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Alligator Army Off Topic: Congress and Sports

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The decision by the U.S. House to look into the death of filly Eight Belles at the Kentucky Derby is just another move by the legislative branch into sports. In the past few months, Congress has looked at Spygate, asked if the B.C.S. is an illegal enterprise, and that just adds to the Capitol obsession with baseball. Of course, someone is going to ask, aren’t there bigger issues in the world? There are, but there is a reason why Congress does and should target sports.

When it comes to the economy, Congress is relatively powerless. First, there is the theory of business cycles and no matter how many $600 checks they approve, the economy may only fix itself. As for oil prices, not even Mr. Bush politely asking for more production helped. When it comes to the war or any military excursion, Congress defers to the President, even though they have the power of the purse. In each of these cases, Congress is a role player, watching the Executive Branch chucking threes.

So when an issue arises in sports, it is a time for Congress to shine. Not only do they get to investigate something more interesting than the negative effects of hydroelectric power on fish in the Lower Colorado River, but they get more attention. These guys need to get reelected, most of them every 2 years, and they need all the free press they can get.

Unlike the President though, professional sports exists because Congress allows sports to be controlled outside the parameters of general business law. The same is true of the NCAA. The one time the purposefully deliberate Congress can actually get something done quickly is with sports. This is not government interfering with business though. It’s preventing a public good, like a school or highway, from going bad.

With leagues and the NCAA becoming less transparent (see Goodell, Roger), Congress has to step in. The networks that broadcast games will not check the leagues’ powers, unlike the Fourth Estate supposedly checking government. Congress has to be a player in the arena, even if they can’t do the same on more important issues.