Whicker: Alabama-Clemson playoff has enriched the rich

College football is specifically designed for equality. Instead, it gives us tyranny.

Monday night the five-year-old College Football Playoff gives us an Alabama-Clemson championship game for the third time. Alabama has been in all five playoffs, Clemson four.

Since Clemson lost to West Virginia 70-33 in the 2011 Orange Bowl, its record is 84-11. Since Nick Saban’s second year in charge of the Crimson Tide, its record is 153-15. Both went undefeated in 2018. They have split their championship games, with the Tide surviving Clemson 45-40 for the title in 2015, with Clemson winning 35-31 the next year.

Both games were spellbinding, as was the Tua-nami of a touchdown pass from Tua Tagovailoa to DeVonta Smith in overtime last season that got Alabama past Georgia, 26-23.

Nobody complains when Federer meets Nadal in an umpteenth final. But in Columbus and Norman and South Bend, they complain of ‘Bama-Clemson fatigue. They had better find a remedy. Neither of these Twin Towers is taking a year off.

Why them? Ask Trevor Lawrence, the porcelain-faced freshman quarterback from Cartersville, Ga. He was the best in his class, having broken DeShaun Watson’s state records. He picked Clemson over Georgia even though Kelly Bryant was still wearing the paw helmet, even though Bryant had taken the Tigers to the CFP in 2017.

Tagovailoa, who had heavily considered USC, likewise chose Alabama despite the presence of Jalen Hurts, the losing QB in the 2016 CFP final. He took over when Hurts dropped the baton, and in last month’s SEC championship game Hurts relieved Tagovailoa, who had hurt his ankle.

The point is that the CFP’s legitimacy has swayed the top recruits. Seldom do they want to blaze their own path, or lean toward a place that guarantees playing time. They want the best shot at the trophy. If things don’t work out, they might transfer (as Bryant did but as Hurts did not). Generally they’re willing to bet on themselves.

In the past four NFL drafts, twenty Alabama players have been called, with four first-rounders in each of the past two rounds. Ohio State and Oklahoma are prime programs, too, but no one has Alabama’s stability, or proof of performance.

Such dominance shouldn’t happen. Beginning in 1992, each Division I school was limited to 85 scholarships, 20 fewer than the 1973 limit that was prompted by Title IX. Before that, there were no limits. If Coach wanted Bobby, he’d gladly recruit Bobby’s three brothers and four best friends and then let the fittest survive.

Changes in TV were also supposed to equalize the game. Until 1984 there were no more than two games telecast every Saturday, mostly involving powerhouses. Oklahoma and Georgia won a lawsuit to open the market, and the number of games nearly doubled, and then NBC signed up Notre Dame exclusively in 1991.

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Now everybody is on camera, in virtually every conference, and yet the exposure doesn’t seem to balance the scales.

A win for Saban Monday will give him his sixth national championship at Alabama, plus a BCS title at LSU. Thus he will be known as the best coach in the game’s history, if he isn’t already.

But until 1998, when the Bowl Alliance came along, there was no proven champion. Reporters and coaches, in two separate polls, determined the No. 1 team, often without ever seeing the teams they favored.

Bear Bryant won six of those “titles” at Alabama but had seven other teams that lost one game or none at all. They did not finish No. 1 in the polls. But today they would probably have made the playoff.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney pose with the trophy at a news conference for the NCAA college football playoff championship game Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

USC was 10-0-1 in 1969, 11-1 in 1976, 11-0-1 in 1979 and 12-1 in 2008 without being anointed. Joe Paterno at Penn State was either undefeated or had one loss in eight “non-championship” seasons. He was convinced that Penn State’s 1969 team was better than Texas and that his 1994 Rose Bowl champs were better than Nebraska.

At times the polls diverged. Miami and Washington led polls in 1991, Colorado and Georgia Tech in 1990, USC and LSU in 2013, Nebraska and Michigan in 1997. They were all left hanging by administrators that actually thought the conference bowl tie-ups were more important than resolution, that a disputed outcome was somehow healthy.

Today the game is unimaginable without the CFP. The only argument is whether it should expand from four to eight teams, although the indisputable video evidence says that it really should shrink to two.

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