Do we really need a "virtual" national champion?

Is handing out a computer-based, "virtual" national championship really a good idea? Thanks to and USA Today, we now have to answer that question.

As highlighted in a release sent out just before Christmas, the high school branch of the Gannett newspaper corporation and its flagship newspaper are going to crown a "virtual" national champion, with the aid of the Massey computer ratings and playoff brackets drawn up by USA Today editors.

While we're not going to directly question the bracketing decisions of USA Today editors, we are absolutely, positively going to question the logic in putting together a vast, complicated tournament of games that will never actually be played. Naming a national champion is one thing, and it can easily be justified to separate the nation's very good teams from the country's best.

Yet naming a mythical national champion also brings with it an inherent gray area which leaves room for -- and even promotes -- debate. That's a big part of the fun of looking at high school sports through a national lens. When RivalsHigh named Batesville (Miss.) South Panola its national champion for the 2010 football season, there was no reason that USA Today had to follow. They didn't, handing another USA Today national crown to Thomas Aquinas (Fla.), the second in three years for the Florida powerhouse.

You know what? That difference of opinion is a good thing. There's no reason to bring Massey ratings into the deliberations of which team is truly the best. Other schools had equal claims at the crown -- St. Edward's of Ohio thrived amidst an absolute murderer's row of a schedule and Northern Cal stunners De La Salle and South Carolina undefeated power Northwestern also deserve to receive significant consideration. Those schools also deserve the right to a private claim that they're the rightful national champion.

All those teams, and the rest of the RivalsHigh 100, deserve full credit for what they achieved, and none of them deserve to have those accomplishments besmirched by losses they never even suffered, at the hands of a fickle computer program. Massey ratings are fine, but so is the current system for crowning a champion.

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