The MAC's big weekend begs The Question

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

The good glorious news for the Mid American Conference came in threes Saturday – Marshall shocking Kansas State out on the plains, Northern Illinois upsetting Alabama down South, Toledo knocking off Pittsburgh in front of a delirious home crowd.

Three victories over nationally ranked teams on top of an already brilliant month for the league.

It was also the kind of day that shows the gentle leveling of the playing field in college football, and makes a mockery out of the efforts of the six BCS conferences to continue to exclude less famed leagues from competing for a national title.

The BCS leagues will tell you the division between the haves and have-nots is clear.

Then things like Saturday keep happening.

What the MAC did is the reality of today and, increasingly, tomorrow. It's the BCS that wants to pretend it didn't happen.

With each season of scholarship reductions, early defections to the NFL, renewed commitments by mid-majors to football and too-frequent NCAA sanctions on the big boys, the case for a more inclusive BCS system and eventually a playoff keeps getting stronger.

The BCS is a simple system. The eight slots in four games go to members of six conferences (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big Twelve, Pac 10 and SEC, plus independent Notre Dame). A team outside of that group can get a bid by finishing in the top six of the BCS rankings, but twice teams (Marshall, Tulane) went undefeated and didn't come close.

It's a closed system, which is why the non-BCS schools – which may soon include what's left of the Big East – are fighting to gain access.

There is no question the best football is played in the BCS leagues. Most BCS vs. non-BCS matchups end in blowout wins for the big boys. The likelihood of a MAC team winning a national title is remote. But it is, in certain spots, getting closer.

"The [BCS conferences] have great players," says Western Michigan coach Gary Darnell. "But they don't have all of them."

The reality is the best of the mid majors can play with just about anyone in the BCS.

"We've been a top 25 team five of the last six teams," Marshall coach Bob Pruett says. "We've been able to compete with the middle-of-the-pack ACC and SEC teams. We felt we needed to play [the top] to see how close we could get to them.

"When we started two years ago Florida got us pretty good. Then played better against Virginia Tech last year and against Tennessee [this year]. Now we got one at Kansas State."

College football should let them try when it matters most, in a playoff system that would follow the blueprint of the basketball. A 16-team event that would award 11 automatic bids to conference champs – five of which are currently shut out. Give five at-large bids (likely all to BCS schools) and seed the event. This is the system in Division I-AA, II and III.

Play the first two rounds in early December with the higher seeded team as host. The semis and championship game begin after final exams and are held at preexisting bowl. Anyone who doesn't make the field can go play in an unimportant bowl game.

No. 1 Oklahoma would be rewarded with a round-one cupcake. The middle seeds would fight for their life. Like in college basketball, a playoff lets the upsets happen, lets the momentum roll. That, in these times of fiscal constraint, lets the money flow.

"The current process is generating about 50 percent of what the value is," says former NCAA president Cedric Dempsey, who retired 10 months ago.

A MAC (or WAC or Mountain West) team may never make it to the championship game. But even a single playoff upset would be a thrill for this convoluted sport. No one really thinks Butler or Kent State is going to win it all in basketball either, but their success helps makes March.

And right now, in football, the MAC has made September.

So let them have a shot in December and January.

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