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The answer to long layoff is a playoff

Ohio State just went 51 days between football games, which is less time than Noah spent battling flood waters that, alas, failed to squash the germination of the college football bowl system.

Can you imagine if other sports followed the greedy lead of the NCAA football folks, who'd step on your fingers to seize that penny lying in the parking lot? Why, March Madness would be May Mayhem. Reggie Jackson would be Mr. December. I mean, if NCAA football's running the Olympics, we'd have had preliminaries in Athens and be awaiting finals in Beijing.

The national championship game -- or what passes for one anyway -- was next on Ohio State's agenda as I pulled out of Columbus following its Nov. 18 showdown with Michigan. I'm not sure how the Buckeyes passed the time since then, but I painted three rooms, celebrated two family birthdays, put up the Christmas tree, took down the Christmas tree and watched Dick Clark kiss the Mrs. By then, there was only a week to kill before the Buckeyes returned to the field. A two-week layoff before the Super Bowl is a getaway weekend by comparison.

Maybe Ohio State would have been mauled by Florida anyway in Monday night's not-so-grand culmination to a ponderous 32-game bowl schedule. The Gators' speed was overwhelming on both sides of the ball, particularly after the Buckeyes lost defense-stretching wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. We now know with certainty that there's no way Heisman winner Troy Smith would survive behind the Buffalo Bills' offensive line, although he's bound to be available when the Bills are on the clock, maybe even in the second round. So harried were the Buckeyes that coach Jim Tressel went all in late in the first half, figuring a fourth-and-short gamble in his own territory weighed superior to a willing surrender of possession.

But Florida did have its intangible advantages, game familiarity most notable among them. The Gators finished their regular season a week after Ohio State faced Michigan, and then they played the Southeastern Conference championship game a week after that. A loss in either game would have knocked Florida out of the BCS Championship Game.

The Gators were sharp, playing for their lives all the while, yearning for a shot at the Ohio State behemoth, while the Buckeyes were lulled into complacency by the role of heavy favorite accompanied by nearly two months of inactivity. It's not a scenario conducive to two teams performing at their best, yet the games of meaning keep moving deeper into the New Year's calendar so NCAA football can extract maximum value out of its student-athletes by feeding them to television.

So the season ends with Florida as the champion, Ohio State as a vanquished runner-up and Boise State carrying the flag of dissent for college football's ostracized mid-majors. There's a way around this, of course, these interminable delays between significant games, the slighted feelings held by Boise State, the school that gave us a bowl finish for the ages. But NCAA football will have none of it, at least through 2010, when the benefits of a playoff system, which are readily apparent to fans and many a coach throughout the land, will be debated by administrators obsessed with protecting their territory.

You'd like to think there's substance to NCAA football's resistance to a playoff structure but there isn't. They like it just the way it is. And if that means a team accumulates 51 days of dust before playing for the national championship, so be it. It's not about the quality of the football. It hasn't, in the land of higher education, been about that in a long time.


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