This post was taken on by assignment. Okay, it was self-assignment on the heels of a Facebook discussion. Nonetheless, I made promise to all those involved in the discussion to fix college football with my next Saturday Morning Ramble and here we are. (There were 3 of us, if you count me.)

The issue that launched last Thursday’s round robin of ideas was the University of Central Florida’s victory over Auburn in the Peach Bowl and they’re subsequent celebration of National Championship status. The fly in this ointment was a claim to the throne based in simplistic “we beat the team that beat the team” logic. UCF had beaten Auburn, who beat both National Championship Game participants, Alabama and Georgia, during the regular season.

Left out of the discussion was the scoreboard record of Georgia beating Auburn in a Conference Championship Game rematch, leaving Auburn with no title of any kind to defend. Without an official title belt on the line, what did UCF actually win other than the Peach Bowl trophy? They won a seat at the “we beat the team that beat the team” table of circular argument.

As much as it sounds like I’m pulling the rug out from under the feet of the Golden Knights, let the record show that I’ve been rooting for them the whole way. My daughter is a graduate of the Orlando based school and my grandson (pictured) has been properly suited up for all important games down the stretch in the UCF football jersey that I bought him.

UCF enjoyed a magical season and an impressive stretch run, complete with edge-of-your-seat games that turned into real nail-biters. They should celebrate and they should be celebrated. Stuff like this doesn’t come along that often and may never come their way again. Print the T-shirts; I want one, size XL. Actually, could you make it a sweatshirt? It’s 29 degrees this morning on Florida’s First Coast.

The story of the UCF Golden Knights is one of the few things that is right in the world of college football. It’s the desire of the fans to have a “True National Champion” that put all the eggs in one basket and scrambled them. Let’s give the media yet another shot at the scapegoat crown. They told us that this is what we wanted and we bought in. A prestigious selection committee was appointed to sort out the chaos and give us 4 teams worthy of participating in a 2-round playoff system for the title.

This system was the civilized advancement from the Bowl Championship Series which had enjoyed a nice 15 year run from 1998 to 2013 and crowned Florida State University as the final champion of that era when they beat…. wait for it… Auburn.

The College Football Playoff system has been in place for 4 seasons and UCF’s victory (YaY! Golden Knights… Charge On!) or Auburn’s loss (How could you, War Eagle? How could you!) has folks embroiled in discussions to fix the system. The next logical step, it seems, would be an expansion of the current format to a field of 8 teams. With that, we could give a seat at the table to anyone and everyone even remotely worthy of competing. (Except for the fact that UCF was ranked #12 and wouldn’t have been one of the 8 teams. Shhh…)

So, if the system is broken, and many are as convinced as ever that it is, how do we fix it? That’s a good question. Let’s first identify what’s wrong.

There are too many teams…

Every league that crowns a champion does so with the unwritten understanding that every participating team has an equal opportunity to claim the crown when the season begins. That’s just not true in college football and a big part of the reason is that there are too many teams, way too many. The 4 major North American Sports Leagues that crown champions are playing with a field of 32 participating franchises or less (NFL-32, MLB-30, NBA-30, NHL-31). In contrast, Major College Football recognizes 125 participating members. It’s easy to see that most of those have to go if you want a workable playoff system. Anything else and you’re just toying with semantics.

Here’s your conundrum: Who gets shown the door? Rutgers? Yeah, Rutgers! Let’s kick them out. They haven’t won more than 4 games in a season in 3 years. They can’t compete with Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, or Penn State. Show them the door, posthaste. Actually, Rutgers beat 3 members of the Big Ten this past season, including Illinois who managed to lose all of their conference games and a home game to the University of South Florida Bulls by a lop-sided score.

Kicking someone, anyone out is going to be like telling Judd Nelson that there’s only 4 chairs in detention and they belong to Emilo Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Molly Ringwold, and Ally Sheedy. He may feel good about having his detention sentence waived based on time served, but he’s not going to give up his Breakfast Club membership without a fight. Furthermore, who’s gonna tell him? I’m not going to tell him.

Step Next: Commonality…

As you can see, there’s a lot of fat to trim and even the initial cuts won’t be easy. But, having trimmed the fat, the next logical step in the process is to somehow level the playing field a bit. Every professional league is built around the concept that each participating member is actually a part of the same conglomerate and the company is only as strong as its weakest satellite office. Yes, I know they’re competing members, but that’s only the facade that we buy into as fans. If the Bills, Jets, and Dolphins fold, there’s no one left for the Patriots to embarrass. Robert Kraft needs the other franchises to at least achieve a suitable level of mediocrity that makes them viable. (The public needs to believe that they are worthy opponents, even though track record screams otherwise.)

With colleges, this is extremely difficult as each has its own individual challenges and standards. The cost of education and the standards for student admission at Vanderbilt is vastly different than those same parameters at Mississippi State. Does this contribute to the Bulldogs being more competitive than the Commodores? Maybe. The Bulldogs have won at least 9 games in three of their last four seasons and ascended to being ranked #1 in the National Poll in 2014. Vanderbilt won 9 games in back to back seasons (2013 & 2014) under head coach James Franklin (now at Penn State), but has since reverted back to their traditional 4 or 5 wins per year quota.

I picked a couple of middle-of-the-road teams as examples to illustrate that even in the realm of mediocrity, there’s a great gulf fixed so that those who are there cannot come here and those who are here cannot go there. If you’re going to fix college football, you’ve got to tackle (football term) this collegiate chasm of segregation. For the record, I think this issue be best left alone.

Location, Location, Location…

One last issue is the problem of travel (not that I couldn’t include another 6 or 8, I’m just choosing to stop here because I’m on my last cup of coffee). Professional sports teams travel from coast to coast and don’t have to worry about anything other than prepping for the next game. Even on that level, travel is an issue. This is why the baseball season is played out in stops that include a series of 3 or 4 games per stop and it’s why in the NBA teams only travel to play against teams in the other conference (East vs West) once per team per season. Once! The NFL is a little lighter in regard to travel requirements, but even there you’ll find a tendency for teams who travel across country to be at a slight disadvantage based on the travel alone. East coast teams don’t have a stellar record when playing on the west coast and west coast teams don’t fare any better when travelling east for the weekend.

Travel is an issue that isn’t often given much thought because, well… hop a plane and you can be wherever you need to be in 3 to 4 hours. Yeah, 3 to 4 hours of flight time, but it’s actually a full 8 to 10 hours of travel time from pillow to pillow.

College teams rarely travel outside their region. Yes, there’s a few exceptions. I have no idea why Maryland or West Virginia thought that joining the Big Ten (Midwest) and Big Twelve (Southwest) was a good idea. Clearly, it wasn’t. Even Texas A&M’s jump to the SEC wasn’t without travel problems. Surely, trips to Austin and Lubbock are easier than trips to Birmingham, Alabama and Oxford, Mississippi. That whole Syracuse and Boston College to Miami and Tallahassee thing that the ACC has going on is a circus as well. This is why Penn State should never seek admission to the Pac-12, for crying in the sink; the travel would be a beast.

Leave bad enough alone…

For my money, college football was more interesting 20 years ago. Back then region could argue that their football was better than the neighboring region and the bowl games gave us something to look forward to as the top teams of one conference were matched against top teams from another. Polling systems awarded a mythical championship after the New Year’s Day games and we could all be outraged for different reasons. It was fun. It was captivating.

This year? Regardless who wins on Monday night in Atlanta, Auburn can say, “Yeah, but we beat you,” and UCF can say, “Right… and we beat the team that beat the team…”

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