Wednesday, December 13, 2006

There is no National Championship

Second in a series on the “National Championship”

There has never been a “National Champion” in division I-A college football.

There have been AP Champions, Coaches’ Poll Champions, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta and Rose Bowl Champions, Sagarin Champions, New York Times Champions and, more recently, BCS Champions.

But a “National Champion” for Division I-A?


I ended my previous post on this topic with the caveat that comes right at the top of the NCAA website regarding past “National Champions” –

The NCAA does not conduct a national championship in Division I-A football and is not involved in the selection process.

Think about that for a second. In what is inarguably the NCAA’s most popular sport, they do not conduct a national championship. They have a national champion for basketball (men’s and women’s), baseball, golf, hockey, soccer, tennis, even rifle.

There is a national champion for Division I-AA, Division II and Division III football.

In fact, referring to the NCAA’s website again –

The NCAA administers 88 championships in 23 sports for its member institutions. More than 40,600 men and women student-athletes annually compete in these events for national titles.

But nothing for Division I-A football.

Now, you may think this is merely a matter of semantics. With so many entities crowing a “National Champion” in Division I-A football, you might argue that the AP’s opinion on this, or the BCS’s, or any of the other thirty some entities that decide who is number 1 in college football, are entitled to call their pick the “National Champion”.

You may also say that schools so anointed as “National Champions” by the BCS, or the AP, or whatever, are entitled to mint rings, print shirts and hold parades.

What we can agree on, however, is that has never been an NCAA Champion in Division I-A football. And when you talk about other college sports, an NCAA Championship is a “National Championship”

The NCAA itself– the very governing body of the sport – clearly thinks that the NCAA Championship in Division I-A football and the “National Championship” are one in the same.

How do we know this? Well, their own words tell us.

First, look at that quote from the NCAA website again -

The NCAA does not conduct a national championship in Division I-A football and is not involved in the selection process.

Then, examine at the history of the NCAA on the subject.

From the BCS’s website

In 1976, a proposal to establish a Division I-A football championship was introduced on the recommendation of a special committee that had studied the feasibility of a playoff. This proposal, however, was withdrawn and there was no discussion on the Convention floor.

Also –

A resolution was presented during the 1988 Convention that stated the Division I-A membership did not support the creation of a national championship in the sport of football, which passed by a vote of 98 in favor, 13 opposed and one abstention.

And finally –

In 1994, a blue-ribbon panel was formed to gather information regarding the viability of establishing a Division I-A football championship. The panel forwarded a report to the NCAA Presidents Commission; however, it was decided that the NCAA would not pursue a Division I-A championship.

So, quite clearly, the NCAA considers its champion the “National Champion”.

There really is no parallel to this in any other major sporting endeavor, pro or otherwise. Every other organization I could find has a process for deciding its champion.

Except Division I-A college football.

So, on January 8th, Florida and Ohio State will be playing for the BCS Title, and perhaps the AP Title, and any number of other entities’ top award.

But a NCAA, or “National” Championship?

Well, let’s just say this – you can’t play for that which doesn’t exist.

Next: How did we get to this sorry situation?


Anonymous said...

This is why, IF the Gators win against the Buckeyes AND Boise State beats Oklahoma, I will be contacting BSU and telling them they can claim the National Championship. ;-)

In all seriousness, great blog! Lots of different takes on subjects. Hopefully we can work together before next year's UF / FSU game!

Mergz said...


Checked out your blog, and I have to say you do great work too. Perhaps you might (if you dare) list us as a "Friend of Scalp'Em", and I might convince my co-blogger here too to link Scalp'Em to our page (he is in charge of technical matters).

Also, would love to do something before next year's game.


Anonymous said...

Isn't this just semantics? NBA, NFL and MLB Champions aren't technically World Champions but they are universally regarded as such because of the high level they play each sport as. In contrast no one considers the MLS (US professional soccer league) to be world champions by default - not even close.

