- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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Thomas Jefferson so famously penned more than 230 years ago that all men are created equal.
Obviously, there will be many who disagree, but that same concept simply does not apply to college football conferences, which is why a playoff that only includes conference champions is more flawed than any system we’ve seen to date when it comes to determining the national champion.
Assuming it’s a four-team playoff we see adopted in 2014, the goal is to assemble the best four teams in the country -- period -- and let those four teams play it off on the field.
Why place any restraints on the process?
It’s completely understandable that the college football powers want to protect the integrity of the regular season, and it would be troubling if that weren't a priority.
But a true playoff (and, yes, that’s what it’s going to be regardless of what snazzy moniker it’s given) is open to anybody.
I would argue that three of the best teams in the country last season were from the SEC -- Alabama, Arkansas and LSU. It just so happened that they all played in the same division.
In fact, heading into the final weekend of the regular season, they occupied the top three spots in the BCS standings. All three finished ranked among the top five teams nationally in the final polls.
Alabama’s only loss last season was in overtime to the No. 1-ranked team in the country. That team (LSU) again just happened to be in Alabama’s division, and went on to win the SEC championship.
Had we had a conference champions-only format last season in a playoff, the best team in the country would have been excluded. Alabama wouldn’t have been eligible because the Crimson Tide didn’t win the SEC title -- and that would have been a farce.
It’s not just an SEC thing.
It’s a what’s-best-for-college football thing.
If USC and Oregon are among the best four teams at season’s end, they both should be in the playoff. It’s immaterial that one team wins the Pac-12 championship and the other one doesn’t.
We’re entering a brand new era of college football with this playoff talk, which means open minds need to prevail.
In short, there are going to be a lot of seasons when the Big Ten champion or the Pac-12 champion or the Big 12 champion isn’t nearly as deserving as the second-best team in the SEC.
And down the road, although it’s hard to envision now given the SEC’s recent dominance, there’s going to come a time when there might be two teams more deserving in the Pac-12 or Big 12 than the SEC champion.
Again, why paint yourself into a corner with conference champions only?
The bigger issue is going to be how the four teams are selected. Do you stick with the BCS standings, or do you go with a selection committee similar to college basketball?
The BCS standings would seem to make the most sense, because it’s farfetched to think you could truly find enough qualified people, who didn’t have a dog in the fight, to serve on a selection committee.
In in the end -- if we’re really going to go down this playoff road in college football -- let’s make sure we accomplish what a playoff is supposed to, and that’s crowning the best team in college football. Not the best team to win a conference championship in college football.
3dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
4dTom VanHaaren and Erik McKinney