Plugging Plus One

NEW ORLEANS – It was another listless BCS mismatch, Louisiana State not even needing a truly great performance to beat Ohio State 38-24 in a game with little drama after the second quarter; another final frustration in college football's failed championship system.

More years than not we get long waits and low drama, multiple teams complaining after a lopsided finale that if they were not the real champion (hello USC, Georgia and West Virginia), they at least would have been more competitive.

LSU is the legitimate champion – the Bowl Championship Series was the agreed-upon system, and the Tigers won it fair and square. But this is too great a sport not to deserve and demand better.

Ohio State actually is a good football team; just not good enough to be seeded into the title game based largely on schedule, timing and other squads' stumbles. For the second consecutive year the Buckeyes were outclassed and left fans everywhere dreaming over matchups that never occurred.

All of this after a 50-plus day wait, including a long weekend after the other BCS bowls that again allowed the NFL to seize the spotlight and casual fan momentum away from the college game.

This simply is no way to run a sport, no matter how many excuses are made for a system good only to the suits counting the money.

So it was with renewed hope that two of just such power brokers, two of the sport's most progressive commissioners – Mike Slive of the SEC and John Swofford of the ACC – spoke Monday in fairly bold terms about seriously exploring a "Football Final Four" in the coming months.

Both said there was increased interest and open-mindedness within their conferences, including university presidents, about moving toward a "Plus One" system, essentially a mini-playoff with four seeded teams that could be implemented as soon as 2010.

It may not be perfect, but it would better. Not only would it quiet some of the debates about access, it would help build momentum in a sport that seems to just sag at the end.

In essence, the sport has grown so competitive, balanced and big – in part because of the BCS – that it has outgrown the decade-old system.

The question is just how bold Slive, Swofford and their fellow forward-thinkers are willing to be to push the sport into the 21st century.

They have allies in exploring the possibilities in the Big East, Big 12, all the smaller conferences and, likely, still influential Notre Dame. Not to mention television networks who covet the chance to broadcast a real championship system that would allow the audience to build on itself.

Standing in the way, of course, are the obstructionists – the Big Ten, Pac-10 and their corporate partner, the Rose Bowl.

Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen has gone so far as to say he will pull his league out of the BCS if a Plus One is adopted.

It's such a laughable claim that the other leagues should go ahead and dare him.

Everyone else should form their Plus One and let the Big Ten and Pac-10 return to an era gone by and compete solely in the Rose Bowl if they so please.

A tournament with the four best teams from the other four major leagues, Notre Dame and even an upstart mid-major (unlikely) not only could stand on its own but also quickly could surpass interest in the current system.

If Hansen and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany want to stick to the Rose Bowl, let them. It's unlikely that position – or their employment – would last long if they did.

First, irate fans and coaches would demand inclusion in the tournament to their presidents, who rarely stick with unpopular causes.

By the time the other leagues started pillaging the Midwest and California for recruits interested in playing for a real national title and not in two old guys' strange devotion for some game after a parade, it would be over.

Yes, the Rose Bowl conceivably could produce a better matchup – say if Ohio State and USC entered unbeaten – but that would be a worthy risk for everyone else. Most years the Rose Bowl would be marginalized by the real tournament.

Unity would come quickly.

A four-team playoff wouldn't end the debates or guarantee great championship games – the Super Bowl isn't always competitive – but in every imaginable way it is improvement over what we have. It would be a great step forward.

However, there is significant doubt whether Slive and the others will have the backbone to force the issue, to stand up strong and tall against Delany and Hansen.

But with each small step, with each increase in the forcefulness of their statements, with each dull BCS game and round of dead television ratings, hope pushes forward that these two and others will be emboldened.

College football has perhaps the most passionate fans in all of American sports. And no matter the establishment spin, they want and deserve something better than this.

Monday was a great night for LSU, a well-deserved BCS championship for Les Miles and his players to cap a thrilling season.

For everyone else who loves this game, though, it was just another ho-hum ending, just another night of wondering what might have been.