College Football: A Championship of the Willing?

Diverting for a moment to popular culture….

This has been a particularly frustrating season for US college football fans, except for followers of LSU or Ohio State. The current Bowl Championship Series (BCS) pits two teams, selected by votes and computers out of more than 100, to play in the national championship game. Even more than in previous years, there has been wide agreement that a number of deserving teams were left out.

The problem, of course, is that any selection of two teams out of the three to five or ten that are most deserving is unnecessarily subjective. But no year has been worse than this. A Chicago WBBM news radio station commentary put it something like this. USC (University of Southern California) and Georgia were eliminated by a formula. In a proper playoff system they would have had to be beaten on the field, which WBBM opined, would not have happened. Comforting words for a USC fan (and Georgia fans as well).

WBBM went on to criticize the disingenuous argument that a playoff would make it impossible for athletes to conduct their studies, noting that the college basketball games continue throughout the period and that much of the time that playoffs would be held is already university vacation time.

Half of the problem is the very conference that USC plays in. The Pacific-10, with its co-conspirator the Big-10 oppose any playoff system because of its potential to diminish the importance of the Rose Bowl, where the two conferences have played one-another since long before there was a two-point touchdown conversion. The horse is out of the barn, however, The Rose Bowl has already been diminished and this year saw television ratings drop 20 percent from last year. This year’s USC-Illinois match up is generally considered to have been a joke, with Illinois being greatly improved, but far below the caliber that would make a Rose Bowl viable.

Before the BCS, USC would have played Ohio State, which was losing for the second time in a row in the national championship game against LSU. Again, the Rose Bowl as it was known in 1949 or 1999 is a thing of the past.

It may be time for a college football championship of the willing. The rest of college football should proceed with a genuine bowl playoff system and let the Pacific-10 and Big-10 sit on the sidelines and play in their once great but diminished Rose Bowl to smaller and smaller television audiences.

At a minimum, an eight team playoff should be established. WBBM suggested that a 16-team playoff would be feasible. However, care needs to be taken not to follow the example of college basketball, where my impression is that all teams are included in the playoffs, plus a smattering of high school teams. That’s why I stopped following college basketball some years ago. It would be useful to limit any playoff to conference championships. There is no logic in allowing a national champion to be crowned that was incapable of winning its own conference.

The Pacific-10 and Big-10 are not likely to be left out in the cold too long. They would soon find it preferable to be a part of the solution rather than trying to put Humpty Dumpty together again.