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It's our honor and privilege to introduce ...

I'm college football, and I'm reporting for duty.

My fellow Americans, this is the most important season of our lifetime.

We come together today because a new season is upon us. Not just a new season, but a new era. From the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Pacific-10, from the Big East to the Western Athletic, we are ready to embark on a journey to new places.

We have changed our leagues, we have changed our rules and we have changed our recruiting of the next generation of student-athletes, the young men who provide us with hope and, if we are head coaches, seven-figure incomes.

But we cannot go forward without being firmly grounded.

We can never forget the traditions that brought us to this time and place. So it is that when we closed the door of the Superdome last January, the top three teams in the nation were LSU, USC and Oklahoma. And so it is that when our coaches exercised their democratic right in the preseason poll, the top three teams were USC, Oklahoma and LSU.

My friends, I am honored to share this day with Tigers coach Nick Saban and Trojans coach Pete Carroll, who are the living embodiment that every vote counts, unless you vote in the final ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll.

To those who say the same teams will forever be at the top of college football, I say, opportunity exists for everyone. It is part of the American birthright. Any university that takes the opportunity of raising $45 million for an athletic budget can compete for the national championship.

With the onset of the 2004 season, Miami and Virginia Tech have shifted from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference. When Boston College arrives next year, it will be, as Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen put it, truly an Atlantic Coast Conference. No discussion of which conference is the best may begin without the ACC.


Check out what Ivan Maisel said in his Thursday chat.


Yet we have to be aware of the price that the ACC has paid in the loss of trust from its allies. The conferences must leave behind the mindset of, 'I don't care where I end up, as long as they are as screwed as we are.' We must look forward to the day when BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo can dine in the same room as Big East officials and not employ a food tester.

Earlier this year, in a summit of historic proportions, university presidents agreed to provide greater opportunity to reach the BCS. In the past, the BCS conferences believed in college football run by the right people, their people. They thought that college football should concentrate wealth and power in the hands of the powerful.
With the guidance of educators such as Tulane president Scott Cowen, we no longer have a sport in which there are BCS members and non-BCS members. There are only Division I-A members.

Some of which have a greater chance of going to a BCS bowl than others.

The non-BCS, uh, mid-major, uh, historically challenged I-A conferences are the lifeblood of college football. My friends, we cannot survive without the volunteer spirit that made this sport what it is. Let us not forget that when Alabama wanted to dump Penn State out of fear of not qualifying for a bowl and the Crimson Tide needed a home game it could win, Utah State said send me.

And when Clemson needed a home game against a non-conference opponent to slide between midseason games against fellow ACC contenders Virginia and Maryland, Utah State said send me.

And when the Western Athletic Conference, having been ransacked by Conference USA, which had been pillaged by the Big East, which had been picked clean by the ACC -- when the WAC needed local members, beginning in 2005, Utah State said send me.

My friends, this season will have its share of innuendo and half-truths. We do not live by the bulletin board. I say to all coaches, let's be optimists, not just opponents. I am also honored to share this day with Texas coach Mack Brown, who has withstood a campaign of negativity and pessimism, and that's just from the Texas Exes.

We will not allow rumor to go uncontested, untruth to go unchecked. It is simply not true that when faced with the challenge of playing Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl on Oct. 9, Brown said send Utah State.

In an age of technological wonder, the truth is easier to see than ever. We must recognize today the Big Ten, the conference that represents the heartland of the sport. The Big Ten will boldly examine the use of instant replay on an experimental basis this season.

The NFL has achieved this milestone with the possibility of eight camera angles on every play, and a system in which the coach on the sideline must weigh the risk and reward of challenging the call on the field.

The Big Ten will not employ the NFL system. The Big Ten will not have eight cameras at each game. The Big Ten will not leave the decision to the coach on the field. The Big Ten will put a guy in a booth with a TiVo, and have him watch replays of whatever is televised.

Skeptics say that the Big Ten replay rules are to the NFL what black-and-white is to HD, and that the conference's instant replay wouldn't be alive if the Grant's Appliance up the street from commissioner Jim Delany's house hadn't run a sale last month.

But referees can do better, and help is on the way.

In this information age, no longer will college football fans in the great stadiums and in their homes across this land have to look up from the stack of bills on their kitchen tables and wonder, who is the dumb @#$%$# who nullified that 25-yard gain by getting called for holding five yards behind the play?

This season, officials will announce the player who committed the infraction. If you do the crime, you do the TV time.

Referees can do better, and help is on the way.

In this information age, no longer will college football fans have to employ slide rules and a gaggle of computer scientists to determine who will qualify for the BCS championship game. The BCS formula has been simplified and made more precise, an indication of what Americans can achieve when we work together -- after we get the postseason horribly wrong for the second time in the three years.

The BCS can do better, and help is on the way.

Soon the rules of recruiting visits, which have gone relatively unchanged since Barry Switzer first flouted them, will be tougher. The time when the flow of prospective tailbacks -- and private planes and lobster dinners and strip-club visits and keg parties -- across the borders of our campuses is past.

Recruiting can do better, and help is on the way.

The spin masters who embrace the analysis of anything goes say that the rules of college football have gotten too restrictive. Well, I say to them today, that college football is fairer and more competitive than it has ever been. The pundits like to slice-and-dice college football into BCS schools and non-BCS schools. But I've got news for them. We are one division, all of us, and even the worst among us will one day challenge the best.

Even Buffalo can do better, and help is on the way. Thank you! God bless you and God bless college football!

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.