Column: Playoff won’t end college football debate

The Kansas City StarNovember 27, 2012 

Cut and dry, this national championship, Notre Dame vs. the SEC champion, Alabama or Georgia.

The chaos and Armageddon alarmists are quiet. No team is getting hosed.

Oh, the Irish may stir some deep-seeded emotion, love ’em or hate ’em, but as the nation’s lone unbeaten team eligible for the postseason, merit is why Notre Dame will play for its first BCS championship.

Same for ’Bama and Georgia. Detractors point to the SEC’s path of least-resistance scheduling, noting the league’s division winners didn’t meet any of the top three teams from the other side. The Tide missed the Bulldogs, Florida and South Carolina. Georgia missed Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M.

But the SEC’s impressive, non-league victories Saturday reinforced the unquestionable supremacy of the conference.

Beat an SEC team in a big spot, then talk.

That leaves conference championships as the final weekend’s big developments with title games in four conferences, Kansas State or Oklahoma in the Big 12 and a possible four-team pileup in the Big East. The BCS bowls under the title game will take shape on the outcomes.

But what’s a college football season finish without a little teeth-gnashing, even if it’s manufactured?

Let’s look ahead to the structure so many have desired, the playoff that will debut after the 2014 regular season, and plug in a hypothetical set of circumstances using this season’s information.

We’ll take the current BCS standings and project Alabama, Kansas State and Stanford winning conference titles.

This season, the answer is easy. But in 2014?

Remember, the four-team bracket will be selected by a committee, likely folks who have a similar background as the NCAA basketball committee – leading athletic administrators.

The undefeated Irish and SEC champ Crimson Tide are in. I count at least five teams that could make a case to be the other two teams:

Georgia, a division winner of the nation’s best conference; Florida, which at 11-1, the highest ranked team after the top two seeds; Oregon, the next highest-ranked team; Kansas State; and Stanford.

Pick two from that group, and cue the chaos.

For all the belly-aching directed toward the BCS system and its components – six computers, 59 coaches and 115 Harris Poll voters – enough data and opinion exist to consider all points of view.

Starting in 2014, a committee will need some guidelines to select and defend its choices. A few of these have been floated. Conference champions will be strongly considered. A conference champion could get the nod over a better ranked non-champion.

Schedule strength will be considered, and this will prompt plenty of debate. The trend over the last two decades or so has been for power conferences, especially teams in the SEC and Big 12, to soften nonconference schedules.

This argument will make for fascinating discussion by a committee that probably will include members who approve those schedules.

But this has been an effective point in basketball: the idea of good and bad victories and records against groups of ranked teams.

Last year, one of Oklahoma State’s strongest arguments in its case to play in the BCS title game was it played more ranked teams than Alabama. Ultimately, it was deemed the Tide’s loss to LSU was better than the Cowboys’ loss at Iowa State.

It was a fair debate, and one that might go the other way in a new decision-making process.

A committee can send that message, that an 11-1 team that didn’t challenge itself in the non-conference schedule lost a bracket spot to a 10-2 team that didn’t play a fluff schedule.

So, if today’s circumstances went to committee, they’d be weighing the conference titles of Kansas State and Stanford against the better ranking of Florida, Oregon and perhaps Georgia.

They’d see that Stanford won a conference title, had the best victory of the group (at Oregon) and also took a major nonleague risk at Notre Dame. The committee would like this and give the Cardinal a spot. There’s the message pick.

The other spot would go to Florida, with a lone loss to another top-10 team (Georgia) and a road victory against a top non-league opponent (Florida State).

Notre Dame-Florida in one semifinal, Alabama-Stanford in the other. The structure changes, but the controversy remains.

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