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

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

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

Florida State’s resume was hard to beat. The Seminoles opened the season by sweeping Louisiana, which was led by potential Heisman Trophy winner quarterback Jayden Daniels. They won at Clemson in overtime. In other weeks, Florida State has shown the mettle of an elite team by persevering when it’s not at its best — something that undefeated Michigan and Washington have been able to do, but if Texas and Alabama, both one-loss and picked to fill out the playoff field, they weren’t.

The Seminoles’ only weakness was shorthand: their star quarterback, Jordan Travis, broke his leg last month against North Alabama.

When his backup, Tate Rodemaker, suffered a concussion in the following week’s win at Florida, Brock Glenn, a true freshman who had thrown four passes to that point, leads the charge against Louisville.

The Seminole defense stiffened, the run was eventually stopped, and Mr. Glenn accomplished his most important task – he did not lose the game.

Still, the lackluster nature of Florida State’s offense (and the memory of last year’s championship game fiasco, when Georgia beat Texas Christian, 65-7) led the committee to a new precedent: not allowing an undefeated conference champion from one of the five conference contests to make the playoffs.

Florida State players sat in stunned silence as the rankings were announced on television. Travis, with a 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 taken a fuller measure of his team.

Florida State Coach Mike Norvell it is stated in the announcement that he was disgusted and angry. “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. This is a sad day for college football.”

Mostly, though, the board’s decision was a reminder of what college football is — a televised beauty pageant.

The enduring appeal of American sports is that it’s the rare place where the deck isn’t (so heavily) stacked, where meritocracy matters. Want to win the race? Be the first to cross the finish line. Want to win the Super Bowl? Finish with one of the top seven records in your conference and you have a chance.

College football has rarely been that.

Instead, a 13-member committee, made up of a rotating cast of administrators, former coaches and players, and former sportswriters, does its work behind closed doors. Only the chairman of the board talks to the media.

The opacity of the process, along with the influence of the television networks, which have been master puppeteers in conference realignment, lends itself to conspiracy theories that fans in other sports usually reserve for officials — and, perhaps, the weighting of NBA draft lottery ping-pong balls. The only thing that can be said for sure about the last and final team in college football is that Alabama will draw more eyes than Florida State.

(The irony at this point is that the playoffs are expanding to 12 teams next year, something that might have happened by now if it weren’t for the mistrust among conference commissioners fueled by ambivalent relations with each other during the last wave of realignments.)

For nearly a century, college football was largely a regional sport — and the teams reflected that. The Florida teams were fast. Texas teams were tough. Big Ten teams were bruised. California was where quarterbacks were raised. 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 a carrot for the Big Ten and Pac-10 champions. Independents such as Notre Dame, Miami, Florida State and Penn State and the runner-up would fill out the postseason field.

The champion was crowned by a vote of the coaches or writers or any association that wanted to share the trophy.

It was a comfortable enough (and lucrative) arrangement until the 1990s, when almost every year seemed to yield a contested champion. Because the Rose Bowl kept the Big Ten and Pac-10 champions anchored 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 was made for the playoffs.

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

He worked for a short time – until his sophomore year, when Florida State, which lost to Miami in the regular season, leapfrogged the Hurricanes in the strength of the computer rankings. In the fifth year, sportswriters split so vehemently over picking Oklahoma and Louisiana in the title game that Southern California was awarded the Associated Press’ national championship award.

And the year after that, in 2004, undefeated Auburn was left out in favor of Oklahoma and USC, which were also undefeated.

It wasn’t until a decade later, in 2014, that the playoffs were expanded to four teams.

That year, Ohio State — which had crushed Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game behind its No. 3 quarterback — leapfrogged TCU and Baylor, who were tied atop the Big 12, for 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 it’s the playoffs, so you remember that feeling,” said Kevin White, wide receiver and senior captain in 2014. “It’s the thing every year: What if? It doesn’t get any easier. It’s always there.”

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

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