Thu, Jan 06, 2005 - Page 20 News List

Chosing champion continues to remain major sticking point

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , MIAMI, FLORIDA

Moments before Tuesday night's national championship rout began, Tommy Tuberville, head coach of Auburn's undefeated team, spoke with the news media. He was not pleased.

A day after completing an undefeated season, he watched Southern California and Oklahoma play for the national championship.

This is madness.

"It created and will continue to create a lot of problems when you have a mythical national championship with people picking the polls," he said. "You should take the winners of each conference and try to play it off like that."

The fact that USC routed Oklahoma, 55-19, will not make him feel any better, though I am not sure that Tuberville, who was nearly fired last season, wanted any part of this USC team. The Trojans beat a good Oklahoma team and made it look simple. Matt Leinart, whom one Oklahoma player called overrated, threw five touchdown passes, and the Trojans generated 525 yards of total offense.

No matter how intriguing a national championship matchup, or how many exciting bowl games we watch, Division I-A college football, the Golden Goose of intercollegiate athletics, has laid another rotten egg.

Any system that allows an athletic season to end with three undefeated teams and no way to include all of them in determining a champion is a failure.

On Wednesday, players from Auburn and Utah can complain that their respective teams could have given USC a better game. I doubt it. None of those teams have faced a multipronged passing attack like USC's. Oklahoma certainly had not.

But the system opens itself to criticism.

The only good thing about Division I-A football is that players and coaches can talk about "what if" without ever having to find out. Auburn and Utah can have their undefeated seasons and complain about being left out without having to put up or shut against a juggernaut like USC.

"What's wrong with this?" Mike Garrett, the USC athletic director, said during intermission. "You have the No. 1 playing the No. 2 team. Everybody wants perfection; there is no perfect system. The NFL doesn't have a perfect system."

For all the pious talk by college presidents about saving so-called student-athletes, the current bowl system exploits athletes by forcing them to play postseason games that, by and large, are meaningless. They put their bodies on the line in obscure bowls so that college presidents can entertain special interests, so coaches can pad their resumes and lobby to save their jobs by saying, "I took my team to a bowl game."

The games may be great, but the system is fraudulent and it is as much a part of the problems in intercollegiate athletics as recruitment violations and academic fraud.

The Bowl Championship Series itself is a fraud.

Even coaches who once talked the company line against playoffs are changing their thinking.

Pete Carroll, who should have been playing for the national championship last year, said: "I didn't have any problem with what happened last year. We did everything we could with the season we had, and the system made a statement. And here again it does it again. Hopefully, this just continues to generate energy to try to fix the thing. "

Kevin Weiberg, the BCS coordinator, on Tuesday reiterated the position that there will be no playoff.

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