<
>

Settle it the honorable way

It's hard to feel all that sorry about USC's plight amid the BCS disaster, because ... well, because USC is a little too big to make an effective victim.

But you take your causes where you can, and the Trojans and, to a slightly lesser extent, Texas, can feel properly hosed by a system with more flaws than Paris Hilton's brain scan.

But while most people believe the solution to the BCS is a playoff system, and while a few old fogeys would like to see the old system of two polls, two champs, one great argument, there is a third system that has neither the elitism nor the capriciousness of either of the above.

The Braveheart System.

This has all the advantages of finality that the playoff people like, all the advantages of those who complain that the national championship is offered to only a select few schools, and all the advantages of utter chaos.

Basically, the rules are these: You take every school that at any point of the season was voted in either of the two major polls (we're guessing maybe 50 teams, max), put them all on one field, led by their athletic directors, arm them and let 'em collide on one field, demolition derby style. Last one standing wins.

It's important that they are led to the field by their athletic directors, since they're the ones who thought the BCS was a good idea to begin with. Clearly, a grand beating is needed by an awful lot of people who are safe from harm in the current system.

Then you just send them out for an all-day carnage-fest.

Suddenly, Oklahoma isn't so smug, because both LSU and USC are standing there waiting on them. Miami of Ohio isn't feeling like Miami of Florida's poorer relation. Bowling Green doesn't lose its season on one bad day, while Oklahoma's one bad day has no effect at all. Strength of schedule isn't quite so oppressive now, and Boise State's win over Hawaii doesn't adversely affect a team 2,500 miles away that isn't even in the same conference.

If you put 40 football teams on a field, think of the color. Think of the pomp. Think of the pageantry. Think of the all-day, all-night, "No, honey, I can't help assemble little Tad's nuclear-powered Hot Wheels track from Christmas because the game's still on" viewing excitement.

It's perfect, I tell you. Perfect.

True, college football always has made a sick fetish of its imperfections, largely because it allows the industry to preserve its individual prerogatives. College football is a huge industry, but like NASCAR, it does not reach all parts of the nation equally, so there is an inherent tilt that benefits the great heartland and the southeastern corner of the nation.

Now we have no great itch to blow their deal. They've put in the most money, the most energy, and shorted the most university programs to keep the football healthy and thriving. If it's that important to them, and it is, well, let a thousand flowers bloom.

But the BCS has ruined a lot of the fun for everyone by placing weight on the opinions of guys who rank college teams in their pajamas, and computers that keep finding a way to put Notre Dame in the top 25 even as their losses pile up like televisions thrown from the windows of the same apartment house when Average Joe is aired.

The solution, then ... the only solution ... is to edit the teams with a shovel. Everyone's in, as long as they meet the single minimum standard of being a Top 25 team at some point.

True, this puts a lot of power in the hands of sportswriters of the AP poll and the sports information directors who vote for their coaches in the ESPN/USA Today poll, but it takes a heap of consensus to get a team like Utah even a quick look.

And as someone who stubbornly refused to kick Northern Illinois out of the Top 25 just because Bowling Green beat them stupid one hard night, I know how hard it is to convince others of the pure crystalline genius of my own judgments.

So there's your answer: Inclusion, rather than exclusion. The proof, on the field of play. Plus, this idea has the extra added bonus of watching Lee Corso try to talk about 50 teams in three minutes while trying to keep his suit coat from catching on fire.

And if you don't think that's entertainment, well, you are simply doomed. You think New Year's Day is about the parades. You just don't get it at all.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com