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As Penn State Coach Joe Paterno contends, the polls have imperfections built into them. "I don't believe in them," he says. "It's a publicity gimmick. No one really knows from week to week which is the best team." In fact, how can one coach on the East Coast evaluate a team on the West Coast that he has never seen? Also, beyond the inclination to vote for your friends, some coaches vote for upcoming opponents to make them look more formidable.
Like their voting patterns, the reactions of other coaches tend to follow regional and conference ties. Bill Mallory of Colorado, a Big Eight member along with Oklahoma, says, "I feel Oklahoma should be rated in the polls. They are considered eligible for the Big Eight conference race and they are not required to forfeit any games. The penalty of ineligibility for bowl games and exclusion from TV is enough."
North Carolina's Bill Dooley, conversely, believes that "if we voted for Oklahoma or any other team, it would mean an endorsement for everybody to go out and cheat, get on probation and win a national championship."
The Associated Press, whose poll is made up of votes by 63 sportswriters, takes the view that "we're not in the business of policing college football. As long as Oklahoma continues to field a deserving team, we'll rank it." Nonetheless, several AP voters agree with Bob Roesler of The New Orleans Times-Picayune when he says, "I have very strong feelings that a school on probation should not be in the polls. But I vote for Oklahoma since I'm playing by the AP rules."
Though Darrell Royal may "resent" having to play the Sooners, he is wed to them economically for better or worse. Right now it is worse, for as Switzer points out, "People like Texas and Nebraska are on a form of probation, too. If ABC doesn't televise our games with them, then they're left out in the cold." The Big Eight is also feeling the squeeze. By Switzer's estimate, the conference stands to lose more than $2 million because of the TV ban.
Has the probation had any effect on recruiting? "None," says Switzer, "because a lot of schools we recruit against are on permanent probation. They're never going to any bowls."
Switzer knows exactly where he is going in the immediate future, into a $5.3 million stadium expansion program and, possibly, independence from the Big Eight. Anyone showing interest in these and other subjects will find it hard to resist the Barry & Larry Show, a rapid-fire talkathon in which Switzer shouts into one ear and Assistant Coach Larry Lace-well into the other while sitting in front of a flamenco guitarist in the wee hours:
Barry: "If dropping us from the poll was such a good idea, then why didn't they think of it way back in 1957 when Auburn won the national championship while on probation?"
Larry: "I'll tell you one thing, they ganged us."
Barry: "When they put us on probation, I said, 'I'm a fighter! I'm a competitor! I'm a winner! And nothing is going to stop us!' "