The BCS Is an Election, So Why Not Campaign?

Boston College head coach Frank Spaziani shakes hands with Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly after Notre Dame's 21-6 win in a NCAA college football game in Boston Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012.
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By RALPH D. RUSSO, Associated Press

Imagine having an election where candidates were criticized for campaigning.

Strange, right? Unless it's the Bowl Championship Series.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, who was an aspiring politician before settling into a very successful coaching career, is currently in the unenviable position of being the third-wheel in the race to the BCS title game.

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Kansas State leads the BCS standings. Oregon is second. Notre Dame is third. If the Ducks and Wildcats win out, they will likely play for the BCS title on Jan. 7 in Miami, even if the Fighting Irish also finish unbeaten.

"Nobody is jumping anybody at this point, barring voter epiphany or election fraud," said Jerry Palm, who analyzes the BCS standings and basketball RPI for CBSSports.com and runs CollegeBCS.com.

You see, for all the talk about computer ratings, the BCS standings formula is really all about the polls. Two-thirds of a team's grade comes from two polls — the USA Today coaches' poll and the Harris poll. The voters in the Harris poll range from former players and college athletic administrators to current members of the media.

The system is set up for the polls to essentially set the national championship game and for the computers only to come into play when the polls are so close there is no clear consensus on Nos. 1 and 2.

The voters decide, but for some reason the candidates (i.e. coaches) who get dragged into this mess are looked down upon for publicly making a case for their teams.

Some coaches — such as Urban Meyer when he was at Florida and Mack Brown at Texas — have been more aggressive about advocating.

Others, such as Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, have been more subtle and tried to steer clear. Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy took that tack last year when his Cowboys were jockeying with Alabama for a spot in the title game.

Not until all the games had been played did Gundy make a strong pitch.

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"I think that each coach has to make a decision based on what gives his team the best opportunity to play in the championship game," Gundy said Monday. "I don't know that there's a perfect time."

While the coach can only do so much, a school's sports information staff plays a big role.

Kenny Mossman, the former sports information director at Oklahoma now working as an associate athletic director for the school, has been part of a couple of close BCS races. In 2008, Oklahoma beat out Texas in a close vote that determined which team played for the Big 12 title, with a spot in the national championship game on the line.

"I always felt like we had a very fine line to walk there between overtly campaigning and providing the type of information that allowed us to be viewed fairly," he said.

Mossman and his staff would send email blasts to members of the college football media with stats and facts accentuating the strengths of Oklahoma's resume.

Most of the people on the receiving end of those emails didn't have a vote in either of the BCS polls, but they had platforms that could alter the public debate and maybe sway a voter or two.

"What you're trying to do is get to the influencers," Mossman said. "Some may be voters and some may be not."

Mossman said he would always consult with Stoops about the message.

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"Ultimately, he's the face of the program and you don't want to make him feel uncomfortable," he said.

Kelly, after saying he would stay away from lobbying a week earlier, decided to tout the Irish on Sunday. And why not?

He pointed out the Irish have the No. 1 scoring defense in the country, and they are the only contender that hasn't played an FCS team.

"If you want style points, look at our defense, look at the schedule that we played: 10 FBS teams," Kelly said. "We'll just keep working on one at a time and let other people figure out where that puts us."

The odd thing about Notre Dame's BCS position is that it belies the perception among many college football fans that the Irish are media darlings and consistently overrated.