Let’s have a tournament

The University of Florida defeated the University of Oklahoma last night in the BCS National Championship game. This makes it two years out of three in which Florida claimed the national championship in college football. Florida has also won two out the last three college basketball championships.

The game was worthy of a national championship contest. The teams were evenly matched. Florida won because it made the plays it had to make and Oklahoma didn’t. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.

Unfortunately, though, the game didn’t satisfactorily settle the question of who is national champion because three other teams have legitimate claims — the University of Texas, the University of Southern California, and the University of Utah. Texas must feel particularly aggrieved because the Longhorns were passed over for the national championship game in favor of Oklahoma even though they defeated Oklahoma fairly convincingly during earlier in the season.

This state of affairs will probably lead to renewed calls for a tournament to determine the college football champion. In fact, Barack Obama has already called for one. Let’s hope he proves to be as much of a “meritocrat” when it comes to issues like employment, college admission, and the awarding of government contracts.

Even a four-team tournament would not have avoided legitimate controversty this year. As noted, there were at least five teams that had legitimate claims to be college’s best team when the season ended. But a four-team tournament certainly would have given us more clarity than we have now. An eight-team tournament would probably provide virtually complete clarity, but such a football-fest would cause more disruption than is probably acceptable. The resistance to a four-team tourney is fierce enough.

If we can’t have a tournament, I would be happy to return to the pre-BCS tournament. Most years, it yielded as much clarity as the current system without purporting to crown a champion. As one reader astutely notes, “the problem with the BCS is that it purports to determine an official national champion, not a mythical one as in the old system, and the BCS does so without a meaningful play-off, but rather a one-game pseduo-championship.”

The other benefit of returning to the old system is that it would revive New Year’s Day football (a playoff would do that as well, as long as some of the games are played on Jan. 1). This year not a single compelling game was played on that day, although the Rose Bowl, featuring USC and Penn State, would have qualified had the game been close.

In any event, I assume that various financial interests preclude any return to the pretty good old days. Therefore, I’m with Obama — let’s have a tournament.

JOHN adds: Amen. The current system is the worst of all worlds. It has ruined the traditional New Year’s Day bowl extravaganza; the big bowl games are now scattered over a week. There was controversy over who should be national champ under the old system, but there is controversy now, too, and the BCS system is worse in that it pretends to a scientific objectivity that it in fact lacks–ask any Utah fan.

I’m OK with a tournament, but frankly I’d just as soon go back to the old system where the big bowls are all on New Year’s Day. Usually they produce a clear number one team, but if they don’t it was still a more fun system.

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