More questions than answers exist in college playoff debate

(AP) — Here is where college football is at the start of 1998: Michigan, No. 1; Nebraska, No. 1.
Where will college football be at the start of 1999?
The new super alliance is supposed to eliminate a shared national title by matching the No. 1 team and the No. 2 team in a four-bowl rotation that will include the Rose Bowl for the first time.
But without a true playoff system, like the ones that exist in every other college sport and all other levels of college football, a national championship via the bowl-poll route has inherent weaknesses that cannot be avoided.
The reason? While its stated purpose is to match No. 1 vs. No. 2, the alliance also wants to preserve the bowl system as we know it. It’s a self-defeating concept no matter which way you look at it.
“In an effort to focus on a championship game, we’re putting all the other bowls in a negative position,” Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese said. “It’s like being half pregnant. Either have a playoff or stop worrying about a 1-2 game.”
This season marked the third time in the 1990s the national title was split — Michigan was No. 1 in The Associated Press poll, Nebraska No. 1 in the coaches’ poll.
Both teams finished with perfect records and both had legitimate claims to the title. The Wolverines (12-0) beat Washington State 21-16 in the Rose Bowl; the Cornhuskers (13-0) routed Tennessee 42-17 in the Orange Bowl in Tom Osborne’s final game as coach.
Had the super alliance been in place this season, college football would have hit the jackpot — matching the only teams with perfect records, ranked 1-2, in the Orange Bowl, in a true title game.
But that’s wishful thinking, and Big 12 commissioner Steve Hatchell knows the new system isn’t perfect, either.
“It’s clear it doesn’t answer all the questions,” Hatchell said. “The super alliance is the third in a progression. What it does is get raised payouts, gives us a better chance at 1 vs. 2 and keeps the bowls alive.”
Some of the pitfalls of the super alliance include:
ù What if only one team, say, Florida State, is unbeaten and ranked No. 1 and there are five teams with one loss? How do you determine who’s No. 2? It’s back to square one — the voters then decide who’s No. 2 among several once-beaten teams. What if the AP poll goes with Nebraska, and the coaches’ poll picks Michigan?
ù Having more than two unbeaten teams — how do you have a true national title game if there are three teams with perfect regular-season records?
ù What if there are no undefeated teams? Try to figure that one out.
The super alliance and its TV partner ABC already have brushed aside some of college football’s great traditions, so they’re not overly concerned with such theoretical situations.
The designated title game, the Orange Bowl, is set for Jan. 4, 1999.
“Hopefully, next year will work out,” Tranghese said, “but we’re still at risk.”
For now, it’s a risk the sport is willing to take. Conferences such as the SEC and Big Ten have sweetheart deals with the bowls — the conferences sent 12 teams to the postseason — and aren’t about to give in to a playoff.
Both commissioners, the SEC’s Roy Kramer and the Big Ten’s Jim Delaney, have said all along that the debate over who’s No. 1 is not all bad for the sport.
Coaches are split on the playoff issue, with Nebraska’s Osborne for it and Michigan’s Lloyd Carr against it.
“I have respect for both polls. It’s just sad we’re still dealing with polls,” Osborne said. “You wish there was just one, or a playoff.”
Carr said, “I’m not a playoff proponent. I don’t think there’s any way in our sport you can do (a playoff) and determine a true national champion. I know there’s a lot of people who want to see that happen, but I think there will always be controversy.”