Your college football team went undefeated? Sorry, that’s not good enough.

The metaphorical puffs of white smoke sent out by the College Football Playoff selection committee on Sunday signaled that the panel had chosen the four teams that would compete for this season’s championship — and that Florida State, undefeated champion of the Atlantic Coast Conference, was not among them.

This caused a different kind of smoke to come out of the Seminoles’ ears.

Florida State’s resume was tough to beat. The Seminoles opened the season by toppling Louisiana State, which was led by presumptive Heisman Trophy winner quarterback Jayden Daniels. They won at Clemson in overtime. In other weeks, Florida State showed the courage of an elite team by persevering when not at its best – something undefeated Michigan and Washington were capable of, but that Texas and Alabama, both with one loss and chosen to make the play- off field were not.

The Seminoles’ only downside was that they had too few players: their star quarterback, Jordan Travis, broke his leg last month against North Alabama.

When his backup, Tate Rodemaker, suffered a concussion in a win at Florida the following week, Brock Glenn, a true freshman who had completed four passes to that point, left the lead against Louisville.

The Seminoles’ defense stiffened, the running game finally opened up, and Mr. Glenn accomplished his most important task: he didn’t lose the game.

Still, the ugliness of Florida State’s offense (and memories of last year’s championship game fiasco, when Georgia defeated Texas Christian 65-7) led the committee to set a new precedent: not allowing an undefeated champion from one of the major five conferences to compete in the playoffs.

Florida State players sat in stunned silence as the committee’s rankings were revealed on television. Travis, his surgically repaired leg in a cast, wrote on Xformerly known as Twitter, that he wished he had been injured earlier in the season so the committee could have better assessed his team.

Florida State coach Mike Norvell said in a statement that he was disgusted and furious. “What happened today goes against everything that is true and right in college football,” he said. “A team that overcame tremendous adversity and found a way to win by doing whatever it took on the field was cheated today. It’s a sad day for college football.”

But most of all, the committee’s decision was a reminder of what college football is: a televised beauty pageant.

An enduring appeal of American sports is that it is the rare place where meritocracy matters, where the game is not (so heavily) stacked. Do you want to win a race? Be the first to cross the finish line. Do you want to win a Super Bowl? Finish with one of the seven best records from your conference and you have a chance.

That’s rarely been college football.

Instead, the 13-member commission, made up of a rotating cast of executives, former coaches and players, and former sportswriters, does its work behind closed doors, with only the commission chair speaking to the news media.

The opaqueness of the process, combined with the influence of the television networks, which have been the puppet masters of conference realignment, lends itself to conspiracy theories that fans in other sports typically reserve for game officials — and perhaps the weighing of NBA draft lottery ping-pong balls. The only thing that can be said for sure about the last team in and the last team out of college football is that Alabama will draw more viewers than Florida State.

(The irony is that the playoffs will be expanded to 12 teams next year. That might have happened by now if not for so much distrust built up among the conference commissioners, fueled by the unfair dealings with each other during the last reclassification wave.)

For nearly a century, college American football was a largely regional sport, and the teams reflected that. The Florida teams were fast. The Texas teams were tough. The Big Ten teams were tough. The quarterbacks were raised in California. And a conference championship meant something: The winner of the Big Eight would play in the Orange Bowl. The Southeastern Conference champion would go to the Sugar Bowl. A trip to the Rose Bowl was the carrot for the Big Ten and Pac-10 champions. Independent teams, such as Notre Dame, Miami, Florida State and Penn State, and the runners-up would fill the postseason field.

The champion was crowned by a vote of coaches, writers or other association wishing to award a trophy.

It was a comfortable (and lucrative) arrangement until the 1990s, when almost every year seemed to bring a controversial champion. Because the Rose Bowl held the Big Ten and Pac-10 champions in Pasadena, undefeated Washington had to share the championship with undefeated Miami in 1991 and undefeated Michigan had to share the crown with undefeated Nebraska in 1997.

The following year, a plan for the play-offs was devised.

The Bowl Championship Series formula weighed coach and writer polls, computer rankings, strength of schedule, losses and quality wins to determine the top two teams, which would play each other to determine a champion. (A simulated BCS formula this year placed Florida State in the top four but left Texas out of the equation.)

It worked for a while — until the second year, when Florida State, which had lost to Miami in the regular season, surpassed the Hurricanes based on computer rankings. In the fifth year, the sportswriters disagreed so much over the selection of Oklahoma and Louisiana State in the finals that they gave Southern California the Associated Press National Championship Award.

And the following year, in 2004, undefeated Auburn was left out of consideration in favor of Oklahoma and USC, who were also undefeated.

It wasn’t until ten years later, in 2014, that the play-off was expanded to four teams.

That year, Ohio State — which crushed Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game behind its third-place quarterback — surpassed TCU and Baylor, who were tied atop the Big 12 standings, to clinch the final playoff berth.

When Ohio State won the national championship, it may have vindicated the committee’s decision, but it still haunts TCU and its fans, who feared a similar snub last year after losing the Big 12 title game in overtime.

“Every year there’s a playoff, so you remember that feeling,” said Kevin White, a wide receiver and senior captain in 2014. “It’s one of those things that happens every year: What if? It doesn’t get easier. It’s always there.”

And so White, a sales manager in Round Rock, Texas, where he grew up, knew better than most the pain Florida State players endured Sunday. “I know what they feel,” he said. “You just want a chance to prove it on the field.”

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