Imagine the College Football Playoff Possibilities

Imagine the possibilities in this Elite Eight:

No. 1 Southern Cal vs. No. 8 Georgia.

No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 7 Louisville.

No. 3 Auburn vs. No. 6 Texas.

And No. 4 California vs. No. 5 Utah.

If this were played in March, it'd be the strangest NCAA Tournament we've ever seen. Played in January – as intended – it's college football heaven.

Football's Elite Eight – sketched out above with the top eight teams in the final Associated Press poll of the 2004 regular season – would be the perfect playoff system, filled with excitement, intrigue, and, most importantly, a legitimate national champion.

Too bad it'll never happen as long as college football's current power brokers are in place. If we've learned anything from the past two weeks of college basketball, it's that a football playoff should take place as quickly as possible.

This season's Elite Eight and Final Four were among the best many have ever seen, capping off an NCAA Tournament that, from beginning to end, was perhaps the most exciting and unpredictable ever.

Remember Louisville overcoming a 20-point second-half margin to beat West Virginia? Or Illinois erasing a 75-60 deficit and beating Arizona in Chicago?

Or how about Patrick Sparks' controversial game-tying three-pointer that only delayed the Cats' fate in Michigan State's amazing double-overtime victory in Austin?

And that was just the Elite Eight.

Monday night's national title game between Illinois and North Carolina – the first matchup since 1975 between teams ranked 1-2 in the final AP poll – more than lived up to its advance billing as a clash of titans.

The Fighting Illini erased the Tar Heels' 15-point second-half lead, tying the game at 70 with 2:40 to play thanks to Luther Head's huge three. But they missed their final five shots – all three-pointers – and Carolina hung on after a huge tip-in from freshman forward Marvin Williams broke the tie with 1:27 to play.

It was the perfect capper to the tournament. And Tuesday morning, no one – absolutely no one – doubted that Roy Williams' Heels were the best team in America.

There will be no cheesy "People's National Championship" trophies awarded to Illinois, Louisville, or Michigan State.

No second-guessing.

Three weeks ago, 65 basketball teams had a chance to win a national championship.

Today, 64 of them – from Alabama to Wisconsin – know they blew their best opportunity, fair and square, on the court, in a legit national title format.

That's the way it should be.

Especially in college football.

Division I-A college football is the only division of any college sport that allows its champion to be determined by a combination of human opinion and computer programmers.

Division I-AA, II and III all determine their football champions on the field with playoff systems. But Division I-A – largely thanks to the greed of BCS conference commissioners – remains locked in an archaic system that has no hope, year in and year out, of consistently producing a unified national champion.

The BCS is a system infested with inherent controversy.

Last fall, one of my fine colleagues on the Alabama beat, the Huntsville Times' Paul Gattis, was unfairly savaged by Auburn fans angry that he dared vote their beloved Tigers No.3 in the AP poll, behind Southern Cal and Oklahoma.

Paul did nothing wrong; he just did a job he'd been asked to do – rank the nation's college football teams, one through 25. But in some fans' eyes, he was a pariah because he didn't think the same way they did. Their reactions were disheartening, but typical – they're fans, and that's the way some fans are.

Funny. We didn't hear a controversial word about the AP's basketball poll this winter, as it should be. The AP poll mattered only as a conversation topic, a way to gauge a team's progress during the season. Teams celebrated if they beat a high-ranked club, and teams celebrated if they became a high-ranked club.

But the real point of emphasis was a team's RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) ranking, a primary tool in selecting and seeding the 65-team field.

If BCS commissioners get over their greed, we could use RPI in a football playoff, too. What's wrong with a group of respected college football insiders meeting in a room in, say, Kansas City and selecting an eight-team football playoff, announced on the second Sunday afternoon in December?

If the BCS can agree that everyone deserves at least a tiny chunk of the cash cow a football playoff would be, America would have its newest, hottest sports sensation.

Money is the only obstacle; don't believe college presidents when they say they're worried about players missing class.

How do they explain the conference and NCAA Tournament schedules, which force players out of class for the better part of a month if a team makes a deep run?

If a basketball team plays in the first round of its conference tournament and makes the national title game, it could miss up to 12 days of class.

If a playoff system took place in late December and early January – when most schools are on holiday break anyway – most players would miss a smattering of days, at most.

Playing the academic card is a truly ridiculous argument.

Now, there would be casualties – like the bowl system, which would dramatically decrease in importance even if a playoff system incorporated its games.

That's the price of progress.

Remember when the NIT actually mattered?

College football is great as it is.

But if the right people turned off their egos – and did the right thing – it could be even better.

Greg Wallace is the Alabama beat writer for the Birmingham Post-Herald. He writes a weekly column for BamaMag.com


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