WASHINGTON -- Forget government corruption or corporate fraud. Three members of Congress want the Justice Department to investigate whether college football's Bowl Championship Series is an illegal enterprise.
Reps. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) and Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) are introducing a resolution rejecting the oft-criticized bowl system as an illegal restriction on trade because only the largest universities compete in most of the major bowl games. The resolution would require Justice's antitrust division to investigate whether the system violates federal law.
The measure would also put Congress on record as supporting a college football playoff.
"Who elected these NCAA people? Who are they to decide who competes for the championship?" Abercrombie said at a press conference Thursday on Capitol Hill, gripping a souvenir Hawaii football.
Abercrombie said the matter is worthy of federal review because college football is big business with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake.
"It's money. That's what this is all about," he said.
But it's no coincidence that all three lawmakers have home-state schools with recent beefs against the bowl system.
Hawaii and Boise State University in Idaho each had an undefeated season in recent years but were denied a shot at the championship. And Westmoreland said he is still smarting about his Georgia Bulldogs being passed over for the national championship game last year.
Georgia instead was matched up against undefeated Hawaii in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, winning 41-10.
Westmoreland and Abercrombie said they started talking about the resolution after that game, as Abercrombie was paying off a bet with chocolate-covered macadamia nuts.
The lawmakers say the bowl system is rigid and blocks all but the largest universities from competing in postseason bowls, denying dozens of others not just the opportunity to compete but also a shot at the big payoffs and national exposure that come with bowl appearances.
Abercrombie maintained that television markets are one factor in selecting which teams go to high-profile bowls.
"We shouldn't have to argue about who the champion is," Westmoreland said, citing the excitement and unpredictability of the NCAA college basketball tournament. "That should be decided on the field."
The BCS was created in 1998 by the six most powerful conferences. It relies on polls and computer ratings to determine which teams qualify for the top bowls.
Congress held a hearing on the BCS in 2005, but no legislation came of it.
In a statement, ACC commissioner and current BCS administrator John Swofford said the BCS allows all qualified teams to participate and is beneficial for student-athletes, universities and fans.
"This issue has been looked at before," Swofford said. "We're confident that it complies with the law."