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Ending college football debate would be a debacle

FloridState diehards can breaagawith quarterback Jameis Winstavoiding sexual-assault charges. | Jeff Gammons/Getty Images

Florida State diehards can breathe again with quarterback Jameis Winston avoiding sexual-assault charges. | Jeff Gammons/Getty Images

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Updated: January 9, 2014 6:26AM



By the time you read this Sunday, we should have some clarity on the BCS picture. And by ‘‘clarity,’’ I mean that anywhere between one and 20 institutions of higher learning and their face-painted fans will believe they have been royally hosed.

The debate will rage on because it’s December, because the meaningful bowls are about a month away and because adults take leave of their adultness when it comes to college football.

I’m going to miss the heck out of this.

I’m going to miss the arguing and the whining, the grousing and the caterwauling. You haven’t seen indignation until you’ve seen an alum rage against injustice on a college football message board. It’s sort of like a frat boy railing against ‘‘The Man.’’

Next year, a playoff will replace the BCS, which tried to take some of the guesswork out of the bowl system but ended up causing as much outrage and confusion as anything that came before it. For those of us who understand the essence of college football is not the football but the debate, the BCS has been lovely.

Most people seem to think a four-team playoff is a much better alternative to the melee that has gone on for decades over deciding a national champion. What they don’t understand is that they are killing what makes the game unique and fun.

College basketball has March Madness and its attendant brackets.

The NFL has the Super Bowl, that American ode to excess.

Baseball has stats and tradition.

The NBA has hipness.

The NHL has cold steel on ice. And — oh, yeah — fights.

College football has fans with burst blood vessels in their eyes, brought on by strident arguing.

Oh, there will be arguments going forward with the vanilla-named College Football Playoff. There will be heated discussions about a deserving team or teams that didn’t make the four-team playoff, the way there are with basketball teams that didn’t get NCAA tournament bids. But, trust me, a four-team playoff eventually will become an eight-team playoff if there’s more money it, and of course there is. The debate we enjoy now will be diluted. And college football will lose a little bit more of what makes it compelling.

As I write this Friday, nothing has been decided on this season’s bowl schedule. Ohio State fans were still a bit nervous about the possibility of their first loss of the season. Auburn and Alabama fans were still pushing for a rematch. No. 1 Florida State was still weeping tears of joy that quarterback Jameis Winston won’t face sexual-assault charges. Strange thing to be celebrating, but say hello to big-time college football, everybody.

Here’s the larger point: The debate about who should play in what bowl will go on no matter who wins or who loses Saturday. A playoff offers some finality. There is no finite end, no terminus under the current system. It is more of a suggestion. It says to fans, ‘‘You might want to consider one of these two teams as your national champion.’’

No matter who wins the BCS Championship Game on Jan. 6, the debate over that team’s worthiness likely will continue. Yes, next year’s playoff system will bring arguments, just not as many.

Frankly, college games don’t interest me nearly as much as NFL games do. If I don’t have to see another ridiculously blown coverage, that would be fine with me. The warm feelings about the mascots, the fight songs and the sounds of school bands on game day? They never have done anything for me, but knock yourself out.

The ridiculous debates between the fans of one football factory and the fans of another football factory? Now you’re talking.

College football is as much a participatory sport for the people who follow teams religiously as it is for the athletes who play the game. And it’s about to die a little bit.

If there had been a playoff last year, Kirk Herbstreit’s rant about Northern Illinois never would have happened, and a wonderfully spirited debate never would have happened, either. Remember? The ESPN analyst called the Huskies’ invitation to a BCS game ‘‘an absolute joke,’’ ‘‘a sad state for college football’’ and an ‘‘injustice.’’ It was the most publicity NIU had received in years.

Under the playoff system, a selection committee will pick four teams to play for the national title. Those will be the only four teams that matter, and the debate will be settled on the field. Too bad.



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