A popular version of football in my younger days was called "Murder Ball," in which one runner played offense against 20 or so tacklers. I thought this game was tough until I saw the collegiate version, in which the Howard University Bisons got murdered by a gang of NCAA Division 1-AA playoff selection committeemen.

I'm talking about the weekend decision to exclude the Bison football team from a spot in the playoffs, even though the Bison have a better record than any team selected to be in the playoffs.

The reason for this knee to the groin: The Bison schedule wasn't tough enough.

So who does the selection committee choose? Western Kentucky and Marshall and Youngstown State, which beat only one team that was better than .500. And North Texas State, which lost three of its last four games.

"It's like a feeling of betrayal," said Bison senior offensive tackle Calvert Thomas. "The feeling was if we proved ourselves against Delaware State, there shouldn't be any reason why we wouldn't go to the playoffs."

"Everybody is down," said tailback Harvey Reed, "Everybody is hurt. We're one of the best teams in the nation. I can't understand why they're doing this to us."

Said tackle Eric Moore, "Most of the players are still in shock."

In sandlot ball, you yell an expletive when cheated. In college ball, I guess you have to mind your manners.

But as far as Bison fans go, I say it's time to start yelling expletives because clearly there are as few rules in the collegiate playoff selection process as in a sandlot game.

Does Bernard Cooper, chairman of the selection committee, think that we are idiots?

Listen to his grease slick of an explanation for the injustice:

"The basic reason was strength of schedule, and it hurt Howard that Delaware State was beaten by Arkansas Pine Bluff the week before," he said.

Give me a break! Why on earth should Howard be punished because somebody beat Delaware? Lordy, lordy, please explain . . . .

Howard Coach Willie Jeffries is obviously perplexed.

"I don't know what to think," he said. "I guess the machinery was set and we couldn't do anything about it. I'm disappointed for the players and the university. I'm trying not to let it bother me."

Well, it bothers me.

The way things now stand, Jackson State is the only predominantly black school in the playoffs. Despite the statements that race had nothing to do with it, the situation strikes me as more than a little funky.

"That never entered the discussions," said Walter Reed, the athletic director at Jackson State. "I didn't pick up any racial overtones. We try to stay away from that because some of the historically white schools have a roster of mostly black players. If we did that, we would be punishing players, instead of schools."

Sorry, but just because a coach doesn't pick up a racial overtone -- especially when he fears for blacks who attend white schools -- does not discount race as a factor. Reed's school, after all, made the playoffs.

Said Cooper, "Honestly, I don't think race made one bit of difference. I'd like to think we're way past that."

So would I, but in the absence of any other realistic explanation the racial question looms large.

Ordinarily, the team that wins the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship gets an automatic playoff bid. Howard won the MEAC championship on Saturday by beating Delaware State 12-7.

But then the playoff selection committee members decide that MEAC lost its automatic bid because league members Bethune Cookman and Florida A&M scheduled a game on the same day the playoffs begin.

How hokey can they be? The Southwestern Athletic Conference has lost its automatic bid in the past three years for the same reason, but this year's champion, Jackson State, was given an at-large bid.

That was the least they could have done for the Bison.