The first followed Dickinson by one year. It was perfected by a man in Los Angeles named Deke Houlgate who would later write a ponderous 9-x-13 work titled The Football Thesaurus. Houlgate bluntly admitted that his rating system, begun in 1927, was designed to counter the "Midwest sectionalism" of Dickinson's.
Next came William F. Boand with a system called "Azzi Ratem" in 1928. His selections were published annually in The Illustrated Football Annual, and, like Dickinson, he predated his choices back to 1924. Curiously, for the 1937 edition of the magazine Boand went back 13 years and "rerated" the top teams, taking bowl results into consideration.
The syndicated experts came on the scene in 1929 with the emergence of Dick Dunkel's "power index." Paul Williamson, a geologist by profession and a member of the Sugar Bowl committee, began his widely accepted "power ratings" in 1932. And Frank Litkenhous and his brother Edward started his "difference-by-score" formula in 1934. Aside from their not overly revealing names, the details of how these systems work have been kept a close secret by the various inventors.
Perhaps a bit irritated by the flood of experts on the scene, the most noted historian football has ever known, Parke H. Davis, decided to set all the records straight in the 1933 edition of Spalding's Football Guide. A member of Princeton's tug-of-war team in 1889, a former coach at Wisconsin, Amherst and Lafayette and then a lawyer, Davis went all the way back to the first inflated pig bladder to pick the national champions for every season. He used no special formula. He simply looked at the schedules and the results and chose his teams.
And now it was time for the popularity polls to begin. The first of these was that of the Associated Press, which started in midseason of 1936. Under the present AP system, 59 sportswriters and sports-casters from around the nation whose organizations subscribe to AP are asked to vote on their top 10 teams each week. Through skillful promotion the AP has managed to have its poll generally regarded as the most reliable of all. Of course, it is no more reliable than the insular tendencies of the writers and announcers involved.
The United Press International poll of 35 college coaches began in 1950, and it is becoming more respected with the years. However, a lot of coaches admit that they vote for forthcoming opponents and for teams from their own area.
In between the two wire-service polls, in 1948, the Helms Athletic Foundation decided to name a national champion. It also chose to pore back through the years, as Parke H. Davis had done, and name past champions. The director of Helms since its beginning, Bill Schroeder, did the work, and he now heads the committee that selects No. 1 after the bowl games. "A committee of one—me," he says.
Because of their discontent with all polls, especially those of the wire services, the Football Writers Association of America set about naming the national champion in 1954, also after the bowl games. Feeling that a mere vote by the 1,200 members would not be fair because one section might be overloaded, a committee of five supposedly unprejudiced writers from different areas is appointed each season, and they decide by secret ballot. With two possible exceptions, Iowa in 1958 and Ohio State in 1961, the Football Writers appear to be doing the best job.
The most recent award-giver is the National Hall of Fame, which pitched its MacArthur Bowl into the pot in 1959. It also picks the national champion by committee. Although the results so far do not reflect it, the committee is Eastern oriented, and it has the extra pressure of having to stage a formal dinner in New York City each year at which the coach of its No. 1 team is a feature attraction. Who is free for dinner might have a bearing on the voting someday.
Of all the No. 1 awards currently in existence, the three that are most eagerly sought—and all about equally—are those of the Football Writers, the UPI and the AP. But no coach or school would turn down any of the others. As Bear Bryant has said, "We'll take what they'll give us, and our folks will act like we got 'em all."