A Look at How National Champions are Named
By Tex Noel
Executive Director, Intercollegiate Football Researchers Association
Teams that are listed as champions in the annual NCAA Records Book were named/selected by various men and organizations throughout the years.
A number of the selectors have both their actual champions (as named during the season listed); while others were named years later or before the selector actually began naming a champion—and the term is called "retroactive".
Such is the case with Alabama’s 1925 “National Championship Team.”
Houlgate’s first actual selection—that he made public was in 1926 (through 1958). For unknown reasons, more than likely, through his research, he went back and decided to knowledge select a No. 1 from 1885-1925—these are his retroactive selections.
The Tide’s 1926 title was “earned the same way”, retroactively.
Each selector’s method, whether retroactive or current, is known unto him. Often, teams are selected by the scores they rack-up in a respective season—all without any prior knowledge of how the teams played were that season.
While the Bowl Games are a part of the annual college football season; they haven’t always been as popular (or as many)—which could be why the early AP Polls named a No. 1 based on the regular season.
As proof, all National Champions from the first AP in 1936 through the 1949 season, only two: TCU in 1938 and Texas A&M, a year later, were the only two No. 1’s to “go bowling” but were named National Champion before their annual New Year’s Day Game.
Even as the popularity of the Bowls increased; it was a while for the AP and UP/UPI polls to include them in their respective final polls.
This would take into consideration Alabama’s 1961-64-65 titles.
There has been great debate regarding the 1966 season. Notre Dame and Michigan State battled to a historic 10-10 deadlock and neither one participated in a Bowl Game; while a 11-0 Bama eleven—which included a 34-7 Sugar Bowl win over Nebraska--finished third place in both Wire Service Polls.
Parke Davis was the foremost authority of college football’s formative falls and his annual champs, though at times weren’t in line with top teams of a certain season, were based on his research of the game. His 1933 champions, Michigan and Princeton, were his only actual selections. (He passed away in the summer of 1934.)
The Football Thesaurus as mentioned in the story came along in 1946; but in actuality, it had been around and known 20 years before—as this is the publication of Houlgate.
As the game of college football progressed more and more selectors began naming a No.1 or complete polls—most of the latter have been lost to history.
But of the early selectors, Dickinson and Dunkel are the most widely-accepted; with the latter still in operation.
I think if a selector has earned a reputation of being factual and uses good judgment with his selections, an official title should be credited to a school; not just any person who wants to create his own method or system. While ‘a retroactive’ choice should be used with considerable thought and reason—mainly for historical reasoning and not in the actual count of titles a school has been credited to have won.
So, until then…and with the absence of a playoff format on the Major College level (Bowl Subdivision); this debate has and will continue throughout the ages and as we will all have a say in the annual comment: We’re #1!
Editor's Note: This article was submitted partially in response to this one: Alabama National Championship Myths.
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