Auburn went undefeated in Southeastern Conference play during the 2004 season, but probably won't get a chance to play for the national title.
That's a travesty. Granted, the Tigers played a woeful non-conference schedule -- Louisiana-Monroe, The Citadel and Louisiana Tech. But they beat defending national champ LSU by a point and whipped everyone else in the SEC West by at least eight points. They also manhandled the two best teams in the SEC East, Tennessee (34-10) and Georgia (24-6).
Are the No. 3 Tigers better than No. 1 Southern Cal and No. 2 Oklahoma? I'm not sure but there's only one way to find out -- head-to-head competition. Unfortunately, the presence of the antiquated Bowl Championship Series prevents that from happening. The BCS system guarantees that TWO teams will meet for the national title. When a third team -- or a fourth -- has a legitimate claim to the title, it is out of luck. The BCS system does not allow for this contingency.
So, barring a miraculous shift in the BCS rankings, Oklahoma and Southern Cal get to play for the 2004 national title, while Auburn gets the shaft.
The obvious solution is a playoff system. Opponents say a playoff will kill the bowl system and force athletes to abandon their studies. Not in the plan I propose. It incorporates the existing bowl system INTO the playoff. As for the academic argument, student/athletes at just two schools would play beyond Jan. 1 in my proposal.
First, I'd match the teams ranked No. 1 and 4 in a Jan. 1 BCS bowl. The teams ranked No. 2 and 3 would meet in another Jan. 1 BCS bowl. The winners would meet on the second Saturday after New Year's Day in the BCS championship bowl (the Orange this year) to determine the NCAA title.
Under my system, here's how the 2004 playoff plan would unfold: No. 1 Southern Cal would face No. 4 California in the Rose Bowl and No. 2 Oklahoma would face No. 3 Auburn in the Sugar Bowl -- both games being played on Jan. 1. The winners would then collide Jan. 15 in the Orange Bowl for the BCS title.
No "Plus One" bowl has to be added and no bowls have to be eliminated. Two of the BCS bowls amount to playoff semifinal games. The final BCS bowl is moved back, so the semifinal winners have time to prepare for their title showdown. What could be simpler?
My plan isn't perfect -- no system ever will be -- but I think this one comes closer than any I've heard offered so far.