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Why Duke's football team should have been in contention for the national title

Rainy day sportswriter

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It's a game I like to play with friends during rain delays at Durham Bulls Athletic Park or Zebulon's Five County Stadium: Which is most likely to disappear first, the "bowl system," the electoral college or a certain type of cancer that apparently affects people who don't eat enough fiber?

We soon agree the medical profession will probably win that race. And while the electoral college can present bigger problems—as when George W. Bush became president, even though he really finished second—the bowl situation is simpler to fix. About 10 particular people just have to get the willpower to do it.

On Thursday night, two unbeaten traditional powers—No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Texas—will square off in Pasadena, Calif., in what proponents of the current "Bowl Championship Series" (commonly known as the BCS) call the "Citi BCS National Championship Game." And although the game is at the Rose Bowl, it isn't the "Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi"—that took place on the traditional New Year's Day date with Big Ten champion Ohio State topping Pac-10 champ Oregon.

The real Rose Bowl was one of five games making up the BCS, not one of those 29 "other" bowls for which teams need only six wins—as long as not more than one victory is over an approved member of the Division I "Football Championship Subdivision"—to qualify. So while 68 of these Football Bowl Subdivision teams are worthy to play in bowls—including the St. Petersburg Bowl presented by Beef O'Brady's and the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl—only two play in a contest that has any real impact. Truth be told, Monday's Tostitos Fiesta Bowl between undefeated Boise State and undefeated Texas Christian didn't mean much more than the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, where there were empty seats for UNC vs. Pittsburgh.

The time has come to junk the whole system—or nonsystem—and determine the national championship with a 16-team playoff tournament. Maybe the bowls made sense 100 years ago, when Ohio State would have had to ride a train for a few days to get to Pasadena. But now there's no good reason not to do what the smaller schools do: copy the NCAA basketball tournament and allow every conference champion a shot at the championship.

At the time of this writing, for example, Norfolk State's basketball team is 1-10. But there remains a clear path for the Spartans to win the NCAA title: win four games in the MEAC Tournament and seven in the NCAA playoffs and they're the national champions. The way the football system works, either Boise or TCU could have won every regular-season game by 50 points, but unless five of the champions among the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC had lost at least two games, the Broncos and Horned Frogs weren't about to get a sniff of Pasadena.

With a 16-team tournament, not only would Conference USA champion East Carolina and ACC champion Georgia Tech have gotten automatic bids in the bracket, but Duke's chances for a national title would still have been alive on Halloween.

President Obama and Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah usually aren't in lockstep on anything, but they are on this issue. It's time to start a college playoff at the top level, and the time to start is yesterday.

The BCS National Championship Game is Thursday at 8:30 p.m. and will be on ABC. Mike Potter covers basketball, football and baseball for Triangle Offense, the Indy's sports blog.

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