J.C. Watts worked as a consultant for the Bowl Championship Series a few years back, when the United States Congress held hearings regarding the system that determines major college football’s national champion.
The hearings were spearheaded by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) after his home-state Utes went undefeated but were left out of the 2008 national championship game in favor of Florida and Oklahoma, which each had one loss.
Watts, who quarterbacked OU to back-to-back Orange Bowl victories in 1980 and 1981, believed the hearings to be a wildly inappropriate use of Congress’ time.
The former four-term Republican congressman spoke with The Oklahoman on Tuesday morning about the changing landscape of college football.
Q: We’re entering a new era in college football with the playoff beginning this season. What do you think of the new four-team system?
A: Three years before they went to this four-team system, I felt like something was gonna have to give. You know, people tend not to agree with affirmative action unless it’s for their team. The same consternation that the BCS created with the polls and the computers and all that kind of stuff, there’s some folks who are gonna have a complaint or a legitimate gripe about not being one of the four. There’s gonna be some in that four that will only have one loss. There will be one-loss teams that will be left outside of those four. There’s always gonna be some consternation surrounding it.
You’re in a unique spot where you’ve lived in both worlds — college football and Congress. Did you think those congressional hearings were appropriate?
I didn’t think it was appropriate then, and I don’t think it is now. It’s like everything else. When you get in your car and turn on your key, you know when you get in a school zone, the speed limit is gonna be 25 miles per hour. You know that on most highways, it’s gonna be 70 miles per hour. So if you go faster than that, then you’re breaking the law. The governance was in place when you got in the car and started driving. When the season started, the governance was in place.
It’s never gonna be a perfect system, but for Congress to get involved … I mean, we’re over $17 trillion in debt. We have deficits as far as the eye can see. We have immigration issues. We have poverty issues. I mean, why in the world would Congress get involved in college football?
Bill Hancock did a pretty darn good job of navigating through all the egos, personalities, selfishness and greed that surrounded the process.
There’s been a lot of talk about paying college athletes, especially lately with the Ed O’Bannon trial ongoing. Do you have a strong opinion on that issue?
To me, to answer your question, it’s not just a “yes” or “no.” To say that, OK, a coach makes $5 million a year and the players get nothing. Well, that’s not quite the truth. They get scholarships.
During my time, the value of that scholarship to me was probably $200,000 over a five-year period of time.
There is one one exception that I would make. My scholarship at the University of Oklahoma did nothing for me in terms of having a little bit of entertainment money, to have a little walk-around money, to have a little money for toiletries. … I do think there’s room to say that these young men and young women should get $150 or $200 a month — I don’t know what the magic number is — but I do think they should get some type of stipend.