Polis CNN foil Chaffetz looks to kick college football into national playoffs

When it comes to college football and politics, Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz knows better than most that revenge is indeed a dish best served cold; he just wishes his consumption of those dishes ate up a little less airtime on CNN’s “Freshman Year.”

Reps. Jared Polis and Jason Chaffetz
Reps. Jared Polis and Jason Chaffetz

“We talk a little bit too much about what I’m eating at night,” Chaffetz said of the show that also features Democrat Jared Polis of Colorado’s Second Congressional District, where the Utah Republican graduated from high school in the mountain town of Granby.

A placekicker for Granby’s Middle Park High School back in mid-80s, Chaffetz badly wanted to play for the University of Colorado. He sent tapes to then-Buffs-coach Bill McCartney but never heard back from the future founder of the men’s ministry, Promise Keepers.

So Chaffetz landed a scholarship at Brigham Young University in Provo, where the former Democrat (he was Utah co-chair for Michael Dukakis’s 1988 presidential campaign) would convert to Mormonism and later the Republican Party.

And 1988 was also the year Chaffetz kicked the winning field goal for BYU in the Freedom Bowl against CU. He ran off the field pointing at Coach Mac in the ultimate act of recruiting revenge.

Now Chaffetz has it out for the NCAA. He’s patiently watching a bill in the House Energy and Commerce Committee that would force a playoff system in major college football. Although he doesn’t sit on the committee, Chaffetz thinks it’s flat wrong that schools like BYU (and 14-0 Boise State this season) no longer have a realistic shot at a national title.

“I worry that there are anti-trust violations and we’re using a lot of federal taxpayer dollars to fund these schools, so we have a rightful role in reviewing this,” Chaffetz told the Colorado Independent Friday. “This is a scam.”

If a meaningful bill doesn’t come out of Energy and Commerce, Chaffetz said he will consider pursuing the demise of the current Bowl Championship Series (BCS) in one of two committees he does sit on — Judiciary or Oversight and Government Reform.

“Ideally the NCAA will recognize where Congress is going with this and deal with it themselves, but if they refuse to do so, then I think it’s time to enact some legislation,” he said. “And it always helps to have the president on your side, and, yeah, he’s not a fan [of the BCS].”

President Obama on the campaign trail in 2008 talked about “throwing his weight around” to scrap the BCS, which matches up the nation’s top two teams based on a complex and somewhat arbitrary ranking system. Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch in October called on Obama to launch a Justice Department investigation into NCAA anti-trust violations.

“Mr. President, as you have publicly stated on multiple occasions, the BCS system is in dire need of reform,” Hatch wrote. “Some may argue that the college football postseason is too trivial a matter to warrant government involvement. However, given the amount of money involved in the BCS endeavor and its close relationship to our nation’s institutions of higher education, it is clear that the unfairness of the current system extends well beyond the football field.”

Boise State (Western Athletic Conference) and Texas Christian University (Mountain West Conference) are both from non-BCS conferences and undefeated headed into their matchup Monday night. Neither school had any shot at the national title, which was won by major conference Alabama over Texas Thursday night.

BYU, the last non-major school to win a national title – in 1984, well before Chaffetz’s glory days – now plays in the Mountain West Conference, as does Colorado State University in Fort Collins. BYU in-state rival Utah also plays in the Mountain West and finished undefeated last year, including a convincing bowl victory over Alabama, but was snubbed by the BCS.

Powerful forces have aligned to maintain the status quo and keep schools from the mountain west and hinterlands of Texas and other wide-open states in their place, and long-term deals are being struck with the current and historically entrenched bowl games, but Chaffetz is confident he’ll one day be able to wag a vengeful digit in the faces of the college football powers that be.

“Everybody loves a Cinderella story, but it’s not possible in the current system,” he said. “It’s an issue of fairness and opportunity, and ultimately I think we’re going to see a change.”

Would it be as dramatic a change as the one that sent a mountain kid with gridiron dreams to Provo instead of Boulder, then more than two decades later landed him on a national TV show as the conservative foil to an openly gay, ultra-liberal congressman from Boulder (Polis)? Undoubtedly, a national playoff would be life-changing for some kid somewhere. Doubtful it would be that seismic.

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