A rank way to decide conference

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

NORMAN, Okla. – College football's leadership has hatched plenty of harebrained ideas in its annual quest to ruin the national championship chase.

The one that promises to derail the season of either Oklahoma or Texas, which, you might recall, actually beat the Sooners last month, might be the most bizarre

The Big 12 South champion could be determined by a poll of faceless, feckless and too often partisan voters far from these windswept plains.

Only a sport with such a profound lack of leadership, in this case Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe, could descend into a cross between figure skating and "American Idol."

The Big 12 failed to come up with enough of its own criteria for breaking a three-way tie at the top of the standings, as Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech could produce. Instead it was willing to punt to the computers and voters who determine the BCS rankings. Whatever team is ranked highest wins the division.

Among the problems: Few of the coaches who vote in the coaches' poll have seen anything but snippets of play from the league. They are no better than the 114 politically connected folks of various qualifications and attention spans who make up the Harris Poll. Combined, the two polls count for two-thirds of the rankings.

Each voter has personal biases, constituents to answer to and self-interests.

Since the BCS has no set standards for ranking teams, just about anything can be taken into consideration.

Should Texas get the nod because it beat Oklahoma? Should it be Oklahoma because it put together the most impressive performance of the season in blasting Tech 65-21? Should Tech be considered because a voter likes its coach?

How about strength of schedule? Or margin of victory? Coolest mascot? Color scheme? Does it matter who's played the most recent TV game?

What if a voter missed one team's impressive performance because he went fishing? A voter's alma mater has been known to come into play. And doesn't he owe the conference that got him a vote in the first place? What about the coach who's still bitter about losing a recruit to a certain school?

It could be any of the above. No one knows.

Seriously, that's the system: no one knows.

And, apparently, no one cares. At least when it comes to the Big 12 leadership, who unwilling to set its own rules just turned over the crowning of a champion.

Look, there is no good way to pick between three potentially 11-1 teams. Head-to-head doesn't work since Oklahoma defeated Texas Tech, Texas Tech defeated Texas and Texas defeated Oklahoma.

It would be nice if the Big 12 at least manned up and tried though. The NFL will take the tie-breaking criteria to the bitter end. The Big Ten will penalize any team that plays an opponent from the old Division I-AA. Others favor strength of schedule.

Anything is better than outsourcing the decision, which is why confusion and chaos reign.

Entering this weekend Tech was ranked No. 2, Texas No. 4 and OU No. 5. The Sooners must leapfrog UT to have a future. (Tech, due to the severity of this loss is considered out of the mix.)

So there was OU coach Bob Stoops going for it on fourth down with 41-point lead. There were Texas officials back in Austin texting Longhorn propaganda to reporters in Norman during the third quarter.

There was Stoops, normally reserved and humble, looking uncomfortable as he politicked away his team's loss to Texas.

"If you can't move us in front of Texas because they beat us, then you have to keep Texas Tech in front of Texas," Stoops campaigned. "If it's logical for one, then it's logical for the other."

Fine, if you can't put anyone ahead of anyone, then why put OU ahead of Texas?

"Because [of] how we're playing right now," he said. "We just beat the No. 2 team in the country, one of the few teams that was undefeated. Now we're in the mix with everybody and, with the way we played, you would think ahead [of them]."

Does that make sense? Texas won its last game, at Kansas, 35-7. That doesn't count as not playing well enough?

Tech coach Mike Leach, who along with Mack Brown (but not Stoops), has a vote, and said he'd put OU ahead of Texas.

Leach's opinion is Leach's opinion, which in this system is all that matters. He doesn't have to explain or apologize. He can vote any way he dang pleases.

Everyone can, which is why this is such folly and why the Associated Press no longer allows its media poll to be included. Sportswriters would be no better. You can't have the subjective determine the objective and call yourself a legitimate enterprise.

The BCS responded by culling the Harris Poll and giving them the ultimate power. It features a mish-mash of backgrounds. There are former players, former coaches, media members and assorted "others."

The qualifications and commitments of each vary widely. While many are undoubtedly good selections, others raise doubts.

One voter hails from a tiny radio station in Louisiana, another from the website dedicated to East Carolina. One is a retired sports information director; another currently works for the PGA Tour. One guy is famous for crazy selections.

A couple of years ago a New York Times reporter tracked down a Harris voter at a construction site. The interview began after the voter laid down his jackhammer.

No one knows how much any of them pay attention to anything.

And since each conference selects a slate of voters, allegiance to said league (and its interests) is natural.

College football is no longer just about having the best coaches, players and schemes. It's also about having the best political operatives.

It's bad enough this determines the national championship matchup. That it now decides a division championship is a case of the tail wagging the dog, an illogical system overtaking the regular season as well.

Maybe Texas should hire Barack Obama's advisor David Axelrod for the rest of the season because it might be in trouble due to a scheduling quirk. Next week Oklahoma will have another big nationally televised opportunity to impress voters against highly ranked Oklahoma State. The Longhorns, meanwhile, seem like the team everyone forgot.

Sure they beat Oklahoma straight up. But since the Big 12 has ceded control to outside factions, who knows if that's enough? Who knows what counts and what doesn't?

Who knows anything, really, except this is one screwed up way of doing business.

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