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A Playoff Picture

Instituting a playoff system in college football would be easier than you think--and would give us a true national champion.

10:20 AM, Jan 5, 2005 • By FRED BARNES
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AFTER HUMILIATING OKLAHOMA last night, USC was officially declared the top college football team in the country. But is there any doubt that Auburn is No. 2 and would have played a far better game against USC--and perhaps even won? Oklahoma's weak pass defense was easily picked apart by USC quarterback Matt Leinert. He couldn't have done that against Auburn. So we're left again with a national argument over who's truly the best in college football--an argument prompted by the failure of the top team to play the No. 2 team. Last year, it was the same as LSU, the national champ, never played USC, which probably had a better team.

It doesn't have to be this way every year. Everyone now agrees that the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) is a hopelessly flawed system. And nearly everyone favors some kind of a playoff system in division I-A football, just as there already is in divisions 1-AA, II, and III. Yet there also seems to be widespread agreement that a playoff system just can't be created for major college football. The obstacles are too great--or so the thinking goes. This is nonsense. Agreeing on a new playoff system should be simple.

A FOUR-TEAM PLAYOFF is preferred by some, but eight-team playoffs would be better. If that meant college teams would play too many games, then the season could start later--not before Labor Day weekend, say. And a normal schedule could be trimmed to only ten regular season games instead of the current eleven. The big schools could still schedule six home games and make enough money to fund all of their athletic programs.

How would the system work? The winners of the five important football conferences would get automatic playoff bids. That's the Big 10, Big 12, the Pac 10, the ACC, and SEC. Three of them (the Big 12, ACC, and SEC) have 12 teams plus a championship game. The Big 10 has eleven teams and could add a twelfth, maybe Pitt. The Pac 10 could bring in Utah and BYU. With 12 teams, the Big 10 and Pac 10 could end their regular seasons with a championship game, too. Then, five winners of conference championship games would advance to the playoffs.

Notice that the Big East would no longer get an automatic bid, as it does in the BCS. Having lost its best football schools--Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College--it doesn't deserve one anymore.

The three wild-card teams in the playoffs would come from the champions of lesser conferences, like unbeaten Utah this year. Or wild card bids could go to especially strong second place teams in the major conferences. Yes, there would be complaints from some teams who think they should have been selected for the playoffs but weren't. You can't get around this. In 1-A basketball, there are always a few teams who don't make the top 65 for the NCAA tournament and whine about it.



To be declared national champion, a team would obviously have to sweep the playoffs. This is what's required in the other college football divisions and in every other college sport. This produces undisputed national champions. This is what America needs for the top level of college football. And it would be so easy to do.



Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.