Listen to the Tar Heel: You Can't Go Home Again

They tried to make Kyle go to playoffs, but he said no, no, no:

A "plus-one" game is a bad idea. League tie-ins that send particular conference champions to specific bowl games are a good thing. Conference championships do matter more than national titles.

This heritage of college football bowl games is deeply ingrained in the fabric of the sport itself. This is why, although the Pac-10 and the S.E.C. often disagree with one another, the two leagues are in one accord upon this issue.

The problem with college football isn't that it contains too few of the elements of a playoff; the problem is that it contains too many. Ultra-traditionalists like Tom Hansen and me agree that a return to the sport's historic bowl tie-ins would be for the best. As I have stated consistently, I would rather go back to spending New Year's Day enjoying numerous games that mattered on their own merits because they pitted top teams against one another, any one of which might have an effect, directly or indirectly, upon the national championship.

One such glorious year was 1983, when No. 1 Nebraska lost to No. 5 Miami by one point in the Orange Bowl, No. 2 Texas lost to No. 7 Georgia by one point in the Cotton Bowl, and No. 3 Auburn beat No. 8 Michigan by two points in the Sugar Bowl. Another such season came in 2003, when, despite the best efforts of the Bowl Championship Series to upset the old order, the historic and right outcome came to pass.

No. 1-ranked Pac-10 champion Southern California met No. 4-ranked Big Ten champion Michigan in the Rose Bowl. No. 2-ranked S.E.C. champion Louisiana State met No. 3-ranked Big 12 runner-up Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. The fans got to watch two good games and, afterwards, the voters decided. In each instance, more than one postseason clash mattered because contests throughout the season carried consequences in a way they simply do not in the sports that playoff proponents wish to emulate in spite of those sports' shortcomings along those lines.

Here's the thing. If we went back to the conference tie-in method, neither 1983 or 2003 would be able to happen.

How could 1983 not happen today under the same post-season rules, that it well, actually happened under? Well let's see:

Going into the bowl week, Nebraska (Big 8 champions)is number 1, and Texas (SWC champs) is number 2. Except today they're both in the Big 12. So they'll have met in the Big 12 championship game - we'll go ahead and say the Huskers won that one - and as Big 12 champs would be contractually obligated to a specific bowl game, probably the Orange. Texas? They're not a conference champion; it's a tier two bowl for them.

Miami came in as number four, and as an independent, was the best available option for the Huskers to play. Unfortunately, now their a member of the ACC, so they'll have a conference tie-in as well. Probably the Sugar. They'll play Auburn, the SEC champs, which I'll admit would still be a good game. SEC runner-up Georgia, well, it's a tier-two for you. Have fun in the Capital One Bowl.

Nebraska's opponent would have to be the Big East champion. That would be West Virginia, I suppose, who finished the year at #16.

The Fiesta bowl always paired up two independents, or the best of the non-conference champions. Of course, with all the automatic bids extended six or seven teams deep, they'd have to jump on some lesser conference tie-ins. Give them Brigham Young (#8) and, well, I don't really know. Do we ignore SMU's (#12) death penalty? In that case it's East Carolina (#21). Not exactly the classic Holiday Bowl matchup for Steve Young, is it?

The one bowl that would remain the same, though, is the Grandaddy of Them All. The sacred Pac-10/Big 10 yearly grudge match. Which that year was... UCLA (#17) absolutely stomping Illinois (who came into the game #3, but finished at #10) 45 to 9. Yes, the whole wonderful, glorious post-season Kyle remembers so fondly was built on the cosmic accident that was the Illini's perfect Big 10 season. This allowed a Michigan team to be shuffled around into that great Auburn game so fondly remembered.

The end result of the modern 1983? Nebraska presumably destroys West Virginia, taking the national championship. Miami and Auburn play a good game for second place. UCLA still stomps Illinois, and nobody cares, and Brigham Young and East Carolina round out your New Year's snoozefest.

Look, it's not like the conference commisioners sat down one day in the '90's and said, "We've got a great thing going here with conference tie-ins- let's destroy it!" A system that's passable with six strong, eight-team conferences and an incredible lineup of independents to pit them against (Miami, Notre Dame, Penn State, Florida State, BYU, Boston College, most of the Big East...) just doesn't work in an era of mega-conferences, conference championships, and bowl tie-ins that extend all the way down the line. The bowls are going to continue to act in their best interests, and college football is going to continue to suffer the longer we stick with this ad hoc, grafted on system.

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