Sports thrive on elimination contests to crown champions, but tradition-bound college football has been slow to embrace the idea. That will soon change, but while the move is logical, the question of what this will do to the game and the schools that play it is not so simple.
In the beginning, colleges played other colleges in football and those that did well went to post-season bowl games. When the results were in, sportswriters would vote in polls and a national champion was declared -- often not to the satisfaction of fans and coaches.
Starting in 1998, the Bowl Championship Series borrowed some of the old ways to fashion a championship game of sorts. Poll and computer rankings now are combined to pick the nation's No. 1 and 2 teams, which meet to decide the national championship in a bowl game, with the major bowls taking turns.
But the complaints have continued. Picking the two best teams is as open to debate and caprice as picking just one, especially in years when several excellent teams are in contention.
So a panel of university presidents has introduced another refinement, to take effect with the 2014 season. A committee will pick the top four teams -- No. 4 will play No. 1 and No. 2 will play No. 3, with the winners to play for the championship. The final game will rotate among the four major bowls, with two added.
This will look more like a true playoff, although it is a gradual step. Virginia Tech President Charles Steger said the new system changes "just the right amount."
So it seems. Human opinion will continue to play a part, with no conference guaranteed a finalist. But four teams vying for a place in the final should mean less controversy. Fans of college football who have sought a playoff system -- including President Obama -- pretty much get what they want.
The new system is good for the fans. It means more money for universities and the establishment of what will surely become a junior Super Bowl.
It will not please those who think that college football has grown too big, often at the expense of academics. Whether it is good or not for the mission of the nation's largest universities remains to be seen.