The fat cats of the BCS met in Phoenix last week in their latest attempt to reinvent the wheel. Their latest solution: Add another poll and make all the conferences (theoretically) eligible for an automatic berth.

Yeah, that should do the trick. Welcome to Plan No. 58 on How to Pick a Champion Without a Playoff? The BCS Theme: If at first you don't succeed, fail, fail, fail again.

The situation was summed up nicely when Myles Brand — who is only the president of the NCAA — was asked about the possibility of a playoff, and he said, perhaps with a hint of bitterness, " . . . I seriously suggest you take up the tournament situation with the BCS."

Translations: College presidents have ceded power to the BCS rather than the NCAA — or rather the BCS just plain took it.

The BCS, which is comprised of the six major conferences, is runningthe show. It's like allowing Ford to regulate the car industry. The haves pulled off a palace coup, and they're ruling over the have-nots.

College football is a mess, if you hadn't noticed by now. It has created the most convoluted, nonsensical situation in all of sports.

In last week's meetings, the BCS graciously decided to open up automatic bids to all Division 1-A conferences (what a novel idea), starting in 2007. Previously, only BCS conferences have been eligible for the prizes behind doors 1-4. Now it will make it only a little less difficult for non-BCS teams to crack a BCS bowl, considering such things as the conference's average showing in BCS standings over a four-year period and the conference's overall strength, blah, blah, blah.

The real question is why have automatic bids for conferences at all? That's how they ended up with Utah playing an undeserving Pitt team in the Fiesta bowl instead of Auburn in a battle of unbeatens. That's how Michigan got a BCS bowl. Why not forget conference affiliations and give the BCS bids to the top eight teams in the polls?

Because the BCS has a monopoly and isn't about to let go. Because it's all about TV sets and money. Because 63 BCS schools are in charge and don't you forget it. Because BCS schools are not about to seriously change a system that is paying about $120 million annually to the teams that play in the four major bowl games, which are teams from their conferences.

As one observer noted, when bowl participants are selected, much of the discussion centers on TV sets and gate receipts; when the selection committee for the NCAA basketball tournament meets, the discussion is about which are the best, most deserving teams.

The most sane way to determine a national football champion, as we all know, would be to forget both conference affiliations and polls. Keep it simple: Win a conference title, advance to post-season play. In every other collegiate sport, if a team wins a conference title it advances to post-season play and an opportunity to play for the national championship. But not in football.

When Utah became the first non-BCS team to win a berth in a BCS bowl, some observers were saying it was proof the system worked (although how one team making it in seven years is a success is a complete mystery). But if the system was such a success, why are they changing it so that all conferences can be eligible for automatic berths?

The NCAA presidents are still dead-set against a playoff. They used to say it was because a playoff would extend the season too long and cost student-athletes more class and study time. Now the championship game is played on Jan. 8, instead of Jan. 1 — about six weeks after the regular season ends (also last week the NCAA added a 12th regular season game, which won't make the season longer, but it will demand more time away from class for those "student-athletes."

A few months ago, Associated Press requested that its long-time media poll no longer be used by the BCS in its dizzying formula for determining a champion. Among other things, the wire service wanted to play no role in such a system. The BCS didn't exactly get the message about changing the system. The BCS is now working to create its own poll and stay the course.

So college football marches on, once again making minor, ineffectual changes to a flawed machine. It's like trying to fix up a sputtering Ford Pinto by upgrading the hubcaps and the fuzzy dice that hang from the rearview mirror. It's still a Pinto, and it doesn't work and nobody likes it.