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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, January 4, 2005

For Auburn fans, it shouldn't come to this

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

You know the world of college football is a confused and desperate place when college football fans come looking to sportswriters and sportscasters not for scores and insight but for "justice."

How else to explain the flood of e-mail and snail mail engulfing voters in The Associated Press poll these past few weeks. If they can find you here in Hawai'i — and mail has poured in daily from not only Birmingham, Auburn and Mobile, Ala., but Opelika and Crooked Oak, too — no AP voter is left unbombarded and unlobbied.

Desperate housewives. Desperate farmers. Desperate alums. Desperate souls. Some have begged, a few have demanded but most have beseeched and pleaded, pretty-please, for media voters to give Auburn University and its fans what they believe the rest of the world in general and the Bowl Championship Series in particular are wrongly denying them, a piece of the national championship.

Or, to be, as one letter writer put it, the "conscience and sole source of justice in the college football national championship process."

"Be the voice of truth and enlightened thought" asks another.

Talk about your lofty expectations and heavy burdens.

They ask this — some with compelling arguments, others with just blind partisan passion — on behalf of an Auburn team that beat Virginia Tech 16-13 in the Sugar Bowl last night to wrap up a remarkable 13-0 season.

But the triumph isn't as sweet for the Tigers as it could be. Or, indeed, should be. Not when, today, it is Oklahoma and Southern California who play in the Orange Bowl for all the marbles.

You see, not all bowls are created equal in the BCS structure and the Sugar Bowl was set up as the warm-up act. One of the teams playing in Miami today, the Sooners or Trojans, also will finish 13-0. But with a huge difference. The winner of that game, the BCS' designated "championship" game is assured of a national title and the trophy.

And, Auburn will be left with, well, the banner of BCS' "Miss Congeniality." Not exactly the title the Tigers were seeking.

No share of the crown, no provision for a winner-take-all playoff, just a lot of better-luck-next-year pats on the back since the USA Today poll, voted on by the coaches, is a foregone lock. Only the AP poll, made up of sportswriters and sportscasters, is still in play, albeit a longshot.

Every year the powers that be at the BCS attempt an end run around the issue. They stubbornly refuse any thought of a playoff format that all other levels of football have.

They "tweak" their process, revising computer formulas, juggling the balance between human and computer weight, you name it. Everything but what they should do, which is blow the whole thing up and institute a playoff. And, not by coincidence, rarely have they given us an honest-to-Keith Jackson national championship to show for it.

Of course, the process is less about delivering an undisputed champion than allowing a handful of conferences to monopolize the multi-millions of moolah that the postseason produces. That's why you had an 8-3 Pittsburgh team instead of an unbeaten Boise State playing Utah, another unbeaten. Or why Utah never got a shot at Auburn, USC or Oklahoma.

It is why we have this controversy with us today. And, why sportswriters and sportscasters are being asked to play Supreme Court to deliver what is usually the province of much higher, wiser powers.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.