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Keep a college football playoff format simple

The impact of the BCS National Championship Game between LSU and Alabama is still being felt four months after the fact.

Commissioners for the BCS conferences and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick met in late March to discuss possible changes to the current postseason format in college football. Ideas have been thrown around, ranging from four-, eight- to 16-team playoffs, or a “plus-one” system, where the top two teams would meet for one final game after all the bowl games had been played.

What seems to be the most popular idea is a four-team playoff, where No. 1 and No. 4 would face off in a semifinal game, as would No. 2 and No. 3. After that, the winners would play for the national championship.

The LSU-Alabama rematch comes into play in Big 10 commissioner Jim Delaney comments from Wednesday. Delaney tossed around the idea of a four-team playoff, with the stipulation that only a conference champion could be a part of that playoff, provided that the conference champion is ranked in the top six.

In practical terms, No. 1 LSU would have played No. 10 Wisconsin, and No. 3 Oklahoma State would have played No. 5 Oregon, had the rules been limited to “you have to win your conference” this past season. But if what Delaney is proposing were in place, No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Oklahoma State would have squared off in the semifinal, and LSU would have had a different rematch, this time against Oregon.

The national outrage over Alabama, which didn’t win its division or conference, getting into the national title game over Oklahoma State, which did win its conference, is what has fueled this talk. The problem is this may be a case of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Let’s take, for example, last year’s Stanford University team. PAC-12 commissioner Larry Scott said in an interview in February that he supports the “conference champions only” model, where the top four highest-ranked teams that won their conference would play each other. Well, had either his preferred model or Delaney’s been in place last season, Stanford would have been left out of a four-team playoff despite the BCS formula thinking it was a top-four team. Try explaining that to a fan base of a member institution.

I understand the rest of the country is probably sick of seeing SEC teams win it all year after year, and having two SEC teams in the title game last season had to have been the ultimate slap in the face. But sooner or later, one of these proposed models is going to leave a Big-10 or PAC-12 team on the outside looking in. Do we alter the system again after that happens?

Futhermore, there’s the Notre Dame factor. As an independent, Notre Dame obviously doesn’t have the ability to win a conference championship. If they’re ranked in the final top four, do they get left out in a champions-only model, or are there special stipulations for the Fighting Irish? And if Notre Dame does get special stipulations, imagine the outrage of the Fighting Irish replacing one of the top four-ranked conference champions.

If you’re going to change the current model, keep it simple. No. 1 should face No. 4, and No. 2 should face No. 3. Let the best four teams play, not the best four teams that happened to win their conference. If you want to re-evaluate the system that determines the top four teams, that’s perfectly acceptable, too.

Is it the perfect model? No, but it’s the best one of all the ones being proposed.