UCF ‘National Championship’ Exposes NCAA Hypocrisy

Central Florida Knights wide receiver Josh Reese (19) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown during the third quarter against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium. Central Florida defeated Penn State 34-31. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Even as most of the sports world was gathering in Atlanta this week to watch SEC titans Georgia and Alabama go head-to-head for the College Football Playoff National Championship, there was another team laying claim to being the best among major colleges. The University of Central Florida (UCF) completed the only 13-0 season for any FCS team this season with a victory over Auburn in the Peach Bowl. However UCF finished 12th in the CFP final rankings, and didn’t make the top four contenders who met in the playoff semifinals.

The problem with this is that UCF is the only team that has beaten the squad who defeated both playoff opponents. Auburn knocked off both Georgia when they were number one and then Alabama, eliminating the Crimson Tide from the SEC West division race. Unfortunately for them though, in the SEC title game, they were beaten by Georgia, which relegated them to the Peach Bowl. Auburn partisans argue that had they truly cared about that game and concentrated their efforts on beating UCF they would have won easily.

Still, no one will ever know whether that’s true or not. What IS known is that UCF did in fact go undefeated and did NOT receive any consideration for the playoffs. Their athletic director Danny White immediately began proclaiming them “National Champions,” and the school is going all out in its efforts to recognize them. They are paying bonuses to all assistant coaches, despite the fact that both they and former head coach Scott Frost are now headed to Nebraska. UCF allowed Frost to coach the bowl game, completing an amazing turnaround for a team that only a couple of years ago lost all its games.

In addition, UCF associate athletics director for communications put the amount that was going to nine assistants at $300,000, plus another $25,000 to the support staff. Frost along with White took charge of dividing up this money. The school also held a championship parade for UCF at Disney World in Orlando, and White even appeared on an ESPN radio show to bemoan the fact his school wasn’t fairly treated when it came to the bowl rankings. He’s even going to hang a banner in the school’s home stadium proclaiming them 2017-18 “National Champions.”

What this flap has done is once again expose the huge gap between perception and reality regarding the current NCAA system for deciding its ultimate champion in football. While every other sport has a multi-tiered playoff format that gives a wide range of teams at least a legitimate chance at winning a championship in actual competition, for many years the NCAA didn’t even have a playoff system. There were polls and championships awarded at the end of the season, but there was never truly a way of knowing if the best, let alone the most deserving, teams had played for the title.

Finally came the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), which at least tried to match up the top two teams according to rankings, but then sectional politics reared their ugly head once more. The current College Football Playoff system features a committee that reportedly watches all the games, considers all the various polls and then ultimately decides on the four representatives. But not only does restricting the field to four mean each year at least one Power Five conference gets left out, it also squeezes out any chances for non-Power Five Conference schools to compete for the title.

In the real world, UCF wouldn’t go 13-0 playing each week the caliber schedule of Georgia and Alabama. But that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the chance to compete for the NCAA football title. The only way to ensure that is to expand the field to at least eight, which would cover all Power Five conference winners and three wild card teams.

That may not be the perfect solution, but it would certainly be more equitable than the current formula.

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