Why is determining a college football champ so hard?
Man, was I naive.
This week, a presidential oversight committee approved a four-team playoff to determine a national champion. The new system will feature a field picked by a selection committee -- although we don't yet know what criteria they'll use to build the field.
We know that six existing bowl games will alternate as semifinal hosts in this new plan. Four are assumed to be the Rose, Orange, Sugar and Fiesta Bowls. Already a fifth bowl, the Chick-Fil-A Bowl in Atlanta, has come out and expressed interest in being included in the rotation of semifinal hosts. Expect others to follow and muddle the picture even more.
We also know that the championship game will go to the highest bidder. So, in other words, don't be surprised if whatever they call this thing ends up at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington under the watchful eye of Jerry Jones on at least a semi-permanent basis.
Of course, there's still that little matter of certain conferences being tied into traditional bowl games that causes a problem.
There is obviously still much to be worked out before this latest attempt at crawling toward the right way to determine a champ is unveiled. Yet, at first glance, (gulp) this doesn't appear to be much better than the BCS, which has been a lightning rod of controversy since its introduction in 1998.
Why does this have to be so hard?
The above question is naive too -- I acknowledge that. But it's just unfathomable to me that determining a champion in a sport is this difficult to do the right way.
I've always been in favor of a 16-team playoff. The formula for inclusion would be simple. All eleven regular season conference champs would get an automatic bid. Yes, my formula would include champs of Conference USA, Mid- American Conference, WAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt. My reasoning? If the LSUs and Alabamas of the world can fatten up their records against teams from these conferences from September to November, then they better have some representation in a championship tournament.
The naysayers argue against it, pointing out that teams like Northern Illinois, Arkansas State and Lousiana Tech don't belong in the hunt for a title. That's the beauty of such a system -- these conferences and schools get a representative but have no hope of actually navigating through a four-game trek to a title against far superior competition. Translation: thanks for playing, here's your participation trophy and parting gift. Now, shut up!
I'd even be willing to bend on the criteria for a 16-team playoff. Let's just say all six of the so-called BCS conference champs get in. Last season, that would have guaranteed invites to LSU, Oregon, Oklahoma State, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Clemson.
The next six spots could be teams from the power conferences that didn't win their league crown, but are still worthy. This would be determined by using the BCS formula (or a similar substitute). In 2011, that would have extended invitations to Alabama, Stanford, Arkansas, Kansas State, South Carolina and Virginia Tech.
That would leave four spots for teams from the non-power conferences and would have ensured participation from Boise State, TCU, Houston and Southern Mississippi last year.
If you used the BCS formula to determine seeding, you'd have the following matchups:
(1) LSU vs. (16) West Virginia
(8) Kansas State vs. (9) South Carolina
(5) Oregon vs. (12) Clemson
(4) Stanford vs. (13) TCU
(6) Arkansas vs. (11) Virginia Tech
(3) Oklahoma State vs. (14) Houston
(7) Boise State vs. (10) Wisconsin
(2) Alabama vs. (15) Southern Mississippi
That's a pretty good tournament field, and for all those who feel that opening up the tournament to 16 teams would water it down substantially and allow for mediocre squads to get in, just know that the only two teams with three losses going into the postseason would have been West Virginia and Clemson. Maybe not coincidentally, they were both rewarded with BCS bowl bids anyway.
Even an eight-team field would have been better. Four major bowl games serving as the semifinals leading up to a neutral-site championship game. That takes away the inevitable belly-aching by the powers-that-be in pastel- colored jackets that will occur under this new plan.
The consensus among college football experts is that the playoffs will eventually grow to eight teams anyway, so why are there baby steps being taken here?
Let's do it right the first time. That would be a refreshing change.