DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Well, let the excitement and the squabbling begin. The first-ever playoff in major college football is set. It starts New Year's Day with number-one ranked Alabama playing number-four Ohio State. On the same day, number-two Oregon plays number-three Florida State in that other semifinal. The winners advance to a national championship game. And joining me to talk about this, NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Tom, good morning to you.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, David.
GREENE: So, Tom, this new four-team playoff system - this was supposed to end to the squabbling that we saw from the previous BCS system - doesn't seem to have ended it.
GOLDMAN: Well, you know, actually it was supposed to change it but never end it. Squabbling is part of the drama. And the people who run college football know that, and they even embrace it. With the old system, you know, you had two teams picked for the title game, and you always had a third team, maybe even a fourth really angry 'cause they were left out of the party.
Now with the playoff system, you've got 12 humans on a selection committee picking what they consider to be the top four teams, meaning the fifth-best or even the sixth- are complaining and this is what happened with two Big 12 Conference teams from Texas - Baylor and TCU. Both were leapfrogged by Ohio State for the fourth and final spot.
Now you can understand TCU's complaint. The selection committee which started ranking these teams on a weekly basis starting in October, they had TCU at number three just a week ago. And in the final ranking, they fell to six after they finished their season beating Iowa State 55 to 3 on Saturday.
GREENE: Which would be a convincing message you would think that they deserve to be there.
GOLDMAN: You would think. And the head of the selection committee said it was nothing TCU did or anything Baylor did. Baylor also won Saturday against 11th-ranked Kansas State and also beat TCU during the regular season. It was instead that Ohio State was so impressive during the season and then finishing things off with a 59-to-nothing win over 13th-ranked Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.
GREENE: With their third-string quarterback - right? - which makes it even more astounding. OK, so big performance by Ohio State, people in Texas angry. But do you feel like the selection committee - which, I mean, included people like former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice - did they get this right?
GOLDMAN: You know, consensus seems to be yes. Alabama and Oregon were considered locks if they won their SEC and Pac-12 title games respectively, which they did. Florida State has won 29 straight games. They're the defending champs. They're the only undefeated team. All of that obviously was impressive enough to overcome a lot of shaky wins, come-from-behind wins, by the Seminoles. And Ohio State, as we just mentioned, you know, had a bad loss to Virginia Tech early in the season but overcame it, beat good opponents and finished with a bang.
GREENE: You mentioned Florida State. We still have these rape allegations against Jameis Winston hanging over this postseason. Could that have an impact here?
GOLDMAN: It could have a huge impact potentially. He may not be playing for Florida State on New Year's Day or beyond depending on a ruling following last week's code of conduct hearing in the case in which a woman alleges Winston raped her back in 2012. If the presiding judge in that hearing decides Winston violated the school's code of conduct rules, the most extreme punishment is expulsion. Now, his lawyer's confident that won't happen. The lawyer for the accuser says there was enough damning evidence in a hearing last week that Winston will be expelled from FSU.
GREENE: Well, Tom, before we move away from football, let's move to football.
GREENE: The LA Galaxy in the MLS Cup Final - they defeat New England, and this was a fitting end for probably the league's greatest player, right?
GOLDMAN: Absolutely, and what athlete doesn't want to go out a winner? And Landon Donovan did that. He's retiring from pro soccer. He does that now as the all-time leading MLS scorer and the player who's won more MLS titles than anyone. Yesterday was his sixth. Now, the game yesterday wasn't particularly well-played, but league MVP Robbie Keane scored late in extra time to get the win for LA and clinch the storybook ending for Donovan.
GREENE: Seems like not many athletes get to go out on top and write that storybook ending. Tom, thanks a lot.
GOLDMAN: Not many radio hosts either, David.
GREENE: (Laughter) Thank you.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
GREENE: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. This is NPR News.
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