Give Me That Old Fashion Football Confusion

By GENE SPERLING

Forget, for the moment, that Miami clearly won the national champion's crown in the Rose Bowl. There still are calls for a college football playoff system.

Oregon fans claim that the outcome might have been different if they and not Nebraska had been given a shot at Miami. After all, Oregon whipped Colorado, which earlier had slaughtered Nebraska.

Would playoffs really end the squabbling and determine a national college football champion to everyone's satisfaction? And what kind of a playoff, surely not the four-team tourney that ABC announcer Keith Jackson suggests.

No, the only way to forestall such disputes would be through a four-week, 16-team playoff. This could start in December and, giving the lads a week off for finals, would end with the championship game in early January.

While doable, such a playoff system seems like a mistake. Not only do I prefer the Bowl Championship Series system, I prefer the pre-BCS days and the back-and-forth that went with the absence of an unacclaimed true winner. I am a college football playoff Luddite.

People too often dismiss the advantages of the bowl game tradition. In most sports, the only thing you can predict for sure is that one team will be truly happy when the season ends. By contrast, college football winds up its season with more than 20 teams with outstanding records and at least half feeling themselves champions in some sense. Only one team may be declared national champion, but millions celebrate that their teams ended up as Cotton Bowl or Orange Bowl or Rose Bowl champions.

The bowl system also has its advantages for local economies. It's a system in which all the critical games are scheduled in the most important vacation week of the year, providing a boost for a host city. It's a special time for alumni families as well as college students, and it wouldn't be the samein a four- or five-week playoff system.

Finally, the college football system puts an emphasis on the entire season unlike basketball's March Madness. The bowl system makes the entire season more exciting as each game assumes a life-and-death importance.

Even the BCS system, which should be commended for recognizing tougher schedules, may carry more costs than benefits. To be told which bowl games are officially recognized as first-, second- and third most important denigrates the others and takes from fans their healthy debates over which games matter most.

And even split championships something that's happened 10 times since 1954 aren't the end of the world. Would a system with no subjectivity be ideal? Probably. But trying to achieve that Holy Grail would spoil too much of the fun and tradition of college football.



Gene Sperling was former President Bill Clinton's top economic adviser.

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