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March 31, 2012

HURT: Football's version of Final Four will be king

It all depends on your taste in pageantry.

One person can argue the greatest event in sports is the Super Bowl. Another can stick up for the Masters, or the Kentucky Derby or the World Cup.

In college athletics, though, unless you have a specialized taste for a particular sport such as gymnastics or golf or softball, or are a College World Series loyalist (and have two weeks to spend in Omaha), it comes down to either the Final Four or the BCS Championship Game.

With both events being in New Orleans this year, comparison is inevitable.

Or is it best just to wait a couple of years, when we have what might be the best of both worlds - the Football Final Four.

It won't be called that, of course. "Final Four" is an NCAA trademark and the NCAA will not be doing any administering of a major-college football playoff. If college presidents thought turning over the Fort Knox keys to the NCAA was a good idea, we would have had a college playoff a long time ago.

Hopefully, it will be called something snappier than "BCS Championship Game," by far the most boring name for any major sports event anywhere. But whatever it is called - "BCS Playoffs" or "Plus-One," "Football Four" or "Interminable Television Timeout Saturday" - it is on the horizon. The power brokers of college football aren't talking about "if." They are talking about "when."

So when the Football Four arrives, whether in 2013 or 2014, will it be bigger than basketball's Final Four?

It depends on how you look at it. As a live event, it won't compare. It would be possible, if the BCS wanted, to have both semifinals at the same site, but it would be a logistical nightmare.

Whether the semifinals are played on campus sites or at existing bowl sites, you won't have all four teams in the same city, which is one of the charms of the Final Four, and one of the reasons why Saturday's semifinals (like Kentucky-Louisville) are usually - not always, but often - more compelling than Monday night's final.

So if you are talking about a live event, something to buy a ticket and attend, if you can, basketball will continue to be a better show. But only a tiny fraction of sports fans attend championship events in person. And as a television event, the Football Four would transcend every other college sports event, even if one game was in Seattle and the other in Norman, Okla.

For example, imagine last year in a campus-site scenario, taken straight from the final BCS standings without any restrictions like "no rematches" or "only conference champions," which were apparently a big deal (according to some media members) in football but not in basketball.

That would have had Stanford (and Andrew Luck) at LSU in one semifinal and Oklahoma State at Alabama in the other. That would have been a huge day of television encompassing the entire nation, or at least all the parts that embrace college football.

It probably would have resulted in the same Alabama-LSU final, but it would have given the matchup momentum rather than the month of complaint and carping we had last December.

So it depends on your taste, and some people will prefer the spectacle of the Final Four. But for most of America, experiencing the day on television, football will eventually be the king.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.

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