So isn't the best college team in Division 1A by default the best college team in the "nation", thereby making them the "national champions". Just because something isn't sanctioned or run by the NCAA doesn't diminish the fact that there can be a universally regarded "best team". Its just how the landscape evolved. Before the NCAA basketball tournament the NIT Champions (a non-NCAA sponsored tournament) crowned basketball's national champions. 'NCAA' and 'National' are just interchangeable words in that specific instance because the NCAA tournament supplanted the original NIT tournament (by force I might add).

My guess is that you intend to expand upon this point in the next piece in this series???


Henry Louis Gomez said...

I don't think it's semantics. How can you have more than one "champion". I think the World Series example doesn't apply. While the World Series is a misnomer of sorts it's safe to say that the World Series Champion is the MLB champion. No Division 1A team can claim an NCAA championship because it doesn't exist. And Mergz points out that the NCAA reserves the right to crown the true National Champion but has, to date, declined to do so.

So we have basically a mess. That's not news. But I bet a lot of people don't realize all of this stuff.

Anonymous said...

Okay, maybe I missed the point. I understand there is no "NCAA" Champion but that does not mean there can't be a publicly accepted "National Champion". My analogy with MLB's champion is that even though there are professional teams in numerous countries in the world, the BEST (by far) baseball players play for Major League Baseball and their champion is considered and proclaimed the "World Champions" every year (aka the WORLD Champion St. Louis Cardinals).

National Champions is just a popular term. A more correct name would be Amateur National Champions since clearly the best college team couldn't beat the worst pro team.

Its the schools that have to approve "NCAA" management of the sport. For example, rowing is a hugely popular and traditional sport in the northeast but has consistently voted against NCAA championships preferring to keep operating under the Intercollegiate Rowing Association rather than allow the NCAA to manage the sport. Schools from all across the country travel to New Jersey every year to compete in the championships yet their "champion" is not recognized by the NCAA. It matters little to the participating schools though.


Henry Louis Gomez said...

The point is that most people don't know the NCAA doesn't sanction a championship. And if you read the earlier post you'll see that there are something like 30 "selectors" or entities that crown a champion. I think the idea that there is "a champion" at all in Div. 1A college football is kind of a joke. It's a poll. No other sport I can think of determines its champion by vote. The BCS at least now has a game that theoretically settles it on the field but it relies on a vote to determine who will play. Of course you could say the same thing happens in the basketball tournament with the at-large berths but it's safe to say that the best team in the country is probably in the field of 65. There's some controversy each year about "bubble" teams that don't make it to the "big dance" but let's face it, no bubble team is going to win the tournament. Football needs to have a playoff that has a field big enough to reasonably say that the best team in the country is in the field. That might be 8 or 10 teams. This year you could argue Ohio State, Florida, Louisville, Michigan, USC, LSU Oklahoma, and maybe Boise State should be in the field of a tournament.

Anonymous said...

The only way I've ever though it would be completely fair is to take the Champions of every Division I conference (11 teams) and 1 at-large bid.

Round 1
12 vs 5
11 vs 6
10 vs 7
9 vs 8

Rd 2
Lowest Seed vs 1
2nd low vs 2
3rd low vs 3
highest seed vs 4

etc etc etc

The top four seeds get a bye. Base that out of the BCS standings or some sort of RPI if you'd like.

My biggest flaw is that the independent teams MUST join a conference under that system or be denied entry to the playoff. That way Notre Dame doesn't get the at-large bid every year.

Anonymous said...

"There's some controversy each year about "bubble" teams that don't make it to the "big dance" but let's face it, no bubble team is going to win the tournament."

Tell that to George Mason University who made it to the Final Four as an At-Large Bid from a Mid-Major Conference (nope, they didn't win the Colonial Athletic Association conference title). They were the 5th lowest seeded team to get in as an At-Large Bid, which makes them most definately a "bubble" team.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

Do you think George Mason was the best team in the country?

By the way George Mason was an 11th seed in a 65 team tournament. That means there were 21 teams with lower seedings. They weren't a bubble team.

Anonymous said...

