will happen," Barton predicted one more time, "the pressure is building."
But he wasn't above offering the BCS a face-saving compromise first.
"Just drop the word `championship' and call it the "Big-Time College Football Series,' or the `Dollar Maximization Series.' Because the way it is now," Barton added, "you're not telling the truth about what you are."
The BCS has had a problem with credibility since its inception as the Bowl Coalition nearly two decades ago. Its latest campaign to convince a skeptical public was a charm offensive built around a Facebook page and Twitter account. Fans bombarded both with scorn, but that hasn't stopped the BCS from trotting out the same talking points provided by a high-priced public-relations firm barely a month ago.
"We do feel like it's working and college football is thriving," new BCS executive director Bill Hancock said during a conference call with reporters Sunday night to discuss the bowl matchups. "We recognize there are elements in each constituency that don't like it, but the fact is, it has a consensus. The critics, the playoff proponents, do not have a consensus."
The fact is the BCS doesn't have a "consensus," unless what Hancock meant is that nine out of 10 fans and an overwhelming majority of coaches and players oppose the way the organization goes about crowning a national champion. Playoff proponents, on the other hand, would coalesce around a scheme that involves as few as two teams or as many as 16 and incorporates the current bowl system.
"Start with 16 teams and eight bowls and do it that way, or go whole hog and include every bowl, or at least the 32 bowls that are out there," Barton said. "I don't care. ...
"They claim they're about picking a national champion legitimately on the football field, and that's flat disingenuous," he added. "They're about maximizing revenue."
Not exactly, since a playoff, by some estimates, would make more money. What the BCS is really about is controlling how the money is divvied up. When a team from one of the six major conferences whose commissioners rule the BCS appear in one of the big bowls, they split the purse with the teams in their league. When one of the teams from the five smaller conferences makes into a big bowl, the purse is split with members of all five leagues.
"This should not be a political issue. and yet, the only time that we've seen change is because there's been threat of political intervention," said Western Athletic Conference commissioner Karl Benson. "It's not that the underrepresented conferences ... haven't suggested change in the past. there just hasn't been any leverage or any power within the system for us to mandate change."
But the threat of lawsuits forced the BCS to open the system up to those smaller conferences, which made it possible for TCU and Boise State to face each other in the Fiesta Bowl. Unfortunately, no matter which of the two undefeated teams wins, their claim to the championship will be no more than a faint echo in the clamor surrounding the Texas-Alabama winner.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org.