College football bluebloods Alabama and Georgia will play for college football’s national championship Monday night in Atlanta.

That’s one day after the Johnny-come-lately UCF Knights will celebrate their own version of college football’s national championship with a parade at DisneyWorld on Sunday.

So, what gives?

College football’s flawed system of deciding a national champion is what gives – and what has given us multiple claims of national championships since long before this gray-bearded sports writer knew the difference between a T-formation and a single wing.

There are many instances of multiple teams claiming national championships. Ole Miss is involved in three, as the Ole Miss football media guide shows.

That’s why Ole Miss claims three national championships that few outside the Magnolia State give much credence. That’s why Alabama claims a national championship in 1941 when Mississippi State had a better record, beat the Crimson Tide 14-0 at Tuscaloosa and won the SEC besides. Those are just a few instances of multiple claims to titles. There are scores more.

The difference between those instances mentioned in the previous paragraph and this year’s controversy is now we actually have a four-team playoff for the championship. Those four teams in the playoff, picked by a committee, excluded UCF (and Ohio State and Minnesota).

The Big Ten Conference, which won six of seven bowl games in the recent bowls season, did not have a team in the playoffs. UCF, the only unbeaten team in the country, was not invited. UCF is a member of the American Athletic Conference, which is not a so-called power five league.

Not long ago, UCF was a member of Conference USA, where Jeff Bower’s Southern Miss teams used to eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Suddenly, they have become college football’s new Boise State. They won all 13 games this season. They beat three ranked teams and beat one of those (Memphis) twice. They beat Maryland of the Big Ten 38-10. Then, they beat Auburn 34-27 in the Peach Bowl.

Auburn, you should know, beat both Georgia and Alabama, the two teams that will play for the national title. Indeed, Auburn beat Alabama 26-14 in late November and lost to UCF 34-27 on Jan. 1. Mighty Auburn, which ran for 168 yards against Alabama, managed 90 yards on 44 carries against UCF.

But UCF’s overall schedule strength paled in comparison to that of Alabama, which did not even qualify for its conference championship game. UCF got left out.

Nevertheless, UCF is going to hang a national championship banner in its stadium. They are going to have a parade in the Magic Kingdom. They will have a national championship celebration in downtown Orlando Monday. They are giving their coaching staff national championship bonuses. Their players will receive national championship rings.

Said UCF athletic director Danny White: “I don’t know how you don’t call this team national champions. They are the only undefeated team in college football, and in the last game of the year they beat the team (Auburn) that beat both the teams playing in the CFB Playoff Championship Game. I just don’t know how in any sort of equitable system you don’t consider us national champions.”

I say good for them. Why not? They did everything they could do. They won every game they played.

It’s the system, not UCF, that is flawed.

That hasn’t stopped several national pundits from taking shots at uppity UCF.

Paul Finebaum of the SEC Network advised: “Know your place, UCF.” He called UCF’s parade “offensive” and said it “demeans” Monday night’s championship game.

I just disagree. UCF isn’t demeaning anything. It is, however, pointing out the discriminatory system in college football that separates the “haves” from the “have nots.”

At least in college basketball, the little guys get invited to the party. That’s part of what makes March Madness so special – when a Davidson knocks off North Carolina, a Middle Tennessee slays Michigan State or a Mississippi Valley State scares the bejeezus out of Duke.

That’s why we love it so much.

In college football we have no Gonzagas. They aren’t invited to the dance. It’s a private party, no poor folks allowed.

So go ahead UCF. Have your parade. Give out the rings. And then you can go about replacing your coaching staff, bought away by Nebraska, one of the bluebloods.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.