Small Government, States' Rights, and College Football

As anyone who follows big time college athletics knows, the landscape of major athletic conferences is about to change dramatically.  When all is said and done in a few weeks, the Big XII, the great conference that spans the center of this nation from Iowa to Texas, will likely be no more, picked apart by other major conferences.  It is possible that we could see as many as three or four 16-school leagues, whereas now the largest leagues only have twelve schools.

My purpose in this diary, however, is not to discuss whether Nebraska is a good fit for the Big Ten or whether Texas Tech could survive in a Pac-16.  I can find a good sports blog for discussions like those…like Reason, for example.  Rather, I ponder questions on conservatism and cultural differences between Northeast conservatives (yes, there are still some of us out there) and Southern/Western conservatives, particularly their views on what limited government truly is.

I would like to call attention to three of the most conservative states in the union: Utah, Alabama, and Texas.  All three are run by the GOP, and their populations, by and large, are some of the most Republican-voting in the nation.  Yet, the Republicans cannot seem to keep their hands off college football.

Utah Senator Orrin Hatch is famous in sports’ circles for trying to drum up anti-trust charges against the Bowl Championship Series.  The BCS, however unpopular it may be, really does not strike me as something that should interest the United States Senate.  I understand that many of Hatch’s constituents and contributors probably attended the University of Utah or BYU, two of the schools most penalized by the current rules of the BCS.  However, in my understanding of small government conservatism, college football is best off when it can determine things for itself, just like any other business.  How do Utah conservatives justify trying to bring anti-trust charges against college football?

I am no anti-trust lawyer, so I will concede that Hatch and his constituents may have a legal point.  However, the other two states’ actions strike me as far more problematic.  In Alabama (and Florida and probably a few other southern states), the legislature has a law requiring the two largest schools, the University of Alabama and Auburn University, play each other on the gridiron annually.  I live in Pennsylvania.  The two largest schools here, Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh, have not played football against each other in a decade.  Everyone, save a few of the athletic decision makers at Penn State, wants to see PSU and Pitt play on an annual basis.  But no one, not even big government Democrats, thinks to beg the PA General Assembly to pass such a law.  Okay, one candidate did, but he was a Democrat in a majority Republican district.  We simply do not see college athletic regulation as part of government’s role.  From my position, I see southern conservatives who beg the legislature to give them the games they want as asking for big government.  I see a conservative dilemma here.  Certainly, it is within a state’s tenth amendment rights to pass football-related legislation; I do not mean to argue that it is unconstitutional.  However, it reeks of big government, the same kind of big government stench that comes from, say, a labor union pushing for favorable policy on the state level or every social service organization under the sun demanding state preference through licensing.  Just because an issue is relatively trivial does not mean the solution is not ‘big government’.

Onto Texas, the state most heavily affected by the Big XII mess.  Texas has four schools in the current Big XII: the University of Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and Baylor.  Three of those schools are likely to receive invitations to join the Pac-10 conference, with Baylor being left out.  But wait, we must get the governor and state legislature involved!

By most rumors, Texas A&M would rather join the SEC than the Pac-10.  Texans, however, want to see their schools in the same conference, and it is unlikely that UT would join the SEC for academic reasons.  So, Governor Rick Perry (R) makes a promise that both schools will remain in the same conference.  I have no problem with Governors getting involved in lobbying efforts to keep a sports team in state or to keep public universities on task; that is part of their roles as executives of their state.  However, it is when a governor suggests he will use the force of law to achieve his goals that he moves beyond the scope of limited government.

And what of Baylor, which seems to be left out of the Pac-16, and thus without a major conference.  While you could make an argument that the Alabama schools and other three Texas schools should be beholden to the wishes of the legislature as state schools, Baylor is a private institution and deserves neither protection nor preference from the state.  Yet, a bloc of 15 legislators, supposedly, is prepared to lobby and use the force of law to get Baylor into the Pac-16.  The bloc is unnamed, but I would assume there are some Republicans in the bloc.

From my conservative perspective, there is a clear philosophical problem with going to government to solve trivial problems.  Yet, southerners and westerners seem more than willing to give up their conservative, small government beliefs when it comes to college football.  I am having a problem understanding this.  What is small government to southerners and westerners?

What I see is a break between the more libertarian-minded conservatives and the states’ rights conservatives.  Whereas the libertarian conservative will avoid asking the government to solve almost any problem at any level, the states’ rights conservative is more than happy to allow local control to protect major parts of his culture.  This difference could also explain why many libertarian-conservatives and northeastern Christians are not willing to lobby for traditional marriage as ardently as southerners.  Libertarians see lobbying government to legislatively recognize a socio-cultural more as demeaning to the individual, whereas southerners are far more willing to fight fire with fire in the culture wars and view the absence of activist efforts as capitulating to the left.

[SIDENOTE:  Can we, as conservatives, avoid the term states’ rights?  I only use it in this diary because it is the more popular term in modern conservative discourse, but the racial history of the term is problematic.  I propose ‘10th Amendment rights’ as a good substitution, even if it is exactly the same thing.]

I am having trouble synthesizing this dilemma between the state and limited government.  To what point does a belief in limited government mean to limit the power of state-level government?  Maybe I am searching for a philosophically tight conservatism that does not exist.  Or maybe there are major cultural differences between Northeastern conservatism and Western/Southern conservatism.  Or maybe conservatives agree with me and view Republicans who regulate schools’ athletic departments as non-conservatives.  Or, worst of all, maybe conservatives truly are willing to demean themselves and beg for regulation on trivial issues they care about.