We have "recall keys" on our computers at work in which hitting a couple of buttons will result in any combination of letters and signs appear on the screen. This is handy for, say, putting the correct coding around e-mail addresses at the end of stories or bylines at the beginning, which would take a while if done manually every time.
The joke around the office is that we have two recall keys for sports situations that come up quite often. One reads "It's another black eye for the sports of boxing." The other is "College football needs some sort of playoff system." Let's worry about the latter; boxing if beyond salvation right now.
The colleges have had problems for years in trying to come up with a fair way to pick a national champion. The bowl system was designed to reward good seasons with a trip to warmer climates for teams and their fans, but somewhere along the way we all decided (with some justification, I might add) that picking a national champion by committee isn't an ideal set-up. We've currently come up with a system where a computer ranking system picks two teams that are judged as the best, and have them play off for the title. It's great unless you aren't one of those two teams, which is about 117 schools.
Every year, it seems to get more messy, and this might be the messiest yet. Alabama is undefeated and seems to be number one, but the rest of the country is littered with one-loss teams -- Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech (all in the same conference, which is a nice touch), Florida, Penn State, and Southern California. Then there are schools like Utah and Boise State, merely unbeaten but not from one of the biggest conferences. All of them in theory are good enough to play for the national championship, but only two will get the chance.
It's easy to suggest some sort of eight-team or 16-team playoff, but do we really want teams to play three or four extra weeks? A forgotten point is that colleges, which at least tangentially are in the education business, like to have their students actually studying for final exams during much of the month of December. It's a little tough to do that when there's a first-round playoff game on Dec. 10. And we don't want a playoff system to start in January and extend for three or four weeks.
The only fair compromise out there, it seems, is the so-called "plus-one system." In that, four "semifinalists" are chosen from the country's best teams. They would play in semifinal games around New Year's Day. Then the winners would square off a week later. It probably would come down to the SEC champion, the Big 12 champion, Penn State and Southern California this time, barring more upsets. Could we live with that? Well, it would be better. Sites could be rotated easily enough among the usual suspects.
Sure there would be complaints about picking the final four. On the other hand, there are complaints about the NCAA basketball tournament, and 65 teams are picked there. And only two schools would play an extra game, and it would be around Jan. 10 -- after finals are done. Oh, and it would make a big pile of money for all concerned. Has anyone noticed that generating money in this current economic climate might be a good idea?
I've heard of a perfect set-up, but this seems as good as any other plan I've heard in terms of addressing all concerns. At least we'd have fairer way of deciding a champion, which is done for every single other sports on the college level.