This BCS mess? All this haggling over bowls, polls and presidents' roles? We have Alan Gould to blame.
Back in 1935, the Associated Press sports editor had no idea what genie he was letting out of the bottle when he put together his own postseason rankings. Gould floated the idea of his "poll" around the newsroom. Inevitably, someone had to ask, "Who do you have No. 1?"
Mike Williams' Trojans give us a second 'national championship game' to watch. (AP)
See how far we've come?
At worst, this postseason will produce split national champions for the fourth time since 1990. But, really, what's so bad about feeling this good about college football? The bowl season kicks off Tuesday night with the first of 28 of the suckers that give 56 teams a chance to feel good about themselves.
More practice. More games. More money. More controversy.
Ain't that America? This just in: It's all good.
"I know I'm in the slow reading group, but what is wrong with it?" said John Junker, the Fiesta Bowl's CEO and president. "We have hungry children at Christmas time. We've got Iraq. We got Islamic terrorists trying to kill us all."
In other words, chill out.
Start with the four BCS bowls. They are the best four matchups in the six-year history of the system. Miami-Florida State just for grins is not a bad thing. The curiosity that is Kansas State (69 years between conference titles) is in its first BCS bowl. The Rose Bowl actually gets the Pac-10 and Big Ten champions.
Best of all: For the first time in the BCS era, there are not one but two bowls able to market themselves as national championship games. Three teams have a chance, going in, to bring home a championship.
ABC is so torn about how to market the Rose (featuring No. 1 Southern California) and the Sugar (BCS championship game), it is splitting its spin.
"You want to call it two championship games, or 1 and 1A," Loren Matthews, senior vice president of programming for ABC Sports told reporters, "The fact of the matter is there is a whole lot of interest."
Exactly. Ten years from now no one is going to care if both Oklahoma (or LSU) and USC have championship flags whipping in the breeze. They don't at Georgia Tech and Colorado (1990). They don't at Washington and Miami (1991). The same goes for Michigan and Nebraska in 1997.
"Pete Carroll is smarter than all of us," Junker said of the USC coach. "Stay at home, play a home game. The world loves him. He's going to be an icon. He's a smart guy."
Carroll's positive, measured comments about being left out of the Sugar Bowl (and getting into the Rose Bowl) diffused the situation for some. For others, it is a jockstrap Watergate. Bumbling plumbers replaced by faceless computers sneaking around behind our backs.
What few can understand is college football is the most unique of gems. The postseason is flawed, yes, but no one ever claimed this zirconium could cut glass.
That's impossible when there are no undefeated major-college teams after the regular season for the first time in 117 years. That is taking into account all teams that played at least five regular-season games since 1886.
"I don't think a little ambiguity is the worst thing for college football," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said before the season.
Gould's 1935 idea turned into the first AP poll in 1936. You tend to get other people involved when folks -- as a group of Minnesota fans reportedly did to Gould -- hang you in effigy.
Lincoln (Neb.) Star sports editor Cy Sherman suggested Gould poll AP sports editors to kick things off. Not surprisingly, Minnesota finished No. 1 in the first official poll, making both Gould and tree branches in Minneapolis safe.
"It was a case of thinking up ideas to develop interest and controversy," Gould was once quoted as saying in the Los Angeles Times. "Papers wanted material to fill space between games. That's all I had in mind, something to keep the pot boiling.
"Sports then was living off controversy, opinion, whatever. This was just another exercise in hoopla."
Those words could have been uttered about the BCS 10 minutes ago. A system was born that year and so was modern college football. It is still the only sport governed by human whim.
Ara Parseghian settled for that tie against Michigan State in 1966 because of the polls. It can be argued Penn State finally joined a conference because of the polls. Joe Paterno had been jobbed out of so many national championship shots because of the school's independent schedule.
Tom Osborne got half a title in '97 as a retirement gift from the coaches poll. It was his final reward, maybe, for not playing to the polls and going for two against Miami in the 1984 Orange Bowl.
Coincidentally, it was Osborne who for years suggested some kind of computer influence in the rankings. The BCS sought to lessen the human influence but, really, that was a fallacy. When the coaches threw their automatic No. 1 vote to the BCS title game winner in 1998, it made for the possibility of a split national championship every year.
It's an argument that has no end. When asked by the BCS, AP pollsters supposedly didn't want to make the news by being that influential on the sport. But right or not, the media is this sport. A USA Today sports editor last week said he would count No. 1 votes for USC if the coaches sent them in that way.
This year, it was the polls that got it "right". Southern California is No. 1, though staring up from No. 3 in the BCS.
The much-maligned New York Times computer had a huge impact on the final BCS numbers this year. That from a newspaper that doesn't allow its reporters to vote on national awards.
Jeff Anderson, who contributes to the Seattle Times BCS computer component, actually tried to defend the system this month by quoting de Tocqueville.
Philosophize this: The BCS was created because the polls were unreliable. The polls agree this year, so the argument goes on.
Playoff? Don't even start. The pressure on presidents and the financial pressure coming from bowls is tremendous. The academic climate just is not right. The Knight Commission recommended last week teams graduate at least 50 percent of their players to be eligible to play in bowls. Using that number, 26 of the 28 bowls couldn't be played.
The best we can hope for is one more game after the four BCS bowls. But even talk of that has died down since Dec. 6 when the pairings were announced.
'Tis the season to dis the season, but hold on, the status quo isn't bad. The sport always has had that everybody-into-the-pool mentality. What the Silicon Valley Bowl doesn't deliver in hype, it makes up for in other ways. Everybody into the office pool?
College football has to be doing something right if the Tangerine Bowl is anticipating a record crowd for North Carolina State and Kansas. The once-maligned Independence Bowl (remember Poulan Weedeater?) actually has increased its payout to $1.2 million per team.
A case can be made for the two best bowl games being played in Mobile, Ala., and Fort Worth, Texas. That's where four teams, none able to stop each other, will meet in eye-candy shootouts between Boise State and Texas Christian (Fort Worth) and Miami (Ohio) and Louisville (GMAC).
Eli Manning says goodbye to college football in the Cotton Bowl. Florida's Chris Leak plays in his first bowl game in the Outback against Iowa. Will Nebraska have someone other than an interim coach by Dec. 29 when it plays Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl?
Look at this way. Those Christmas parties need some background noise. Or look at it Gould's way -- it's all just another exercise in hoopla.