Division I college football has never been a stranger to controversy when it comes to determining a singular top team in the land. For years, two differing polls, working independently of each other (under one title or another) placed their respective votes on college football’s best teams.
The results of these two such polls have yielded some famously uneven decisions (Michigan and Nebraska sharing a championship in 1997 and, five years after the advent of the Bowl Championship Series that was supposed to erase any doubt of a title-holder, LSU and Southern Cal splitting the 2003 national title).
Junior college football faces the same polling problems, but unlike the Division I rankings, which features two polls voting for the same teams, JC football has different polls voting on different teams — rendering a consensus national champion nearly impossible.
The National Junior College Athletic Association has a weekly top-20 vote on all of the schools in its membership — which entails teams from across the country, save California (and a few schools in Oregon and Washington that have a separate affiliation outside the NJCAA). California has its own voting body, the Commission on Athletics, which, after the third week of the season, runs a weekly Top 25 poll of both its NorCal and SoCal regional teams.
California has 72 juco football teams — more programs than the rest of the United States combined — and an alternative set of academic aid and recruiting guidelines than other JC schools in the country. These differences were the driving force behind the COA’s decision to cede itself from the NJCAA more than a century ago.
With the COA voting on the top teams in California (the first poll of the season will come out next week) and the NJCAA coming up with its own version for the rest of the country (Pearl River Community College of Poplar, Miss., is currently No. 1), it is anybody’s guess as to who can lay claim to the title of the best junior college football team in America.
"It’s kind of like the old days with the AP and the UPI polls in Division I football," said City College of San Francisco coach George Rush, who has laid claim to five of the Rams’ seven national titles. "Even now in D-I, you don’t have a clear-cut national champion sometimes, like what happened with LSU and USC a couple of years ago. It’s basically all a matter of opinion."
Muddying the matters even more are the presence of independent, unaffiliated junior college football prognosticators including JC Gridiron and JC Grid-Wire that weigh in each week with their perspective opinions. Unlike the COA and the NJCAA, JC Gridiron and JC Grid-Wire take every school in the nation into account when conducting their rankings.
The wide-varying range of opinion-makers has made determining the national champion an increasingly mythical argument.
"I don’t care who calls us the national champions," said Rush. "As long as someone is calling us the champs, then it’s good enough for me."
The informal process of the polls reflects the underlying theme of junior college football — a successful program is important, but providing opportunities and more options for student athletes is the primary goal.
"Of course, getting the recognition that goes along with a winning season is great, but it’s really not about wins and losses," College of San Mateo coach Larry Owens said. "It’s about giving kids a chance to move on and better themselves."
Junior colleges such as CCSF and CSM offer a path to better opportunities for football players.
» MONDAY: The history behind CCSF and CSM
» TUESDAY: Junior college provides second chances
» TODAY: Plethora of teams means state stands alone
» THURSDAY: How do the big boys use jucos?
» FRIDAY: Making it all the way to the NFL