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Great College Football Season Still Marred by BCS

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By John Feinstein
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, October 15, 2007; 5:26 PM

Midway through the college football season, a strong argument can be made that there has never been a year quite like this one.

All you need to do is go down the list of teams that truly matter right now to draw that conclusion: South Florida, Boston College, Kansas, Arizona State and Hawaii are undefeated. South Carolina, Kentucky, Cincinnati, Missouri, California and Texas Tech have all played important roles in the season to date and are still worthy of national attention.

Stanford beat Southern California in Los Angeles.

Oklahoma State beat Nebraska by 31 points.

Heck, even Duke won a game.

Oh sure, some of the usual suspects are still in the national title picture: Ohio State is ranked No. 1 and appears dominant in a weak Big Ten. LSU and Oklahoma are still factors, even with one loss on their resumes.

But let's face it, the game has changed -- all for the better -- in ways most of us never believed possible. South Florida-Boston College for the national championship? It could happen.

And yet, the sport has not changed in the way that matters most: it still will not produce a true national champion. Computers and sportswriters and people who know nothing about football (check the list of voters in the Harris poll) will play a role in deciding who gets to play in the championship game. A school like Hawaii, even if it runs the table, has no chance to play for the title, just as Boise State had no chance a year ago even though it went 13-0.

Every single reasonable person in the country knows the BCS is the single worst creation there is in sports. It is the creation of a group of selfish, money-mongering college presidents who couldn't care less about what is best for the so-called student-athletes, couldn't care less about the fans who go to the games and, most of all, couldn't care less about fairness.

"Show Me the Money" is and has been the mantra of the BCS school presidents forever. What's both sad and ironic is that these over-educated, self-important frauds would actually make more money for their schools if they were willing to give up just a little bit of the absolute power they currently wield.

If big-time college football ever went to a playoff system -- you choose whether it would be an eight-, 12- or 16-team tournament -- the amount of money that would be thrown at the schools would be mind-boggling. It would more than make up for the fact that the BCS schools would have to divide the money up fairly rather than keeping almost all of it for themselves, as they do now.

Please do not make the weak argument about missed class time. The BCS presidents had no problem adding a 12th regular season game -- which is almost always a home game against a weak opponent played strictly for money -- but begin whining nonstop about their "student-athletes" whenever a playoff is brought up. Of course, almost the entire playoff could easily take place between semesters and would involve far less missed class time than the NCAA basketball tournament, but they don't want to hear that.

They have also long ago forfeited the right to make any claims about football becoming too "commercial," given that most have sold naming rights to their stadiums; have corporate sponsors for just about anything they can make an extra dollar on and allow television to take three- to four-minute timeouts that are miserable for everyone in the stadium to sit through, not to mention robbing most games of any flow at all. And that list doesn't include playing games that end nearly at midnight on any night of the week -- what about the 'student-athletes?'

Sadly, the one man who might be able to do something about this hypocrisy, NCAA President Myles Brand, has chosen to simply sit this one out. Whenever he is asked about the BCS, he just shakes his head sadly and says he has no control over it. The BCS schools are, basically, an independent cartel outside the purview of the NCAA.

What a cop out. All Brand has to do is use his influence as the NCAA president to get the non-BCS presidents to vote on one simple amendment to the NCAA charter: If a school wishes to participate in one NCAA-sanctioned tournament, it must participate in all NCAA-sanctioned tournaments. That would mean that if the NCAA started a football playoff for its division I-A member schools, all schools would have to take part or lose their shot at making the NCAA basketball tournament. How many schools do you think would want to give up that money, not to mention having all their non-revenue teams banned from NCAA participation?

It's that easy. But Brand won't do it. He and his cohorts in Indianapolis are too busy changing the names of division 1-A and division 1-AA and passing rules to make sure basketball coaches stay inside coaching boxes. Brand, an ex-college president himself, simply doesn't want to upset his former colleagues and doesn't want to risk having them come after his job by angering them.

It would take some guts for Brand to take on the BCS presidents. Like most who have been college presidents, Brand has no stomach for any kind of fight. College presidents are great at taking bows and asking people for money. When it comes to showing leadership or making tough decisions, they can usually be found hiding under a desk someplace.

What's saddest about all this is just how much fun a football tournament would be for everyone. Even if South Florida loses to Rutgers this Thursday, the Bulls should still be a part of a postseason tournament if they win out. So should Hawaii, along with all the usual suspects who would make the field, too. The best number for the tournament would be 12. Why? Because that way, the argument that the BCS system makes the regular season important would go away. Four teams would get byes -- you think that would make every game important? Four teams would host first round games -- you think that would make every game important? And the last four spots would be up for grabs -- think that would make every game important?

Of course it would. What makes the basketball tournament magical isn't Florida winning back-to-back titles or Duke and Arizona making the tournament for the umpteenth year in a row; it is George Mason making the Final Four. It is Virginia Commonwealth beating Duke and Winthrop beating Notre Dame. You might not get upsets quite like that in football, but South Florida beating Southern Cal (or LSU or Ohio State, take your pick) or Hawaii playing a 48-45 game against Michigan or Oklahoma, would be pretty close to comparably cool.

Those matchups can never happen until and unless there's a tournament.

This year, more than ever, provides proof of why a tournament should exist. Let's hope that South Florida wins out and there are a half-dozen teams with one loss. Let's see what the reaction is when the computer picks -- just for argument's sake -- LSU, and Ohio State, Oklahoma, Boston College, Southern Cal and West Virginia, all with one loss, are told to enjoy their bowl trips but, sorry, you can't play for the national title.

Only then might we hear some of the power schools campaigning for a tournament. Even then, the presidents will try to hold out so as not to give up any of their power or any of their money.

The time for someone to point out that these people are emperors with no clothes has long since passed. It is time for everyone else who cares about college football to say, 'Enough.'

There simply are no excuses left.


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