When sports and politics collide - An unproductive legislative fight for college football

If you aren’t familiar with Playoff PAC, it is an organization opposed to the current Bowl Championship Series and dedicated to establishing a competitive post-season championship for college football. Recently, the PAC filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) alleging various bowls violated their tax-exempt status by among other things inflating  salaries and not disclosing lobbying costs.  This alone seems like a fair level of activity for an organization to engage but something is off about the entire dispute, the term “PAC.” PAC stands for ‘political action committee’ which has a fairly basic connotation to it – political action.  A complaint with the IRS lacks any political or legislative action. Instead, a complaint with the IRS could take place completely free of Washington or its players. Non-profit statuses are questioned all the time. As in this case, it is typically an attempt by one individual or organization to de-legitimize opposition by questioning their legal status.  This complaint ultimately hurts Playoff PAC and what they are trying to accomplish as it becomes a distraction which leads to no clear legislative resolution.
A Federal PAC should donate to elected officials who agree with their opinions or serve as a springboard for legislative advocacy about a particular issue. Playoff PAC appears to be doing neither in its most recent squabble. I’m not sure if they’ve raised any money off this most recent complaint but their last Federal Election Commission disclosure indicated they hadn’t donated to any federal candidates. That omission removes one useful arrow in their political quiver. As for their advocacy goals, an IRS complaint leaves no room for clear legislative action. When asked by the AP if this complaint will aid the group in its playoff goal a spokesman for Playoff PAC answered "when we raise awareness about these types of irregularities, the need for change becomes more apparent." And? With no clear bill or action that corresponds to this complaint it is difficult to have Congressional action occur. Should Members of Congress intercede in an IRS investigation? Four Members of Congress have already sent a letter this week asking the IRS to examine the complaints, a largely symbolic action which won't bring the goal of playoffs closer. Where is the clear message to legislators and supporters to encourage a specific legislative fix in light of these complaints?  Should they be stripped of their non-profit status? Will that result in the desired playoff system?
What struck me about this fight was the misguided nature of the entire affair, especially the media attention which applauded the nebulous action. I served on the staff of a Utah Congressman and am intimately aware of how big a deal the playoff system is to so many institutions. I’m scratching my head at Playoff PAC’s strategy. In previous months they’ve done a fine job of highlighting specific legislative actions such as the College Football Playoff Act of 2009, which is why this particular fight is such an anomaly.
I believe that an organization such as Playoff PAC has a responsibility to lead its constituency in productive and thoughtful advocacy. Certainly the points raised in their IRS complaint are diligent and require answers, but an organization which has the word “PAC” in it must decide if it will simply play the role of watchdog and bane of the Bowl Championship Series or advance real change for their cause. Playoff PAC must work with the Bowl System to iron out their differences in Congress or another serious format. As of now, this level of behavior is a public relations battle which is all taking place outside of a real environment for change - congress. I think that Playoff PAC of all organizations should appreciate what a competitive playing field could do for the right team.

Maury Litwack is an advocacy expert, former Hill staffer and author of the recently published Capitol Plan – a comprehensive Washington advocacy strategy.

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