20 of the 25 teams ranked as 11th seeds or below (one of which was George Mason) were Conference Champions and received automatic bids. George Mason University was the 61st team to make it into the tournament. Like I said, they were the 5th lowest seed in the tournament to get in as an At-Large Bid. They were in fact a "bubble" team. The only teams that got into the tournament as At-Large Bids that were ranked lower than George Mason's 11th seed were Texas A&M, Bradley, Utah State, and Air Force. Everybody else that was seeded below an 11 seed received their bid automatically by winning their conference. Bubble teams are rarely the worst team in the tournament and most of the time teams that are left out of the tournament are better than some of the teams that get in. However, to guarantee entry into the tournament you have to win your conference, which is fair. But the fact remains that George Mason was on the bubble, only the 5th from last team to be selected into the tournament as an At-Large bid.

Anonymous said...

If George Mason lost 1 or 2 of the games that they won in the regular season, they probably wouldn't have made it into the tournament.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

Will you agree with me on this? The chances of the best team in the country being excluded from an 8-team tournament in football are lower than the chances of the best team being excluded from the 2-team format we have now.

If George Mason had been excluded from the NCAA tournament we would have been deprived of a great sports story that made us all feel warm inside but the best team in the country surely isn't a bubble team in a 65-team field.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

BTW I think I should mention the big differences between football and basketball. In basketball the post-season format (a single elimination tourney) doesn't seem to correspond too well to the way the regular season is set up (more than 30 games, with multiple games against the same conference opponents). In basketball therefore the chances of an upset seem greater. If George Mason had to play UConn or some other top team in a 3 or 5 game series what do you think the outcome would have been?

Anonymous said...

And no, of course I don't think George Mason was the best in the country, however, I love the fact that they had a chance to "win or go home" and they came pretty damn close. I love the NCAA Tournament, I think for the most part its fair (except when in 2005 when my Buffalo Bulls got snuffed by the NCAA Selection Committee, though like I said earlier, "to guarantee entry into the tournament you have to win your conference", which they didn't do.

Anonymous said...

Of course chances are in a series the better team for the most part would win every time. But the point is, they have to play the game. And if the stars align correctly any given team can win on any given day. I don't think Boise State was the best team in the country in football this year, though they were the only undefeated team. They should have an opportunity to play until their champions or until they lose, just like in basketball.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

You'll get no argument from me on that front. It's precisely because we don't really know if BSU was the best team that we need a playoff.

Anonymous said...

Exactly, for the most part we agree with each other. I just like to point out things I don't agree with. My point of the George Mason comment was that any team once in the tournament could make a run, it will be very rare, but it can be done, George Mason proved that. Either way, I have no complaints about how NCAA basketball is run, if you want in the tournament, win your conference, and if you want to win the national title, don't lose.

Anonymous said...

"Will you agree with me on this? The chances of the best team in the country being excluded from an 8-team tournament in football are lower than the chances of the best team being excluded from the 2-team format we have now.

If George Mason had been excluded from the NCAA tournament we would have been deprived of a great sports story that made us all feel warm inside but the best team in the country surely isn't a bubble team in a 65-team field."

I agree, 100% on this entire comment. But a bubble team, can certainly win the national championship (they may not be the best team, as George Mason was not).

Henry Louis Gomez said...

Proponents of a football playoff often point to the popularity and success of March Madness. I think the comparison is somewhat faulty though. The NCAA B-ball tournament is certainly a success in terms of revenue generation and popularity. But whether the process results in the reliable crowning of the best team in the country is highly debatable. I'm not suggesting changing the tournament because that's never going to happen but as I said the playoff format doesn't seem to fit the nature of the sport. Whereas in football a single elimination tournament would.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, as far as the sport of basketball is concerned, a series at every level of the tournament would be the best way to determine the best team in the country (perhaps an escalating series length per round). Though, this will most likely never happen simply because of the number of games that would be played. We need to remember that most of these athletes are students first and foremost (ideally at least) and they still need to focus on their studies. Very few of these athletes are going on to play in the NBA and even a 3 game series at each level would mean a team would have to win 12 games to go on to win the national title, potentially playing in 18 total games. All these game after a 30 game season is way too much. Let's just leave well enough alone ... we all enjoy watching Cinderella Stories and love rooting for an underdog (at least I do).