For all his whimsy, Switzer deeply resents "our alleged non-existence" in the UPI poll. Being snubbed, he says, is the least of it. "There are enough other polls around to make up for UPI. Heck, I'd just as soon be ranked in Playboy. Besides, the one great criterion is winning and as long as we keep doing that people will recognize us."
What rankles Switzer is the fact that the UPI poll, the votes of a panel of 35 coaches, is governed by his peers—or "biased rivals" as he calls some of them. That is why he views the ruling, which was passed by the American Football Coaches Association in January by a near unanimous vote, as a direct attempt to get Oklahoma. "If it wasn't, then why impose it now?" he asks. "We're the only team that it really hurts. Do you reckon they'd have come up with the rule if we had gone 6-5 last year? No way. It's probably a good rule. I just object to the timing of it. Lord knows we've already suffered enough penalties."
Oklahoma's woes began in the spring of 1973 when the Big Eight, backed later by the NCAA, put the Sooners on a two-year probation for recruiting violations committed during the tenure of Chuck Fairbanks, who resigned after the 1972 season to coach the New England Patriots. The most serious charge was leveled at an assistant coach, since departed, for knowingly accepting a forged high school grade transcript of Quarterback Kerry Jackson.
Switzer, hit with the sentence shortly after he replaced Fairbanks last year, complains that as meted out it is in effect a four-year penalty. Along with the ban on postseason play in 1973 and 1974, the eight winning games in which Jackson appeared in 1972 were forfeited and, to accommodate ABC's contract with the NCAA, the TV blackout was pushed ahead to cover 1974 and 1975.
Nonetheless, Switzer believes that in some perversely wonderful way the crisis inspired his young, unsure Sooners "to play far above their capabilities. How else can you explain the fact that a team that was picked for no better than fourth in the conference went 10-0-1 and ended up No. 3 in the country last year? Something else beside talent and coaching snuck in there."
Now Switzer sees his fellow coaches sneaking up on him and, he says, that kind of "additional punishment of the innocent we can do without." Notre Dame's Ara Parseghian professes some sympathy. "It's possible that a coach may be totally guiltless," he says. "But if the problem is severe enough to warrant NCAA sanctions, it's possible he can be playing and winning with recruits who normally wouldn't be there. It's unfortunate that the guy stepping in has to be victimized."
Darrell Royal, whose Texas team has lost four straight years to Oklahoma, takes a harder line. "I resent even playing them when they develop a monster team with illegal tactics," he says. Adds another coach, "I'm darn sick of Oklahoma. One more violation and they can bar them from football permanently as far as I'm concerned."
Without pointing fingers, Switzer says that ranked teams coached by men like Parseghian and Royal, both of whom happen to be on the 12-member AFCA board that drew up the poll proposal, automatically moved up a notch in the ranking when Oklahoma was banished.
Even so, Switzer appreciates AFCA Executive Director Bill Murray's argument that football demands special rules because "it is the only NCAA sport that depends on polls instead of playoffs to settle a national championship. The NCAA does not allow teams on probation in other sports to compete for the title, so we feel that the same restrictions should apply in the polls."
What Switzer does not buy is Murray's insistence that "the vote was not aimed at Oklahoma because, for one thing, there are four other teams on probation." Just how crucial to the standings those probations are was demonstrated recently when UPI listed California in a tie for 19th place. Trouble was, California was also on probation and a hasty correction had to be made.