Call it the national championship on the field
The Hawaii Warriors will face the Georgia Bulldogs in New Orleans on New Year's Day.
Invitation to the Sugar Bowl was sweet for Hawaii and bittersweet for Georgia, reflecting their expectations. However, both have a legitimate right to claim that the game between the only undefeated team in major college football and the hottest team in the country be regarded as the national championship game on the field. The follow-up contest in New Orleans' Superdome will be for the national title by computer.
Hawaii can thank congressional pressure two years ago on the six major conferences comprising the Bowl Championship Series. The rule change assures a nonmember to play in a major bowl game if it is ranked 12th or better, using a system that includes rankings by sportswriters, coaches and computers. Boise State was ranked eighth last year before beating Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, finishing undefeated in 13 games with a ranking of fifth. Hawaii, 12-0, is ranked 10th.
"There's no (other) sport in the world, including tiddlywinks, where you can go undefeated in something and not have the opportunity to play for a championship," sportswriter and National Public Radio commentator John Feinstein observed going into last weekend.
Coach June Jones and his Hawaii Warriors understood football's unique system from the beginning of the season, knowing full well that they would have to go unbeaten in order to play in a major bowl, and then not the national championship game.
Critics point to Hawaii's schedule, rated weakest in the country, but that is because major teams don't want to risk defeat at Aloha Stadium; Michigan State paid the University of Hawaii $250,000 to be excused from this year's schedule. Boise State, which has the second-weakest schedule, has the same problem.
Georgia Coach Mark Richt has an understandable gripe. Its season over before Saturday, Georgia was ranked fourth. After Missouri and West Virginia, ranked first and second, were defeated Saturday, third-place Ohio State rose to the top and Louisiana State leapfrogged Georgia to runnerup. Ohio State and LSU will compete for the official title in the Superdome after Hawaii and Georgia vacate the premises.
The reason was obvious: LSU won the powerful Southeastern Conference title. Georgia was tied with Tennessee for the SEC's east division. Tennessee had defeated Georgia in October but lost to LSU in the title match. "The rules do not state that you must win your conference championship" to qualify for the national title game, Richt complained. The Bulldogs are on a six-game winning streak following the loss to Tennessee.
The three lower divisions of college football have playoffs leading to national championships. Likewise, the NCAA uses a playoff system in basketball, resulting in March Madness. When the BCS university presidents renegotiate its system next year, they should put avarice aside and initiate December Delirium.