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Sports views: Aliens might visit before the BCS gets it right

Posted: Thursday, April 28, 2005

The BCS is holding its annual meeting this week at a luxury hotel in sunny Arizona. As exercises in futility go, it is rivaled only by UFO conventions.

And right now, it's an even-money bet whether aliens will be regular visitors to the planet before college football gets what it has needed for decades: a playoff to decide its champion on the field.

Instead of real competition, the Bowl Championship delegates continue to twist logic into pretzels, keep their fingers crossed until they suffer cramps and tinker with the formula every offseason since they hijacked the postseason in 1998. Unfortunately, nothing that will be decided by the time they head back home Wednesday is going to tilt the odds in the game's favor. That's because those delegates are too busy trying — yet again — to convince the rest of us to trust their vision.

That became considerably harder to do last December, when The Associated Press told the BCS to stop using its media poll as one of three equally weighted components in determining the BCS rankings. That poll, along with the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll and six computer ratings, provided the basis for the BCS standings, which, in turn, decided which two teams played for the national championship and which others got slots in the glamorous, big-money bowl games.

To the delight of BCS members, there was no shortage of volunteers lining up to serve as alternatives to the AP poll. The early favorites were the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame, which offered to put together a panel of former coaches and administrators, and the NCAA Division I-A Athletic Directors Association, which said it could draw voters from eight different segments of the college football world.

According to USA Today, officials from each group arrived with lists bearing more than 100 possible names. Those totals, however, calmed BCS coordinator Kevin Weiberg's concerns only so far.

''The question is how many people would be willing to participate in it?'' said Weiberg, who also serves as commissioner of the Big 12 Conference. ''Under what expectations would they participate in it?''

Considering past history, those expectations had better be low. Media members who voted in the AP poll came in for considerable harassment in previous years because their ballots were made public. But fans and even the occasional coach took it to a new level last season. While Texas and Cal battled to the wire last season for a spot in one of the BCS bowls, Longhorns coach Mack Brown openly lobbied voters and some of his fans offered in e-mails to pass along their recommendations using blunt instruments.

Making matters even tougher for potential replacements, Weiberg said the BCS is considering forcing voters to reveal their final ballots, at the very least, and may impose the same requirement on the coaches' poll. Considering how many conflicts of interest the coaches are involved in — more than a few have contracts paying handsome bonuses for BCS appearances — finding enough members of that fraternity to vote could present a whole new set of headaches.

American Football Coaches Association executive director Grant Teaff said Monday, ''Our coaches are willing to do whatever it takes to make this process the best it can be.''

That said, Teaff made it abundantly clear that coaches would make their votes public only after plenty of kicking and screaming. ''Y'all will have a field day with it,'' he told reporters. ''Coaches will be ducking and diving.''

Tough luck, but it comes with the territory. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution made an open-records request to the 61 schools whose coaches voted in last season's poll asking to release their final votes; 55 did not comply. That won't wash under the latest new-and-improved BCS formula being considered. That's why it came as no surprise when somebody asked Weiberg about the integrity of the process, and he replied, ''We need to work on that question.''

And it's hardly the only one. If the BCS can't settle on a suitable replacement poll, it could decide to use only the coaches' poll and computer ratings to determine its rankings, or scrap the formula entirely and form a selection committee modeled along the lines of the one used to set the NCAA basketball tournament field — without the tournament, of course.

But anybody who thinks that last idea would fare any better with the public than the current system probably likes flying saucers, too.

''They'd see,'' Teaff said, ''the most mythical national championship you've ever laid eyes on.''

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org.



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