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Despite playoff, college football title still tarnished

June 27, 2012
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All hail. The college football powers that run the Bowl Championship Series have come up with a four-team playoff.

This will bring cash hundreds of millions of dollars deep to college football and the power conferences that control the enterprise.

Yes, this is big business. BCS officials are already negotiating a TV deal for the three-game playoff worth a reported $500 million annually.

What the playoff system, which is to begin during the 2014-15 season, won’t do is end the controversy surrounding the college football national champion. That’s because the main problem with college football has still not been addressed. The selection process that determines the teams in the playoff still stinks.

A selection committee will determine the playoff participants, with weight placed on record, strength of schedule, head-to-head results and whether a team is a conference champion.

The composition of the selection committee, the name of the new system and how revenue from the playoffs will be distributed hasn’t been disclosed.

There’s a shocker. Leave it to college football powers to leave out a couple of important details. The selection process should have been one of the first things revealed since it is, has been, and always will be the primary source of controversy in college football and the tarnish on its national championship crown.

All this playoff system does is shift the controversy from focusing on the No. 2- and 3-ranked teams to the No. 4- and 5-ranked teams. And that controversy will be magnified—I predict within three years—when the No. 4-ranked team defeats the No. 1-ranked team in the playoffs. Parity in football is spreading from the NFL to the college ranks, so it’s only a matter of time.

How many teams, including the No. 5- and 6-ranked teams and on and on will claim they too could have competed with or even defeated the team deemed No. 1 by the ultra-wacky BCS ratings system?

Controversy in college football national championships has existed since the first kick-off decades ago. With the press voting one way and the coaches voting another, split national champions and controversy over who is really No. 1 is nothing new.

So the BCS—instituted in 1998—was supposed to solve all that by pitting No. 1 and No. 2 in a single bowl game. Wow, what a great idea. Then here comes Boise State and Utah with their undefeated seasons and a cavalcade of other teams that maybe lost a single early season game claiming that by season’s end they were truly playing the best football in the land.

College basketball has largely dodged the kind of bullets that riddled college football’s reputation. Sure, a few seedings and NCAA basketball tournament exclusions have raised some eyebrows, but the chorus of boos hasn’t risen to nearly the level of howls over college football rankings.

The reason why is simple. The teams that arguably should have made the hoops tournament, but didn’t, probably wouldn’t have escaped the first two rounds, anyway, much less win a national title. So while there’s a whimper of complaints by the likes of ESPN’s Dick Vitale and Jay Bilas, there’s no hue and cry about the selection process.

Football, though, is an entirely different story. There’s no methodical, objective selection process, and football schedules are simply too short to have fair strength of schedule comparisons.

What’s the answer? A more transparent, systematic and logical selection process for starters—one not controlled primarily by the power conferences and their commercial interests.

What else? Radical change. It’s not easy, or necessarily pleasant, but if college football is going to rid itself of its own stench once and for all, it’s necessary.

If college football truly wants to take all the tarnish off its national championship crown, it’s going to have to scrap the bowl system and construct a playoff that includes all the contenders. And even a few pretenders.

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