Fix for boring bowls? Make 'em real playoffs

Defending the indefensible results in the ridiculous. That's why those who defend college football's Bowl Championship Series (BCS) sound so silly.

The BCS is this nonsensical scheme foisted upon fans in lieu of a proper college football playoff. By virtue of all manner of computers, polls, and weightings, we are told that the championship game this year, Jan. 4 in New Orleans at the Sugar Bowl, will be No.1-ranked Florida State against No. 2-ranked Virginia Tech.

This is a joke, right? After all, while Florida State clearly is deserving of playing in the game, Virginia Tech just as clearly is not.

ABC announcer Brent Musburger, a decent and usually insightful fellow, went veering off the rails when he called the FSU-Tech game "a superb matchup." Phooey. This doesn't pass even the most simple giggle test. Nowhere in the land is there a serious football fan who thinks Virginia Tech - an otherwise perfectly fine university peopled by good folks - is the second-best team. Phooey. Following Tech in the BCS rankings are Nebraska, Alabama, Tennessee, Kansas State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, Florida, and Penn State.

There's not a team listed that Virginia Tech likely could beat. Phooey. Florida State has some nice notches in its belt, including Florida and Georgia Tech. The Seminoles also went undefeated against the sixth-most-difficult schedule in the nation. Conversely, Virginia Tech has no notches in its belt, its best win coming over non-marquee Boston College. Tech's schedule ranked 54th most difficult.

This odor-producing national championship game ends up in our family rooms only because there is no playoff. Virginia Tech also is undefeated, but there are a dozen teams or more that would be undefeated if any had played Tech's schedule, which included James Madison, Rutgers, Temple, and Alabama-Birmingham.

So, if The Sporting Scene is so smart, does it have a better matchup? Certainly. Best would be Florida State vs. Alabama, mostly on the strength of the Tide going 10-2 against the toughest schedule in the country. Among 'Bama's wins: Florida, twice. Very impressive.

Or Florida State vs. 11-1 Nebraska would be satisfactory.

But even this raises the question that the big shots keep dodging: Why not just have a playoff? There is never anything to fear about doing the right thing.

Every other sport has playoffs. The only stumbling block to college football playoffs are the 23 bowl games currently in operation. The first, the Las Vegas Bowl, is tomorrow with Utah against Fresno State. But you knew that. The influential bowl people don't want their excuses for parties to be taken away, so they are opposed to a playoff system that might do just that.

Unfortunately, the bowl games tend to be of no moment. For example, the Aloha has two 6-5 teams, Arizona State and Wake Forest; the Music City two more 6-5 teams, Kentucky and Syracuse.

Almost any old system will work fine. For example, let's take the BCS-designated four major bowl games this year. And trying to be a good sport, let's even accept Virginia Tech as the second-best team.

In addition to the Sugar Bowl, Tennessee plays Nebraska in the Fiesta, Michigan plays Alabama in the Orange, Stanford plays Wisconsin in the Rose. They are all yawners because the outcome doesn't matter, not even to the participants.

Now, draw two playoff brackets. In the top half, No. 1 FSU plays No. 8 Michigan and No. 4 Alabama plays No. 5 Tennessee. In the bottom half, No. 2 Tech plays No. 7 Wisconsin and No. 3 Nebraska plays No. 6 Kansas State.

Winners advance. We'd probably get FSU vs. Nebraska in the title game, which FSU would win. Same result as the BCS, but it would be achieved with the current missing ingredient: legitimacy.

With a playoff, we would have games that mean something. Anyone who sticks around for all of Stanford-Wisconsin has a life that's embarrassingly shallow. But jiggle things with a proper playoff and Stanford wouldn't even be in it.

A playoff would light up our lives in December with high-quality games of significance. There is no downside, other than we would have to adjust to not being able to see Boise State play Louisville in the Humanitarian Bowl.

Or Florida State and Virginia Tech for the national championship.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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