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The Playoff Conundrum (cont.)

Posted: Wednesday December 6, 2006 11:27AM; Updated: Wednesday December 6, 2006 11:29AM
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Michigan feels it got jobbed, but the bottom line is Mike Hart (above) and the Wolverines failed to beat Ohio State when they had the chance.
Michigan feels it got jobbed, but the bottom line is Mike Hart (above) and the Wolverines failed to beat Ohio State when they had the chance.
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The office manager's supervisor represents conference commissioners, most of whom are in favor of going to at least a plus-one game. But although they're the ones who operate and administer the BCS, they still need the approval of a higher power before making any sweeping changes.

The supervisor's supervisor represents that higher power: university presidents. They're the ones who have the ultimate say, and they remain unsold on the merits of a playoff, mostly because it's their lone remaining stand in the debate over athletics' place in academia (even though we all know that ship sailed a long, long time ago).

And Kinko's represents the bowl games, whose opposition to a playoff is understandably grounded in their own business interests and whose long-standing loyalty to the sport makes all the aforementioned leaders hesitant to do anything that would potentially hurt the bowls.

I tried to figure out a way to work the NCAA -- which would have to officially sanction any change to the current bowl system -- into the analogy as well. Unfortunately, I couldn't think of an every-day office equivalent to a large governing body that would likely form a committee, which would then prepare a report to be forwarded to another committee, which would then make its recommendations to a third committee before agreeing to buy the copier.

So as you can see, the situation is infinitely more complicated than any 600-word newspaper column or 30-second television rant would have you believe. "Throw out the BCS," you say. "Give us a freaking playoff, already." Fair enough. All you've got to do is get the thousands of men and women who comprise all the aforementioned parties to agree how to do it.

Now then ... what else could possibly be on people's minds these days?

Stewart, do you feel Michigan got the shaft?
--Lalo Gonzalez, San Benito, Texas

I really don't. Of all the teams over the years that felt they were unfairly excluded from the title game -- Miami in 2000, Oregon in '01, USC in '03, Auburn in '04 and Michigan in '06 -- the Wolverines had the least compelling argument. In the '00, '01 and '03 cases, the affected teams were clearly wronged. The 'Canes had beaten the team that went ahead of them (Florida State). The Ducks were left out at the expense of a team that lost its last game 62-36 (Nebraska) and the Trojans were the No. 1 team in both major polls. In '04, Auburn wasn't necessarily "wronged" any more or less than USC or Oklahoma would have been had it finished No. 3, but it's still hard not to sympathize with an undefeated, major-conference champion that didn't get to play for the national title.

The crux of Michigan's argument was "We played No. 1 close the first time." Not exactly a cause for empathy. The only thing I feel bad about regarding the Wolverines is that they were treated differently in the polls than nearly any other team before them and therefore have reason to be puzzled. But like I said on Sunday night, I happen to think the voters' change in philosophy this year was a good thing. Whether or not you agree with their choice of Florida, at least it was based on something substantive (an SEC championship, tougher schedule, etc.) rather than the age-old tradition of only moving a team up when someone above them loses. As an AP pollster, I can tell you that when you're voting from week to week during the regular season, you're not thinking too much about the bigger picture, you're primarily reacting to what happened that weekend. As long as we have this championship game, I don't see how it's a bad thing for voters to actually stop and think about each team's overall season before casting that final regular-season ballot.

While I can't take anything away from the body of work Florida has produced this season, I'm still not convinced they're actually the second-best team in the nation. What do you think?
--Donny Green, Chicago

After covering three Michigan games and two Florida games in person, I honestly have no idea which team is better, but the reason I felt comfortable giving the Gators the edge was because of their defense. The entire unit is unbelievably fast, and the way they contained Darren McFadden and Felix Jones on Saturday -- both by overpowering Arkansas' offensive line and by wrapping the runners up -- was extremely impressive. Meanwhile, Michigan's defense was disappointing against Ohio State to say the least. The Wolverines' front four was able to overpower most people they faced this year but they got very little penetration against the Buckeyes' O-line, and they had trouble getting off their blocks to stop Antonio Pittman and Chris Wells. It's entirely possible OSU will do the same thing to Florida, but we won't know for sure 'til they play.

But don't take it from me. Take it from former Washington State coach Jim Walden, the lone Harris Poll voter to tab Florida No. 1. He told the Atlanta Journal Constitution: "How can we even be debating Florida and Michigan? Michigan was the No. 2 team in a three-team conference ... Even though the SEC is full of people with inflated egos and they constantly think they are getting screwed over, Florida deserves to be the No. 1 team. Ohio State is one of the weakest No. 1 teams in 25 years." Come Jan. 8, we'll find out not only which was the best team in college football this season, but also whether Walden is a complete nut job or, as he proclaimed himself to the Spokane Spokesman Review on Monday, "the smartest guy in America today."

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