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Column: College football delivers the perfect fiasco to cap the four-team playoff era

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The commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference got it all wrong when he sent out a defiant statement Sunday claiming “college football deserved better.”

Actually, college football got just what it deserved.

Florida State being left out of the four-team playoff despite a 13-0 record and ACC championship was the perfect capper to decades of foot-dragging and illogical debate over the proper way to decide a national champion.

Next season, with the advent of a 12-team format, there should no longer be any argument over a championship-worthy team being left out of the mix.

Oh, sure, there will always be griping over who gets in and who gets left out (see: the NCAA men's basketball tournament every year, despite 68 teams receiving an invitation), but there should be little chance that a team capable of winning it all will be left on the sideline.

But we forever will be left with the question: Why did a sport that began shortly after the Civil War take so long to implement a logical playoff system at the major college level, subjecting us to national titles being decided by various voting panels, the ridiculousness of split national championships and wacky attempts to avoid a playoff with long-forgotten formats such as the Bowl Alliance, Bowl Coalition and Bowl Championship Series.

At the very least, when the powers that be finally succumbed to the overwhelming demand for a playoff ahead of the 2014 season, why in the world would they set up a four-team format when there are five Power Five conferences?

There are no good answers to those questions, of course, just nonsensical arguments that ranged from protecting the antiquated bowl system to preserving the significance of the regular season to — and this one is the most laughable of all — not placing too much of a burden on the so-called student-athletes.

The 12-team playoff will finally arrive with the 2024 season, but that's too late to help a Florida State team that won every game and slugged out a 16-6 victory over Louisville in the ACC championship game, despite being down to its third-string quarterback because of injuries.

The Seminoles are the first Power Five champ in the playoff era to get snubbed despite a resume of that stature, which sparked plenty of outrage from the head guy at the ACC.

“It’s unfathomable that Florida State, an undefeated Power Five conference champion, was left out of the College Football Playoff," ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips said. “Their exclusion calls into question the selection process and whether the committee’s own guidelines were followed, including the significant importance of being an undefeated Power Five conference champion.”

He went on to say: "My heart breaks for the talented FSU student-athletes and coaches and their passionate and loyal fans. Florida State deserved better. College football deserved better.”

Not surprisingly, Phillips declined to mention that his conference initially resisted efforts to expand the playoff from four to 12 teams, which could've happened as soon as this season — and ensured the Seminoles and two-time defending national champion Georgia Bulldogs were included in the postseason.

It was less than two years ago that Phillips defiantly declared the ACC was firmly opposed to the idea of going to an eight- or 12-team playoff.

“We’re not opposed to expansion at some point," Phillips said in January 2022. "Right now, we don’t feel like that’s the right thing to do in college football.”

Boy, did that stance come back to bite him.

The selection committee defended its decision to award playoff berths to one-loss teams Texas and Alabama at the expense of the Seminoles.

There was no real debate about the top two teams: No. 1 Michigan and No. 2 Washington, a pair of undefeated conference champs with impressive resumes. Texas, which bounced back from a loss to Oklahoma to win the Big 12 title, was awarded the third spot in the rankings. The fourth spot went to Alabama, which ended then-No. 1 Georgia's 29-game winning streak with a 27-24 victory in the Southeastern Conference championship game.

The deciding factor in dropping Florida State to No. 5 was the loss of its dynamic quarterback, Jordan Travis, to a season-ending leg injury.

“In the eyes of the committee, Florida State is a different team without Jordan Travis,” said Boo Corrigan, chairman of the selection panel. “One of the things we do is consider is player availability, and our job is to rank the best teams. In the final decision looking at that, it was Alabama at 4 and Florida State at 5.”

We actually think the committee got it right — the four best teams are in the playoff, and even No. 6 Georgia would be a more fearsome team going forward than the Seminoles — but that's besides the point.

This was all about one last bit of absurdity in how college football decides its champion.

Next season, they'll finally get it right.

It only took more than a century and a half to get there.

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Paul Newberry is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry@ap.org

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