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Finally, a system that's sensible

By Adrian Wojnarowski
Special to

Fresno State was moving fast and furious toward an improbable BCS bowl bid when its coach refused to let the golden arm of college football's best quarterback embarrass Tulsa, ending a mid-September afternoon with a 37-18 victory that sounded something less than spectacular for the minds and mainframes responsible for judging a jump into the nation's top 10.

Pat Hill
Fresno State coach Pat Hill put sportsmanship ahead of a higher spot in the BCS rankings.
Pat Hill had every incentive to play the part of Steve Spurrier -- his Bulldogs were muzzled with a modest conference, a soft strength of schedule and a low national profile -- but the Fresno State coach passed on running up the score with the passing game. When it was over, Hill had to be the first coach in history to get flagged in the local newspaper for sportsmanlike conduct. He was ripped for refusing to run it up.

"If people are going to run up the score, then let them run up the score," Hill said then. "That's not what we do."

Had Fresno State come out of nowhere, gone unbeaten and moved within percentages of a major bowl, the bowl-formula points left behind could've cost his school millions of dollars and unprecedented glory. And yet, for a college coach who cares about things more important than lopsided scores, there should be no price on lessons learned for his athletes. The trouble is, college football doesn't have a nation of educators coaching college football: They have cut-throat gym teachers who are desperate to strike it rich, who thirst for fame.

Eliminating the margin of victory from college football's computer scoring system is a wise move on the part of the nation's powerbroker commissioners. This is the right message -- no matter that some self-important computer programmers complain about having to input a little humanity into those cold machines. Between Spurrier leaving for the NFL and one less incentive for championship coaches to embarrass opponents for the sake of BCS survival, perhaps college football will be a sliver more civil this fall.

"By eliminating margin of victory, it takes the idea of how you win and puts it in a proper perspective," said Mike Tranghese, Big East commissioner and coordinator of the Bowl Championship System this year.

For the Southerners who fear that the football national championship system is in the hands of a basketball man in New England, they should understand that Tranghese is one of the most progressive minds in college sports. No one ever chaired the NCAA Tournament selection committee better than Tranghese, constructing a flawless field of at-large bids and seedings in 2000 that long will be the model. They should let him coordinate the BCS for longer than a year.

Even so, no one can fix the BCS system. No one can perfect it. As long as college presidents refuse to create a true playoff system, the public will stay thoroughly confused on the unwieldy regulations that decide college football's national championship game. Wisely, the BCS has instituted advantages for strength of schedule over margin of victory. This is important. If this gives us one more Nebraska-UCLA game over a Nebraska-Central Florida, good for everyone.

Those body-bag games are a true disgrace. Sometimes, it was so hard to decide who's most to blame for those 70-7 disasters. Is it the coach running up the score? The system that rewards it? The presidents and trustees of the losing school so desperate for college football glory that they leave athletics directors and coaches little recourse but send unprepared players to slaughter for a $250,000 guarantee check?

It'll still happen. There still will be some despicable acts of unsportsmanlike conduct on Saturdays, but there will be one less justification for it. The BCS did something smart for its computer rankings -- even if coaches will still use the human element of the other polls as reason to run scores up. But you do what you can. God knows there's no legislating ethics into college sports. If the university that brought you the Farewell Tour of Jerry Tarkanian could hire a coach, Pat Hill, to honor his mission as a teacher and educator, what is everyone else's excuse this season?

Nobody should need to pass rules to make running up the score obsolete. College sports should've policed itself this way. Another season now, another chance.

Adrian Wojnarowski is a columnist for The Record in Bergen, N.J., and a regular contributor to

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