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Doug Robinson: Shocking: College football survives a playoff

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer listens to a question during a news conference after the NCAA college football playoff championship game Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015, in Dallas. Ohio State defeated Oregon 42-20 on Monday. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer listens to a question during a news conference after the NCAA college football playoff championship game Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015, in Dallas. Ohio State defeated Oregon 42-20 on Monday. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
David J. Phillip, AP

It’s official. Mankind has done it all now. Gutenberg invented the printing press, Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic, Armstrong walked on the moon, Bannister broke four minutes, Steve Jobs created the iPhone and, ta-dum, college football “invented” a playoff.

Civilization is complete. We have finally arrived.

Each generation has its challenges. For some, it was how to fly; for others, how to solve the riddle of gravity or time and space; and for others it was how to cross an ocean. Those challenges paled in comparison to the challenge that perplexed mankind for more than a century:

How do you decide a college football champion?

Never mind splitting the atom or the theory of relativity; we’re talking about something really difficult here.

No matter what was tried — computers, polls, computers and polls, secret formulas, the BCS — it was archaic, nonsensical and unfair. Some people threw up their hands. Joe Barton, a Texas congressman, once said the BCS was “ … like communism. You can't fix it."

Finally, last winter they came up with this strange new thing, this whatchamacallit, a playoff. Who saw that coming? Let history show that on Jan. 12, 2015, the first playoff championship game was held, with Ohio State beating Oregon, 42-20. It was like Lindy landing in Paris.

Proponents of the bowl system believed you selected a champion largely the same way you select a president and told us for years that a playoff wouldn’t and couldn’t work and would destroy the sport — let’s call these people The Flat Earth People. But it worked after all, and the sun came up Tuesday morning.

It seems so simple now. Someday people will laugh at us, the same way they laughed at people who used to think if you walked far enough you’d fall off the edge of the world. For years the evil bowl people tried to convince us that the bowl-and-poll system was the best and only way to decide a champion, namely because they were making lots of money. Fans and media clamored for a playoff every year, but they were told it was impossible, like cold fusion. They tried to appease the masses with the Bowl Coalition, the Super Alliance, the Bowl Alliance and the Bowl Championship Series, but it all pretty much added up to the same thing.

Bill Hancock, director of the BCS at the time, was among those who insisted for years that a playoff couldn’t possibly work. But political expediency forced a change in his thinking, right before our eyes.

This is Bill Hancock speaking as director of the BCS in 2009: “The BCS is the best format ever devised to match up the nation’s top two teams.”

This is the BCS Hancock again: “We believe the bowl system wouldn’t survive a playoff.”

This is also Hancock in his BCS days: “College football has the best regular season of any sport, and the lack of a playoff is one big reason why.”

This is the chameleon-like Hancock now that he is director of the playoff committee: “We think the new playoff will be the most dynamic improvement to college football in a generation.”

And this is the enlightened, born-again Hancock again after he saw the light: “The event is very simple — the top four teams will play in a semifinal … Let’s settle it on the field once and for all.”

Great idea. Who would’ve thought of that?

Memo to Flat Earth People: If there hadn’t been a playoff system this year, Ohio State wouldn’t have won the national championship. The Buckeyes were ranked fourth in the final poll and never would have gotten a chance under any of the previous systems. They would be just another casualty of a tradition-bound system, along with many other schools who were cheated out of a deserved shot at the title, among them: one-loss Kansas State in 1999, unbeaten Oregon in 2002, unbeaten Auburn and Utah in 2005, unbeaten Utah in 2009.

But finally college football has a playoff. A lot of people think the four-team playoff doesn’t go far enough, that an eight-team playoff would do more to ensure that all deserving teams had a shot at the title. You can pretty much guess what Hancock The Chameleon says about that: Impossible. Won’t work. Can’t happen. It would “erode” the regular season.

“There is no talk about (expansion),” he says.

Here we go again.

Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: drob@deseretnews.com