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AP Opts Out Of Formula For BCS

Media Poll No Longer Part of the Equation

By Mark Schlabach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 22, 2004; Page D01

The Associated Press yesterday sent a cease-and-desist letter to Bowl Championship Series Coordinator Kevin Weiberg, demanding that the BCS no longer use its college football poll in determining the BCS rankings. The omission of the AP poll from the BCS formula could cause the sport's national champion to be determined in an entirely different way beginning next season.

In a statement released last night, the AP said the BCS's "unauthorized use of the AP poll has harmed AP's reputation and interfered with AP's agreements with AP poll voters. To preserve its reputation for honesty and integrity, the AP is asking the BCS to discontinue its unauthorized use of the AP poll as a component of BCS rankings."

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Without the AP poll in its formula for determining which two teams play in its championship game, the BCS would have to rely on the two other components: the controversial coaches' poll, in which voting is discreet, and the average of six computer rankings.

Darrell Christian, the AP's director of sports data, said yesterday that the group will continue to maintain its poll, leading to the possibility of future co-champions.

"The AP has never sanctioned use of our poll by the BCS or anyone else," Christian said. "Obviously, we weren't unaware the BCS was using the poll in its formula. . . . It had finally gotten to the point that it was causing too many problems for the AP and its members. The only way to cure that was to remove the poll from the formula."

One conference commissioner, who didn't want to be identified, said the BCS was leaning toward appointing a committee to select which teams will play in the BCS championship and the other three BCS bowls, which each have a projected payout this season of $14 million to $17 million per school. The committee would be similar to the one the NCAA uses to determine seeds and at-large bids for its men's and women's basketball tournaments.

"That would at least bring some accountability to the process," the commissioner said.

The BCS has undergone multiple changes since its inception in 1998, but the process has struggled to determine a consensus national champion. This season, three teams from BCS conferences -- No. 1 Southern California, No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 3 Auburn -- all finished the regular season undefeated. The Trojans and Sooners will play in the Jan. 4 Orange Bowl in Miami for the BCS title; the Tigers will play Virginia Tech in the Jan. 3 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

The BCS was criticized last year after Southern California, which was ranked No. 1 in both the AP and coaches' polls, was left out of the Sugar Bowl, the BCS's championship game. LSU, ranked No. 2 in the AP poll, beat No. 3 Oklahoma to win the BCS title; the Trojans were ranked No. 1 in the final AP poll.

The controversy surrounding the BCS this season wasn't as much about which two teams are playing for the BCS championship, but about which teams are playing in the Rose Bowl. In the final AP poll, some voters moved Texas ahead of California, despite the fact the Bears beat Southern Mississippi, 26-16, during the final weekend of the regular season, while the Longhorns didn't play. The difference in the polls was enough to knock California out of its first Rose Bowl since 1959; Texas will play Big Ten Conference champion Michigan in Pasadena, Calif., on New Year's Day.

Three AP voters from newspapers in Texas were criticized for moving the Longhorns ahead of California. In another incident, a sports columnist in Alabama was criticized in a story on the front page of his own newspaper for voting the Trojans and Sooners ahead of Auburn. Shortly after the final AP and coaches' polls were released, the Charlotte Observer announced its writers would no longer vote in the AP poll. In its letter to Weiberg, the AP said some voters "have indicated that they may no longer participate in the AP Poll due to the BCS's use of the AP Poll."

"The AP had to do this and the BCS should have seen it coming," said Jerry Palm, who publishes projections of the BCS standings on his Web site, Collegebcs.com. "It was obvious to me that it was an ethical dilemma for the writers. It could have come down to one guy deciding who will get $14.4 million. It's a real problem for the sportswriters. They shouldn't be deciding this and coaches shouldn't be deciding it, either. Coaches have a clear-cut conflict of interest and secret voting, so there's no accountability."

Weiberg, commissioner of the Big 12 Conference, couldn't be reached for comment last night. He issued a statement through the conference office, which said: "We respect the decision of the Associated Press to no longer have its poll included in the BCS standings. We will discuss alternatives to the polls in upcoming BCS meetings and plan to conclude our evaluations of the BCS standings formula, including any other possible changes, by our April meeting."

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