Florida Awarded Chance to Play for Football Crown

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It was decided this weekend that Florida will play Ohio State in college football's national championship game. But the system that decides who will play where has come in for more criticism after another year in which there is more than two legitimate contenders for the sport's crown.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

A complicated formula determines which teams compete in college football's national championship. We could spend the rest of the hour explaining it, but let's cut to the chase here. This year the University of Florida will play against top-ranked Ohio State in the bowl championship series title game.

Florida edged past the University of Michigan for the number two spot. And that leaves Michigan fans to wonder why their one loss to Ohio State was somehow worse than Florida's one loss to Auburn. Commentator John Feinstein loves this system, just loves it. That's what we called him this morning. Good morning, John.

JOHN FEINSTEIN: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Did Florida deserve the second spot? We knew Ohio State was going to be there, but did Florida deserve to be there as well?

FEINSTEIN: Sure, they deserved and so did Michigan. That's the problem with this system. How do you decide off the field of play who is better than whom? You can feed all sorts of information into the computer, you can have sportswriters vote, you can have coaches vote, you can have people who know nothing about football vote, which is exactly what they do to pick the two teams that are going to play for the national championship.

Every other sport on the planet, they say let's go play on the field. In college football they use this system. And so Michigan people are sitting around saying, well, what did we do, losing to the number one team by three points at home, that makes us different than Florida losing to Auburn by 10 points, also on the road?

INSKEEP: Well, let's lay out a hypothetical scenario here. You have Florida playing Ohio State. Let's say that Florida wins, it's an upset. And then you've got Michigan playing in the Rose Bowl; that's their consolation prize in a sense. Let's say they're very impressive and they're right up there as well. Could you have a split national title at the end?

FEINSTEIN: Yes, you very easily could. Because the AP vote, which is the sportswriters, is separate from the bowl championship series vote. So you could have what happened three years when Southern California was left out in the exact same way that Michigan just got left out of the bowl championship series title game.

They won the Rose Bowl and then they were co-champions with LSU, which won the BCS game. And therefore you don't really have a national championship. You have two teams going around saying, we're the national champions. It's a little bit like if you went to the Final Four last year, Florida and UCLA get to the championship game, and then instead of playing we just all sit around and vote on who we think is better.

INSKEEP: Anybody seriously talking about a playoff system as an alternative?

FEINSTEIN: Everybody but the people who matter most, the BCS presidents. And the reason they won't talk about it is simple. It's money. They don't want to share the money they make through this with the other schools in the NCAA. They want to keep the money for themselves, so they go around being the bunch of hypocrites they are, saying we're worried about our student athletes, while they schedule a 12th game this year, while they make the kids travel more and more, and it has nothing to do with anything except money.

INSKEEP: Oh, they say they're worried about the athletes because you'd end up playing more games if you played playoff games.

FEINSTEIN: Right, except you wouldn't. If you played 11 games, which they did before this year when they added the 12th game to get more money, and then they had a three game playoff system and took away the conference championship games, nobody would play more games than they're playing now. They would miss no more school, 'cause these games would take place between semesters during the bowl season, and there would be less school missed by the football players than is currently missed by the basketball players in the NCAA tournament in March.

INSKEEP: John, very briefly, is there something to be said just for the messiness of this system? It's traditional. It's always been this way. It gives us something to talk about this time of year.

FEINSTEIN: Well, you know, tradition isn't always good, Steve. And I prefer - it's not fair to the kids who play. That's my biggest problem. You shouldn't be able to look at those Michigan kids and say we can't explain to you why you're not in the championship game. People should play on the field for titles. Chaos is nice sometimes, but not when it comes to sports. The best thing about sports is the scoreboard doesn't lie. In this case you don't get to see what the scoreboard is going to tell you.

INSKEEP: Okay, the comments of John Feinstein, author of "A Civil War: Army vs. Navy." Always good to talk with you, John, and we'll talk to you again soon.

You are listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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