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Tiebreaker's Flaw Begins Showing Up in Numbers

November 14, 1996|CHRIS DUFRESNE

It hasn't reached Roger Maris-Babe Ruth status as pain in the asterisks go, but college football's new tiebreaker system is already causing headaches for NCAA statisticians.

First, may we interject that the tiebreaker has been the best thing to happen to the game since coaches mothballed plaid jackets.

Without the tiebreaker, Air Force doesn't beat Notre Dame, Arizona State is 9-0-1 and there would be 17 more Division I-A sisters to smooch this season.

Without it, Houston and Southern Mississippi go home last weekend What-iffing? about a 49-49 deadlock.

Instead, Houston won in overtime, allowing Cougar Coach Kim Helton to remark: "It was the most exciting game, not only that I've ever seen, but that I've ever heard about."

Ties make fine Christmas gifts, but have no place in this game.

The reason overtime was implemented, of course, was to settle bowl issues, since six Division I-A victories are required for qualification. Heaven forbid Notre Dame should finish 5-4-1 and not be allowed to sign checks over to travel agents.

Yet, while the new tiebreaker is fair, it is flawed.

Case in point: With 25 touchdown passes, California quarterback Pat Barnes is closing in on the Pacific 10 Conference's season record of 29, set by Arizona State's Mike Pagel in 1981.

Barnes has two games left to add to the mark (bowl games are kept as separate statistics).

The problem is, four of Barnes' 25 touchdown passes have come in two overtime games, where the rules are skewed.

In the college system, each team is guaranteed at least one possession at the opponent's 25-yard line.

Games, theoretically, can continue forever, as Arizona Coach Dick Tomey concluded two weeks ago against California when he went for two rather than endure a fifth overtime possession. The conversion attempt failed, and Arizona lost, 56-55.

But what of those overtime stats?

"Gosh, I'd love to start every drive on the 25," joked Pagel, now living in Cleveland. "I'd have made the Hall of Fame."

Pagel has no problem with someone breaking his 15-year-old mark.

"I didn't even realize I still had the record," he said.

But Pagel does have an opinion on touchdowns thrown in overtime.

"I don't agree that those should be part of the record," he said. "The 29 touchdowns in one season, it's going to be broken anyway. I just don't feel it should be part of the record."

Don't think the NCAA hasn't heard about this.

"We discussed it quite a bit," said Rich M. Campbell, NCAA statistics coordinator for Division I football. "We knew there could be some aberrations of games that might have bearing on stats in overtime. Basically, we thought we should treat it like overtime in basketball."

But it isn't like basketball. In basketball, one team doesn't get to start overtime with the ball in its center's hands three feet from the basket.

"We didn't know what to expect the first year," Campbell said.

The NCAA surveyed press box statisticians before the season and the consensus was to keep overtime stats as part of the official game record.

"I'm sure we'll sit down at the end of the year and talk about it, to see if we made the right decision," Campbell said.

Campbell said there are no plans to require asterisks for records aided with overtime statistics.

Pagel favors a change in the system.

"Maybe the OT needs to be changed," he said. "I like the NFL overtime. Sudden death. It gives them the whole quarter."

Beg to differ. The college system is superior to the NFL's coin-flip crapshoot.

But the statistic issue does need to be addressed before some tailback rushes for 1,000 yards.

In a game.


Those Michigan and Tennessee losses last weekend sure threw the bowl alliance into a tizzy.

"I think I'm confused," John Junker, Fiesta Bowl executive director, said Monday.

Michigan, upset by Purdue, and Tennessee, upended by Memphis, had been considered teams most likely to fill two at-large alliance berths.


"It pushes the door wide open," Junker said.

The schools that gained most from the Michigan-Tennessee losses:

1--No. 14 Notre Dame (6-2). Ignore that poll ranking and those two losses.

The Irish, scrambling to find a bowl scenario that included them a week ago, suddenly have a dog in this hunt.

"Their brand is very strong," Junker said. "Can you make a case that they can have one more loss than most people and be seated when musical chairs end? Yes. That's who they are and what they are."

Remaining games: Pittsburgh, Rutgers, at USC.

2--No. 6 North Carolina (8-1). This year's warm-and-fuzzy story, the Tar Heels appeared Gator Bowl-bound as Atlantic Coast Conference runners-up, but now must be considered prime at-large alliance contenders.

Remaining games: at Virginia, at Duke.

3--No. 10 Brigham Young (10-1). This would be an answered prayer for the war-torn Western Athletic Conference, miffed at being left out of the alliance powwow. The Fiesta Bowl would be interested in BYU because of the large Mormon population in Arizona.

Remaining games: at Hawaii, at Utah, WAC title game.

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