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Decide it on the field

Jenni Carlson Published: December 28, 1999

College football needs a playoff. It needs a system that determines a true national champion, not one determined by a computer.

The Oklahoman has devised a way to have a playoff and determine a true champion without scrapping the bowl games. This system would eliminate the Bowl Championship Series and take some of its cues from the NCAA basketball tournament.

It would make the bowl matchups more intriguing. It would excite fans. And it would restore one of football's basic premises - deciding a winner on the field.

The plan

Here's how The Oklahoman's plan would work.

The regular season would begin during the first week of September. Teams would have the next 13 weeks, through Thanksgiving weekend, to play 11 regular-season games and a conference championship game.

At that time, the champions from the six power conferences - Big 12, Big Ten, Atlantic Coast, Pacific 10, Southeast and Big East - would receive automatic bids into the playoffs. There would be no Bowl Championship Series rankings, no power rankings, no guessing games.

Just conference champs.

Then a selection committee would hand out 10 at-large bids.

It would operate much like the ones used for men's and women's basketball. The committee, composed of administrators from schools that play Division I-A football, would gather during that last weekend of November, conference championship weekend, and select the at-large teams. The committee would select the 10 best teams that didn't win their conference, plain and simple.

Also, the committee would determine seeding and first-round games. The top eight seeds would play at home during the opening round.

All eight of those games would be played the first week of December and broadcast on national television. To accommodate television, the games could be spread over two days - Friday and Saturday, or Saturday and Sunday - or could be crammed into one super Saturday.

Quarterfinal games would be played the following Saturday. That is where the bowl games come in.

Two quarterfinals would be locked into the Cotton and Peach bowls every year. Despite being knocked out of the top tier of bowls by the BCS, those bowls are traditional, longstanding and strong. They would benefit by being back in the national-championship picture while also benefiting the playoff system.

The third quarterfinal spot would rotate annually between five second-tier bowls - Outback, Citrus, Gator, Alamo and Holiday - much like the national championship game rotates now with the BCS. Each of those bowls would host a national quarterfinal once every five years. In their off years, they would conduct business as they do now, offering invitations to teams not involved in the national-championship race.

The last quarterfinal spot would rotate annually, too. That quarterfinal, however, would move from each of the four major bowls - Sugar, Rose, Orange and Fiesta.

As it is now, those bowls have an important game, the national championship game, once every four years.

Under The Oklahoman's plan, those bowls would go from having an unimportant game three out of four years to having an important game every year. One year it would be a quarterfinal game, the next two it would be a semifinal and the last year would be the finals.

Teams would take a week off before the semifinals, then play them on New Year's Day.

The finals would be the next weekend and could even be played on a Monday. And by that second week of January, we'd have a national champion.

A true national champion.

Other benefits

Having a true national champ is the main benefit of this system.

But there are others.

- The bowls. Every bowl, every single one, would better its situation.

Second-tier bowls that now have nothing to do with the national-title chase would have a part once every five years. The Cotton and Peach bowls, traditional bowls that haven't been included in the current BCS system, would regain lost prominence. And the BCS bowls would have an important role every year instead of every fourth year.

Even the bowls that have no part in the playoffs benefit. They have better teams to choose from because of the reduced number of bowls offering bids.

Think of it this way: Florida State wins the national championship through The Oklahoman's plan. The Seminoles play in the Gator Bowl in the quarters, the Orange Bowl in the semis and the Fiesta Bowl in the finals. Instead of playing in one bowl game, they played in three.

That, in turn, cuts down on the number of bowl teams. The teams with bubble records, 6-5 or 7-4, would be left out, and the quality of bowl games would rise.

Minor bowls don't have a part in the national championship scene, and under the playoff system, they still wouldn't. But they also wouldn't have matchups like Louisville-Boise State at this year's Humanitarian Bowl or Wake Forest-Arizona State in the Aloha Bowl. Instead, those bowls might get Mississippi State-Clemson or Purdue-Georgia.

Sounds a little more exciting, doesn't it?

- The fans. College football fans not only would have a feeding frenzy on playoff games and improved non-playoff bowl games but also would see better regular-season games.

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