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Smizik: NCAA's logic doesn't add up

Thursday, September 12, 2002

Much attention in the college football world has been focused on the competition between Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden as they attempt to accumulate the most wins by a Division I-A coach, a record formerly held by Alabama legend Bear Bryant.

Not enough attention has been focused on the ground rules for this competition.

They're unfair and weighed heavily in Bowden's favor.

Although Paterno currently leads, 328-325, it is widely believed Bowden will surpass him, perhaps this season. The primary reason is that Florida State has been significantly more successful than Penn State in recent years.

But there's a far more compelling reason Bowden will take the lead in the category the NCAA calls "Winningest All-Time Division I-A Coaches." It has to do with how the victories are tabulated.

The common perception is that the NCAA is counting wins achieved on the Division I-A level. That's not it at all. The NCAA is counting wins achieved on all levels.

Bowden won his first 31 games at Howard, his alma mater, a school now known as Samford. The NCAA did not have divisions at the time. Colleges were designated as large schools and small schools. Howard was distinctly small-time. But the wins count.

This thinking would be roughly the same as Major League Baseball counting the 20 home runs Barry Bonds hit in the minor leagues when tabulating the all-time leaders in that category.

It makes no difference to the NCAA that Paterno's first win was against Maryland and Bowden's was against Maryville. It's not about to change. This is how it counts victories for coaches in all sports. It's nothing against Paterno or Penn State.

But that doesn't means it's equitable.

Rick Campbell of the NCAA explained:

"Once you have 10 years at a major [Division I-A] school, all your wins at any four-year school at which you coached count on the all-time listing. It just so happens that all of Paterno's wins came on the Division I-A level. But that's not the case with most coaches."

Using the NCAA's logic, if John Gagliardi of St. John's of Minnesota, who has won 388 games on the Division III level, was hired to coach a Division I-A school and was 0-110 in 10 years before being fired, he would leave the profession as the winningest Division I-A coach.

What makes this even more unfair is the level of competition Bowden was coaching against at Howard from 1959-62.

Included in his 31 wins were three against SW Lynx, two against Millsaps, Maryville and Mississippi Delta and one against Memphis Navy, LA College and -- my favorite -- U of Mexico.

Sorry, there's something inherently unfair in counting those wins.

The NCAA should revamp its method of counting victories. Its present system is not only unfair, it's confusing.

For example, although Grambling legend Eddie Robinson has the most coaching victories, his record is pushed to the background because it wasn't achieved on the Division I-A level. But at the same time, other victories, also not achieved at the Division I level, count in the most recognized and prestigious category.

There should be a category that includes all coaching victories. Robinson would be at the top with 408. Gagliardi would be second and Paterno third.

Among the various other categories, there should be one for most games won on the Division I-A level. Paterno, who has won all of his games at Penn State, would lead with 328. Bryant, who won all of his games at Maryland, Kentucky, Texas A&M and Alabama, would be second with 323.

There's much hope at Penn State this season, a belief that the Lions' strong second half last year will spark a resurgence after two consecutive losing seasons. But seeing the way Arizona State manhandled Central Florida, a team that gave Penn State a close game, there has to be doubt about whether the Lions can even come close to returning to their former glory.

It's almost certain Bowden will pass Paterno. When he does, in all fairness, the NCAA should put an asterisk next to his record.

Bob Smizik can be reached at bsmizik@post-gazette.com.

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