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Are You Ready for Some Football!

A move to expand the ACC makes the dream of an NCAA playoff in football a real possibility. Here's how it should work.

12:00 AM, May 8, 2003 • By FRED BARNES
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THE GOOD NEWS in college athletics is the Atlantic Coast Conference is considering expanding from 9 teams to 12. The better news is that this would give the mid-Atlantic and East a premier conference to match the Big Ten, Southeastern Conference, Big 12, and PAC 10. The best news is that a bigger, stronger ACC that reaches into New York, New England and south Florida would make possible what all America wants: a playoff series to determine the national college football champion.

Nobody likes the current system, the Bowl Championship Series (BCS). Yes, we've read about its complicated method of determining the two teams to play in the national championship game. But I couldn't explain it to anyone. It's too arcane. Sure, sometimes the two best teams actually are picked. That happened last season when Ohio State played Miami and won with the help of a bad pass-interference call. More often than not, it's merely a coincidence when the BCS chooses the best two teams to meet.

An 8-team playoff series would be more credible and more fun and would truly test the team that emerges as number one. No one would doubt that team's claim to the title. There would be no conflict in polls. There would be nothing for Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon to disagree about on "PTI."

How would it work? The five big conference winners would get automatic berths: Big Ten (which has 11 teams), Southeastern Conference (12), Big 12, PAC 10, and the ACC (12). The other three would be wild cards. Football independents like Notre Dame would thus be able to get into the playoffs. Strong teams that didn't win their conference championship game would still have a chance to compete for the national title. In fact, one conference might have three or even four teams in the playoffs.

How does the ACC fit in? At least five major conferences are needed to make the thing work. Otherwise it will just be the BCS all over again with too many teams picked by subjective means or by a computer or by misleading comparisons of scores. That last measure consists of declaring Purdue superior to Auburn because Purdue beat Vanderbilt by 25 points and Auburn whipped Vandy by only 19 points. Nonsense.

But five teams that won the conference championship games would provide a solid base for playoffs. Six would be better, but it's hard to imagine enough good football schools to form such a conference. Perhaps some teams could be plucked from Conference USA, the shrunken Big East, the WAC--nah, wouldn't work.

The new ACC would consist of the 9 current members--Maryland, Virginia, UNC, Duke, Wake Forest, NC State, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida State--and the three new ones--Boston College, Syracuse, and Miami. It would have north and south divisions, the winner of which would meet in the conference championship played at a prominent stadium such as the Meadowlands or FedEx Field. The ACC is already a top conference in basketball. Expansion would make it one in football.

BC, Syracuse, and Miami have an incentive to leave the Big East. It's basically a basketball conference. Five members--Seton Hall, Georgetown, Providence, St. John's, and Connecticut--don't play serious Division I football (or any football at all). In the enlarged ACC, these three would compete against tougher teams and enhance their status as football powers--though they already have good reputations and don't play many patsies.

The truth is the ACC should have followed the lead of the Big 12 and Southeastern Conference and expanded years ago. The conference tried to lure Miami and failed, but it should have thought bigger. If Syracuse and BC were joining, Miami might have been more willing back then--and today.

Two other enlargements are needed to achieve five 12-team conferences. The Big Ten got to 11 with Penn State and now should add Pitt to reach 12. The PAC 10 situation is tougher because there aren't two obvious additions. I suggest BYU, which is big time in football, and Hawaii, which is getting there rapidly. The University of Utah is an acceptable alternative, as is Colorado State.

The ACC moved up a notch in football when Florida State joined. With the 3 migrants from the Big East, it would reach the level of the other large conferences. More important, the ACC is the missing link in the creation of postseason playoffs that would crown an indisputable national champion in college football.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.