MULE': Crowning An Arbitrary National Champ

College football aficionados everywhere – well, with the noted exceptions of the Buckeye State of Ohio and Tiger Country of Louisiana – are frustrated again. Once again the sport will crown an arbitrary national champion.

For all the carping about the BCS system, where a combination of factors such as record, strength of schedule, style points in victory and defeat, etc., are weighed in computer analysis as well as human judgment in trying to identify the two most deserving teams to play for No. 1, it is still much better than what we had before: simple opinion.

Think about it. What we had in the heyday of the AP poll was a group of sportswriters giving their collective view on which team played the best over the course of a given season. Nothing more than that.

What we have now, with all the system's imperfections, we have, if not the best two teams, at least reasonable facsimiles.

The only truly better method is . . . dare we whisper the "P'' word? Yes, there it is: "Playoff.'' But with provisions.

It couldn't be – or shouldn't be – the "plus one'' concept, where a selected group watches the bowl games, then picks who they think are the best two opponents to play an additional game decide the national title.

It couldn't be a four-team playoff, or even an eight-team playoff, in which the top programs compete in either a two or three game tournament.

Picking the chosen teams in those narrow parameters would be just as subjective as any mid-20th Century sportswriter tabulations – which is what brought on the BCS to begin with.

No, it would have to be a 16-team tournament.

It sounds unwieldy on the face of it, I know, but it is the fairest, most unassailable way to determine a true national champion. It hit home last week reading a mock football tournament put together by the staff of the Salt Lake City Tribune.

Sixteen teams is much more equitable than eight because we've all seen ninth-ranked squads that perhaps caught some bad breaks during the season but could hold their own with top-ranked opponents. There is always some grousing, but the 17th-ranked team isn't going to have nearly as good an argument as that ninth-ranked contender.

Let's take this apart, then put it back together.

Consider: the tournament would take four weeks, but schools could cut back on their 12-game regular schedules to 11 games or even 10, the number they played for most of the last hundred years. That would mean just two teams – the ones vying for the championship – would play as many as 14 games, same as LSU will play this season.

The income lost by cutting the regular-season schedule would be made up by spreading the mega-millions of television dollars to all Division 1-A football member schools, similar to is done with the NCAA basketball tournament.

Champions of the 11 conferences and five at-large are included, and the first two rounds could be played at the sites of the higher-seeded teams. In the mock tournament, for example, No. 1-ranked Ohio State would host 16th-seeded Florida Atlantic, and No. 2-seeded LSU would be at home to No. 15-Central Michigan.

The semi-finals would be at the major bowl sites, with the finals – the national championship game – held at a rotating bowl venue, the Rose, Orange, Fiesta and Sugar.

Bracket One of the mock tournament included Ohio State, Florida Atlantic, Kansas (8th), West Virginia (9th), Georgia (5th), Brigham Young (12th), Oklahoma (4th), and Arizona State (13th).

Bracket Two had LSU (2nd), Central Michigan (15th), Missouri (7th), Hawaii (10th), Southern Cal (6th), Florida (11th), Virginia Tech (3rd), and Central Florida.

Pretty comprehensive, and workable. There would be no serious gripes – or questions – if this could be played out.

For the record, in the mock post-season the Bayou Bengals won the championship, beating Oklahoma. The comment on the outcome read: "As long as the game doesn't go to overtime, LSU wins the title.''

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Marty Mule' can be reached at MJM981@Bellsouth.net


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