Local colleges favor college football playoff

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 13, 1999

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / January 13, 1999

LAPLACE – With Tennessee’s 23-16 victory over Florida State last Monday in the Fiesta Bowl, the 1998-99 college football season came to a close.

The Volunteers held up the Sears Trophy, acknowledging them as the national champions.

In other sports it would be that simple. The Volunteers would be heraldedacross the country as the champions of college football. Fans would betalking about the game rather than discussing who the best team in the country really was.

But in Division I-A college football, it is seldom that simple. While othersports and other levels determine their champions on the field, Division I- A football is often determine as much by the whims of coaches, sportswriters and now computers as it is by the teams on the field.

Even after a game like this year’s Fiesta Bowl which matched the No. 1-ranked Volunteers against the second-ranked Seminoles, there is a long- raging debate over which was the top team in the country. What fans ofnow second-ranked and once-beaten Ohio State wouldn’t give to get a shot at Tennessee? Or how about fourth-ranked Arizona? Or fifth-ranked Florida which lost to Tennessee in overtime earlier in the season. Andwhat about Tulane, the only other undefeated team in Division I-A but ranked seventh in the final polls? The debate was supposed to be decided years ago with the introduction of first the Bowl Alliance, then the Super Alliance and now the Bowl Coalition Series. Yet in recent years, there have been situations like 1995when Nebraska and Penn State both finished undefeated but only the Cornhuskers being declared the national champions. And like last yearwhen Michigan and Nebraska were both undefeated but never got the chance to play each other.

Every year, there is a cry for a playoff system. Every other college sport,from golf to baseball to basketball, decides its champion on the field.

Divisions I-AA, II and III and the NAIA have playoff systems in football.

Yet, there are still no plans for a playoff in Division I-A any time in the near future.

Local coaches, however, are unanimous in their opinion that there is a need for a playoff system. East St. John head football coach RonnieStephens pointed to Tulane’s situation as an example of that need.

“With their strength of schedule and the conference they were in, people don’t know how good they were,” Stephens said of the Green Wave. “People said they should have beenfigured in and they weren’t. There is definitely a need for a nationalchampionship game in college football.”The Bowl Championship Series was supposed to be the latest answer, adding computers to the equation. But with all its formulas, the BCSseemed to be more at home in a calculus classroom than on a football field.

“There is too much confusion with the BCS,” St. Charles Catholic headcoach Wayne Keiser said. “It is closer to a true champion but there is stilltoo much confusion.”Keiser recommends keeping the bowls intact but using them in some sort of single-elimination playoff. The current bowls could be used in thequarterfinal, semifinal and final rounds.

“Simplify the process so that the common folk can understand it,” Keiser said, noting that questions will still arise about how many teams to put in a playoff and how to determine the teams. “But there is no easy way to doit. Somebody is always going to be ticked off.”Riverside coach Mickey Roussel pointed to the quality of play in the Fiesta Bowl as a reason there should be a playoff system. Florida State had gone44 days without playing and Tennessee had not played since the SEC championship game on December 5. The Seminoles turned the ball overthree times and committed 12 penalties in the game.

“It looked like a first time scrimmage rather than a game played for the national championship of college football,” Roussel said.

Roussel would use a 16-team playoff played in December and January. Hesaid the concern of athletes missing class would not be a factor because they are out on semester break. Roussel also noted that football playersalready miss a lot less class than those in baseball and basketball. Teamswould play at most 15 games and that would apply to the two teams in the championship game.

“A playoff system would not be hard to do,” Roussel said.

Roussel said a playoff system is the fair way to determine a national champion. He said with a playoff in place, a team that loses early in theseason could still have a chance. A playoff would also improve schedulingbecause teams are currently under pressure to finish undefeated and in the top two in the country and thus play a softer non-conference schedule.

Roussel also pointed to the situations at Arizona and Tulane, two teams not ranked when the season began and which could not climb into the BCS by the time the regular season ended.

“To tell a team before the season that it has no chance to play for the national championship, that’s absurd,” Roussel said.

Roussel’s Rebels played for the Class 2A state championship this season in the Superdome Classic. Roussel said that is how championships shouldbe decided.

“High school is great,” Roussel said. “It is decided whether you lose orwin on the field. You need to crown a national champion on the field.”Roussel’s counterpart in the state championship game, West St. John coachLaury Dupont agreed. Dupont would keep the bowls intact and have aplayoff of the top teams after the bowls are over.

“I am in favor of a playoff,” Dupont said. “I would like to see it happen.”Dupont pointed to the Division I-AA playoffs this season as an example of the benefit a playoff system can have. Massachusetts made the playoffs asa wild card and ended up winning the national championship.

“Massachusetts won the championship and that wouldn’t have happened if there hadn’t been a playoff and nobody complained,” Dupont said.

St. James coach Rick Gaille also pointed to the Division I-AA playoffs andthe attention it brought to the sport at that level as a reason there needs to be a playoff, but realizes there are outside influences effecting the decision. With the 20-plus bowls currently in existence and with over 40teams receiving revenue from playing in them, Gaille said the playoff system would generate a lot of funding but maybe not enough to offset the bowl payouts.

“It may be difficult for a playoff system to include enough teams to make up for the funding of the bowls,” Gaille said.

Gaille said if the current system is kept in place, the process of determining the top two teams needs to be defined better. He said therewas little doubt that Ohio State was the real number two team at the end of the season rather than Florida State.

Lutcher coach Tim Detillier said he was definitely for a playoff system and if the powers that be in college football really wanted a playoff, there would be one.

Detillier said the athletic directors and college presidents like the current system because there are more winners at the end of the season.

Now if a team has a decent season, it goes to a bowl game and that is something it can point to all through the year even if it loses that game.

And there would be 20-plus winners at the end of the bowls.

“Everybody is happy,” Detillier said. “If we had a playoff system, therewould be only one winner.” Detillier proposes a 16-team playoff played over four weeks. He said theplayoff could be done in the same amount of time that the bowl games take now and possibly less.

“You would get a true national champion,” Detillier said. “No opinions butdecided on the field like it is supposed to be. But the powers to be don’twant it. Everybody wants to be a winner and we have all these winners(under the current system).”Destrehan coach Scott Martin is also in favor of a playoff system. Hewould also use a 16-team playoff using the current BCS format to rank the teams. Martin would also use the money generated from the playoff anddistributed equally among all the Division I schools. That way it wouldtake the money influence out of it and benefit all the schools.

“Without a playoff, there will never be a true national champion,” Martin said. “It will always be based on someone’s ranking.”St. Charles Catholic head baseball coach Frank Monica, a former assistantfootball coach at Tulane, also wants a playoff system, pointing out that Division I-A is the only level of the sport whose champion is not decided on the field.

Monica would use eight teams with the bowls serving as the semifinal and final rounds. The eight teams would come from the conference championsor the highest ranked teams.

Monica said the additional games would not affect the athlete’s classwork because they would be finishing up at the same time they are now. He alsopointed out the amount of money that a playoff system would generate from television and sponsors.

“It is a tremendous thing for college football and it is long overdue,” Monica said.

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