CFB: We're No. 1! chant may be replaced by 'Who isn't?'
By JIM LITKE
AP Sports Columnist
By JIM LITKE
MIAMI — If nothing else, the most vexing college football season in a while will end in a familiar way: with players and coaches swarming the field, fingers pointed skyward, amid screams of "We're No. 1!"
What will make it different are all the kids and coaches screaming back at the TV set: "Who isn't?"
Southern California, Utah and Texas have all laid claim to the top spot in the last five days, and their arguments are every bit as convincing as the two teams, Oklahoma and Florida, that play Thursday night for the Bowl Championship Series' version of the national title.
Instead of settling the debate, the BCS has just made it more chaotic. The way things are trending, programs already bloated by coaching staffs that rival the president-elect's transition team will soon have to add a lobbyist to the mix.
"I wasn't sure before right now," Mack Brown said after his Longhorns beat Ohio State 24-21 at the Fiesta Bowl, "but Friday morning I'm going to vote Texas No. 1 because I think this is the best team in the country."
Fat lot of good that will do.
Texas' 13-1 record will match the winner of the BCS game, and it includes a win over Oklahoma. But Brown already knows his vote might as well be written with invisible ink. Under an agreement with the BCS, the top two spots in the final coaches' poll go to the participants in its championship game. Only votes ranking Nos. 3 through 25 will count.
In truth, Brown was pleading his case to media members who vote in The Associated Press poll. But there, too, the field is already crowded.
"The bottom line is we're the only team in the country that does not have to explain a loss," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said, restating what he said last week after his Utes humbled Alabama 31-17 to finish the season at 13-0. "I'm not a guy that's going to go out and campaign ... but if somebody asks me, I'll give them my opinion."
Including his fellow coaches in the BCS poll.
"I'm going to vote how I think I should vote," Whittingham said.
USC's Pete Carroll hasn't cast a vote in the BCS poll for years, even though he's probably had the best team in the country at this time of year for most of the decade. He, too, said the Trojans should be No. 1 — right after they crunched Penn State 38-24 at the Rose Bowl to finish at 13-1 — but wasn't in the mood to lobby again Tuesday.
"Do I think we have a really good football team and we could beat anybody? Yes," Carroll said. "But I've already said all I want to about that."
Yet he was not above tilting at windmills, either.
"We just keep hoping that they turn that thing around (and institute a playoff). We're so strong at the end of just about every season, it's obvious why we'd support it.
"If we had a playoff system," Carroll added a moment later, "I don't know that we wouldn't have four or five of them (national titles)."
The Trojans won the BCS title in 2004, and lost to Texas in the best game of the new century the year after. In 2003, they had to make do with The Associated Press' version of the title, even though they were good enough to beat 2003 BCS champion Louisiana State and runner-up Oklahoma — on the same day.
Then, as now, Carroll wanted a playoff.
Yet even as the clamor for a tournament has grown — polls show roughly nine out of 10 fans, including President-elect Barack Obama, favor one; as well as most players and coaches — the BCS has steadfastly refused to loosen its stranglehold. Its latest TV deal with ESPN guarantees there won't be a playoff until 2014 at the earliest.
That's wrong in so many ways — as noted countless times before — that it isn't worth the time or space to recount here.
What's changed is that TV ratings for the four BCS bowls that don't crown a champion are slipping fast; with little chance any of the winners could leapfrog to the top of even the AP poll — as USC did in 2003 — they've been rendered more meaningless than ever. In the bargain, the BCS also made it tougher for mid-majors like Utah to win the national championship even when it's the only undefeated team left in the top division, the way BYU did in 1984, when the Cougars finished 13-0 after beating Michigan in the — get this — Holiday Bowl.
That's why Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said Tuesday he's looking into whether the BCS violated antitrust laws by barring the Utes from the national title game.
"We've established that from the very first day, from the very first kickoff in the college season, more than half of the schools are put on an unlevel playing field," Shurtleff said.
So to recap: not only has the BCS failed to produce a clear-cut No. 1 often as not — its stated reason for even existing — it's ruining the other major bowls in the process.
But that's not even the craziest thing about it.
For that, read a column Dan Wetzel posted on Yahoo.com last month. He contends that college football "outsources its most profitable and easily sold product — postseason football" to the BCS so that the big conference commissioners can retain control instead of the NCAA.
Never mind that a playoff would generate higher profits and the NCAA could run a tournament or the current system for considerably less. What's shocking is that college presidents go along despite what a "boondoggle" the bowls have become. Wetzel's research shows the Sugar Bowl spent $1.3 million in employee salaries in 2006, including $453,399 in total compensation just for CEO Paul Hoolahan, in addition to $494,177 in unspecified "entertainment" in 2005 and another $455,781 on unspecified "special appropriations" in 2006.
"No sensible person," he concluded, "would ever continue to follow this business model."
But that's exactly what we've got as long as the BCS is in charge.