For those of you who might have missed it, during its Saturday telecast of two college football games, ABC-TV conducted a public referendum on whether top-ranked Brigham Young University indeed deserved to be the nation's No. 1 college football team. Two toll numbers were repeatedly shown on the air, and people were repeatedly invited to phone in their choice.
Depending on which number you dialed, you were voting thumbs up or thumbs down on BYU. (Residents of Utah, BYU's home state, were instructed to call different numbers to have their votes recorded. Initially, my fear was that ABC would keep the Utah tally separate, prejudicially assuming a monolithic pro-BYU vote. But Donn Bernstein, ABC's director of media relations for college football, said yesterday the specific Utah phone numbers were put in because the state's phone lines were overloaded, and that all votes -- regardless of origin -- were fed into the final total.)
When the phone lines were shut down at 7 p.m. Saturday, more than 357,000 votes had been cast.
"It was kind of like a Chicago election; people voted more than once," Beano Cook, ABC's witty college football analyst, said yesterday. "Although I don't think dead people voted."
The big winner was the phone company: Each call cost 50 cents.
The big loser was BYU: Although it remains the nation's only unbeaten major college football team, 53 percent of the votes cast were against BYU's being ranked No. 1.
BYU got 166,590 pro votes and 191,336 con.
Bernstein said the ABC poll should not be construed as "a challenge to BYU," although he conceded, "It came out looking that way." He said ABC did it "because BYU is the most talked-about No. 1 team ever." If that's true, it's presumably because BYU's schedule doesn't appear to be much tougher than custard -- a notion that ABC had to know was implicit in its poll, or else why do it?
Admittedly, ABC took great care to caution viewers that its poll was neither scientific nor official; it wouldn't have any effect on the final AP poll. That remains to be seen. ABC's poll surely makes it easier for AP voters to drop BYU down a notch -- below Oklahoma, or Florida, the best team money can buy -- and subsequently claim they did so only to reflect the will of the people.
I think BYU deserves to be No. 1.
BYU has 12 teams on its schedule, and beat them all. Can any other team say that?
BYU beat Pittsburgh, at Pittsburgh, when Pittsburgh was ranked No. 3. BYU beat Baylor, and Baylor beat Texas, which was once No. 1. Over the last six years, BYU has the best record in the country, 66-9. Had any other team put together a 12-0 and a 66-9, it, too, would be No. 1, no matter what pack of dogs it played. In 1980, Georgia hadn't played a single team that was ranked in the top 20 until it beat Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. ABC didn't do a poll on Georgia.
Would BYU be unbeaten if it played in the Big Eight?
I think not.
But neither are Oklahoma or Nebraska unbeaten.
Would BYU beat Kansas (28-11 winner over Oklahoma) or Syracuse (17-9 winner over Nebraska)?
I think so.
I may not think BYU necessarily is the best team in the country, but I have no way of knowing that from what has happened so far.
The major argument against BYU is that its schedule is soft, too soft for a school that wants to contend for No. 1. Indeed, just yesterday Barry Switzer, the Oklahoma coach, said, "When you go down Brigham Young's schedule, who they've played, I mean, it's hard to believe. Where are the Texases and the Oklahomas and the Washingtons and the Nebraskas? They're not there."
That same argument was used some years ago to deny unbeaten Penn State the national championship, perhaps with validity. But now, with limits on the number of scholarships given -- no more than 30 in any one year, 95 over four -- even the most hard-core fans of the Big Eight, SEC, SWC, Big Ten or Pac-10 conferences would have to admit that we are getting closer to parity in big-time college football.
Isn't is possible that BYU might be the best team?
And if it might be, what more does it have to do to be ranked No. 1?
Why should BYU be held to a higher standard than other schools?
The point is, if the AP and UPI voters -- and I am not one -- willingly vote a team like BYU into their top 10 by the fifth or sixth week of the season, and keep moving it up, week after week, as the more highly ranked teams get knocked from the unbeatens, isn't it a bit late in the game to question the standards by which it got to be No. 1 in the first place?
If BYU wins the national championship this season, it may be selected to play in the Kick-Off Classic next year, in which it will undoubtedly be matched up against an elite team. As it stands, its schedule calls for BYU to open against UCLA and Washington, two excellent teams.
So next year there will be no need for an ABC poll. People will know if BYU is for real or not.
But this year, as it rushed to fill the vacuum at the top, BYU found itself caught in the draft, and had to suffer the indignity of a public recall.
I don't begrudge ABC its poll. It found a sharp note, and kept strumming.
BYU has one victory to go for its perfect season. It plays Michigan in the Holiday Bowl. At one time Michigan was ranked No. 2, but fell off to a mediocre 6-5. Still, it's hardly BYU's fault that a better opponent wasn't found to play in the Holiday Bowl. Despite a comparatively low pay-out, if the berth had been offered early enough, Maryland, a top-10 caliber team right now, would have jumped at the chance to play the No. 1 team.
You can color them lucky, but if the Cougars beat Michigan -- especially by 10 points or more -- there shouldn't be any question who deserves to be No. 1.