Originally created 12/14/01

Playoffs necessary

The best that can be said about upcoming bowl games is that they are renewing serious calls for a real playoff system to determine the No. 1 college football team in the land.

This year has produced, and deservedly so, the largest revolt against the Bowl Championship Series since the selection system was computerized (yes, computerized) four years ago. The uproar is not just from fans, but coaches, players and pundits. They're all appalled at what's going on.

First, some history. For many years rankings - from which the bowl teams were selected - were determined by media and coaches' polls, which often didn't agree. Never mind that this was a ridiculous way to crown a champion in the first place. It was simply the way the six power conferences - Southeastern, Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big 10, Big 12 and Pac 10 - wanted to do it.

Their bowl setup was too lucrative to change. But to appease the critics, they decided to get away from overly subjective polls.

So four years ago the bowl coalition went to a totally objective system - selection by computer - that promised to pit the No. 1 and No. 2 teams against each other in one of the bowl games.

Few people understand the computer formula that's used. Suffice it to say that the geeks who developed and operate it don't watch the games, know the teams or understand how football is played. They say they don't need to, the computer does all that, and more, for them.

It's hardly a surprise, then, that the "objective" computer rankings have bombed even more than the "subjective" polling rankings - a clear case of computer garbage in, computer garbage out. Just look at the mess they've made of things this year.

Although no one would argue that undefeated Miami shouldn't be ranked No. 1, there's virtually unanimous disagreement with the computer that Nebraska is No. 2 and should play for the national championship in the Rose Bowl. The Cornhuskers (11-1) didn't even win the Big 12 title - they were thrashed 62-36 by Colorado.

But Colorado isn't No. 2 either, because it lost two games early in the season. Pac 10 champion Oregon (10-1) could also lay claim to playing Miami. Like Colorado, it lost a game early on, but since then has steadily improved. The computer doesn't take into account that teams can improve during the course of a season.

If by some miracle the Cornhuskers upset the Hurricanes in the Rose Bowl, many football authorities (but not the computer geeks) would say the winner of the Colorado-Oregon Fiesta Bowl clash should be declared the national champion. Yet there's no agreement there, either. There are another half dozen or so teams that could also lay claim to being No. 2 and deserving of a shot at No. 1.

This is not the first year the computer system fouled up. Last year was almost as bad. It's time to end a charade that insults the game, the players and the fans.

Every sport worth its salt climaxes its year with a definitive championship playoff. In baseball, it's the World Series; professional football, the Super Bowl; college basketball has its hugely popular "Final Four."

Even college football, in the lower divisions, has a popular, successful playoff system. But not in the top division; there the national champion is decided by computer. This nonsense must end. Fans, players and coaches deserve a definitive champion produced on the field of battle, not endless unresolved arguments about who would be No. 1 if that competition were actually held.


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