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Playoff dreams return

End Zone



Every year we do this. As college football's regular season ends, we bang our heads against the wall one more time, not because we want to, but because we have to continue making the same point, year after year, until change finally comes.

We cannot give any hint that we accept or tolerate major-college football's horrendous, stupefying flaw — the Bowl Championship Series, of course. We cannot accept any of the arguments for continuing to allow a computer program to determine what two teams deserve to play for the national championship every year.

One more time, we're heading for a major injustice. Even if Oregon and Auburn, the consensus top two teams in polls, come away from their final regular-season games Saturday with perfect records, that doesn't mean they automatically should play in the BCS Championship Game. Not when Texas Christian also is sitting there at 12-0. Not when three Big Ten co-champions are 11-1, along with Stanford from the Pacific 10.

It's so sad, hearing the same ridiculous responses every year, insistence that no solution is as good as the BCS, that the idea of a college playoff tournament would kill the bowls and would cause irreparable damage to so many student-athletes in pursuing their education. Never mind that a huge number of athletes plan around their main season and schedule their classes accordingly, with fewer and easier courses or even such options as independent study. (Yes, the service academies are a big exception, but even they know the art of making student-athletes' academic load a little lighter at certain times.)

Also, of course, every year the BCS disciples conveniently ignore the beauty of playoff tournaments in the other college divisions. And for some reason, they refuse to see how major-college playoffs actually could save many bowls by lowering their payouts and giving them games that matter.

Using the better-known bowls as sites for playoff games, and continuing to have the second-tier bowls as consolation prizes for also-rans, would work well. All we need is a committee to offer a blueprint, with a mandate of support and the promise of literally billions in TV contracts — more than basketball's March Madness.

As regular readers know, we annually provide our own blueprint here with a suggested bracket. The most appealing idea has been a 16-team tournament, so let's project that again. We'll allow automatic qualifiers for champions of the best conferences, filling the bracket with others as warranted. Don't go crazy if your favorite team is left out; that's not the point. Simply substitute your team for another on this list. It's about the tournament concept, not deciding this year's top 16, a process that would fall into place if the playoff idea ever could happen.

Just imagine, in bracket order, these first-round games, which could start in mid-December (giving schools a chance for their athletes to finish fall exams first):

• Region 1: Oregon (1) vs. West Virginia (16); Arkansas (8) vs. Oklahoma (9).

• Region 2: Wisconsin (4) vs. Virginia Tech (13); Stanford (5) vs. Alabama (12).

• Region 3: Auburn (2) vs. Nevada (15); Michigan State (7) vs. Boise State (10).

• Region 4: TCU (3) vs. Oklahoma State (14); Ohio State (6) vs. Louisiana State (11).

Assuming the better-seeded teams would prevail, your matchups for regional titles (yes, like basketball) would be Oregon vs. Arkansas, Wisconsin vs. Stanford, Auburn vs. Michigan State and TCU vs. Ohio State. This is where current BCS bowls could provide the sites: Rose, Sugar, Orange and Fiesta, or other cities. Each of those games would have a national audience, two on one day and two the next day, sometime around Jan. 1. The lesser bowls would fill in during the week.

That would leave football's Final Four, two games back-to-back, ideally at warm-weather or indoor sites. Then the ultimate, the real championship game. It still might be Oregon vs. Auburn. But it also might be Stanford vs. Ohio State. Or, who knows, perhaps Boise State vs. Oklahoma.

Regardless, the nation would be watching. And nobody would be arguing.

Perhaps someday. But until then, the battle must go on. Now and every year.

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