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Northern Iowa wasn't intimidated by Jayhawks

The Big Dance has the right music.

Sitting in the Ford Center watching Northern Iowa slap No. 1 Kansas silly time and time again down the floor, wire to wire, ranks as one of the most inspiring events I've witnessed in some time.

This UNI team was fearless. It marched on the court against the NCAA's No. 1 overall seed and never blinked. In the first minute, it had Kansas players on their heels nursing dry cotton mouth. Northern Iowa kept punching away and was relentless, attacking Kansas on defense without a thought to the name on KU's Big 12 white home jerseys or that they were on sacred ground in Big 12 territory.

I saw a UNI guy, Lucas O'Rear, a 6-foot-6 chunky load with shoulder ink, long chops and a mother-in-law attitude come off the bench, man the center spot, and completely baffle Kansas thoroughbreds defensively. He came at their 6-foot-10 supermen like an avatar on steroids.

It was inspiring. Like a Tom Hanks war movie.

But what it really was is an underdog mid-major taking down a blue-blood. It was non-BCS embarrassing the best of the BCS's We're Pretty Neat Club. It was a playoff event to determine a champion like the world of sports is designed to enjoy.

At the half, I turned to the seats behind the press table and asked a father of one of the Panther players to tell me about Northern Iowa basketball. A senior-laden team, UNI is a squad with near-perfect team chemistry, a roster of role players. They play insane man-to-man with great help-side defense, he said.

When Ali Farokhmanesh, that tiny 3-point artist who killed UNLV at the end, took that 28-footer with 30 seconds left and a one-point lead against the Jayhawks, it left everyone on press row in shock. The audacity of such a thing, like Boise State tricking up Oklahoma in the Fiesta.

What it was is a team with more talent and money (KU), getting a lesson in team hustle by a foe (UNI). It was a Neiman-Marcus purse getting bargained out by a Walmart wallet.

Priceless.

Five of the Sweet 16 participants are from non-BCS conferences, something media types like to burden with the label of mid-majors. They include UNI, Butler, Xavier, Cornell and Saint Mary's College.

That says something.

And, yeah, I know, basketball isn't football.

But doesn't all this give pause to question why don't we have a playoff in football, aside from all the excuse-making banter of how it won't work and the bowls have to be protected?

Hogwash. This is sports and it's fair. And it's exciting. CBS is loving it; so are fans perched on couches with chips.

Only two basketball programs have reached the Sweet 16 the past two seasons, Michigan State of the washed and Xavier of the unwashed. It's a 50-50 split.

What does that say? It tells us this playoff for a championship is working.

Yeah, I know football isn't basketball; the length of seasons and ability to play multiple games in one week is different.

But in college football, we're told, this could absolutely never come to be.

Won't work. Burden to the kids. It'll hurt the bowls, yada, yada, yada.

Really?

Read this following paragraph very carefully, it comes from a BCS Web site, playoffproblem.com, created after the cartel hired former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer to handle public relations for executive director Bill Hancock: "College football is more successful and more popular, more thrilling and more enjoyable than ever. Attendance, TV viewership, fan interest and revenues are at record highs. Any playoff scheme would jeopardize this great success, while threatening the wonderful and unique nature of the bowls.

"If you think the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) is controversial, wait until you realize how much more contentious a playoff would be. A bracket-style playoff wouldn't end the debate, it would only fuel it."

And we are sure of this? Tell it to Farokhmanesh and Kansas fans who headed up I-35 from Oklahoma City last Sunday.

Both got a chance. To both, it was fair. To us all, it was actual competition.

e-mail: dharmon@desnews.com