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Why is determining a college football champ so hard?

I once thought that any scenario devised to determine a
national champion in the great sport of college football
that included the word ‘playoff’ would be a huge
improvement over the sham of a system that is the BCS.

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

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-
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.