There have been organized attempts in big-time college football to have the nation's two most qualified teams play for a national championship since 1992. The Bowl Coalition (1992-94) and Bowl Alliance (1995-97) had no chance for long-term success, since the Rose Bowl, the Big Ten and the Pacific-10 were not participants.
The Bowl Championship Series offered more legitimacy for 16 seasons from 1998 through 2013. The major glitch concerned the 2003 season. LSU beat Oklahoma in the BCS title game, and the Associated Press voted Southern California as its national champion.
There was seismic upheaval during the era of trying to crown a champion with a stand-alone title game. There were seven major conferences at the start in 1992 and five at the end in 2013.
The upheaval did lead to the best thing to happen since the pursuit to find an on-the-field champion started: the four-team College Football Playoff.
There's a misconception the NCAA is in charge of this. The actuality is that it's run by CFP Administration LLC, and the partners are the 10 conferences in what the NCAA terms the Football Bowl Subdivision of Division I athletics.
The partnership is very one-sided financially and influentially in favor of the 65 schools in the Power Five conferences (SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12, ACC and Big 12, plus Notre Dame), and that's because they bring in the bucks.
The CFP decided to use a committee to select its four participants. After three years, we know this:
The culling process starts with the opening game of the season, not with conference play. And if you lose more than once from that opener through a potential conference title game, forget it.
The CFP committee got it right in 2014 with Oregon, Florida State, Alabama and Ohio State, got it right in 2015 with Clemson, Oklahoma, Michigan State and Alabama, and has it right again for this playoff with Washington, Ohio State, Clemson and Alabama.
Four is also the right number for this grand reason: The CFP now stands as the only play-down in major American sports in which there are hellacious standards of excellence to participate.
Read Patrick Reusse's blog at startribune.com/patrick. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.