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US College Football Embroiled in Controversy

U.S. college football's championship game is Tuesday in Miami, Florida. The top ranked University of Southern California Trojans will face the number two ranked Oklahoma Sooners in the Orange Bowl for the annual title. Most people unfamiliar with the sport might think the championship should result from a game between the top two teams. But, this year's title game perpetuates a long running controversy about the way a national champion is crowned.

Division One college football is the only sport under the National Collegiate Athletics Association that does not use a playoff system to determine a champion. The Bowl Championship Series was implemented in 1998 to help determine which of the top college football teams is the best. The BCS uses computers to consider a variety of factors in seeding teams for the major post-season bowls. The goal is to match the top two teams in the final bowl game, and therefore ensure the winner is the national champion.

Ultimately, two national polls rank the teams. The Associated Press poll is determined by sports writers and broadcasters. The USA Today/ESPN survey is voted on by football coaches. If both polls select the same number one team at the end of the post-season, that team is considered the undisputed champion. A difference results in a split national championship.

But the BCS system has generated more controversy than consensus.

This year, the top two ranked teams are in the title game. Both the University of Southern California, or USC, and Oklahoma have undefeated 12-0 records. But three other Division One colleges also finished the regular season undefeated. Auburn, Utah and Boise State all finished 11-0 before the post-season, but with no shot at the national title because of their lower rankings in the two polls.

Largely because of this controversy, the Associated Press decided to pull out of the BCS system. The departure leaves the current formula with the coaches' poll and six computer rankings. Without the AP poll, the BCS will change the way it computes its standings for the second straight season and the fifth time since the system was implemented.

The original BCS formula was comprised of an average of the two human polls, an average of three computer rankings, teams total losses and strength of schedule. Since then, the computers rankings have changed, with elements being added and dropped. The polls have been a constant.

This season, the BCS streamlined its formula and put heavy emphasis on the media (AP) and coaches' (USA Today/ESPN) polls. The goal was to make it more likely that the number one and two teams in the polls played in the national title game. Last season, USC was a consensus number one, but was left out of the BCS championship game.

Many fans and observers have called for the BCS to be eliminated. They would like to see a simple playoff format, involving maybe eight or 16 teams. The current post-season system involves 56 teams playing in 28 bowl games with millions of dollars in television revenue at stake, making the switch difficult. A playoff format would add four tiers of post-season games compared to just one, vastly extending the season for the eventual winners. Opponents argue that would take students - both players and spectators - away from the classrooms for too long a time.

With no clear solution, the U.S. national college football championship controversy is likely to continue for many years.