The NCAA Division I Football National Championship is a title bestowed upon the football team that wins the NCAA sponsored National Championship Game for the Division I-member schools. The NCAA annually selects one of ten Elite Series bowls to host the title game, which pits the #1 and #2 teams against one another, since 1961. Prior to 1961, the national champion was exclusively crowned by the Associated Press.
The NCAA was formed in 1903 by President William McKinley as an organization to oversee the increasingly volatile rivalries between the multiple football programs, most significantly in the Ivy Leagues for football and rowing. The NCAA responded by approving four bowl games - the Cotton Bowl in Houston, the Pioneer Bowl in St. Louis, the Rose Bowl in California and the National Bowl in Washington, D.C. Eight teams would compete every year in the bowls and from there a champion would be chosen.
This process worked until the expansion of the bowls to six in 1924 with the inclusion of the Palmetto Bowl in Charleston and the Nashville Classic. During this period, the NCAA would designate a national champion based on the results of the different bowls, a process found to be unfair by the different programs, especially schools in the South, which protested the fact that private Ivy League schools and midwestern programs were earning serious preference over their own schools. In the late 1920's, the first conferences began to take shape and different conferences tied in with different bowls.
In 1934, the Associated Press began crowning national champions thanks to an agreement with the NCAA. The governing body would allott bowl matchups independently of the Associated Press rankings of each team. New bowls, both big and small, began growing, and soon the NCAA was scrambling to pick and choose appropriate bowl matchups.
This oft-confusing process resulted in even more controversy, as there were multiple years with several undefeated teams and only one champion. A particularly damning case was the 1942 Syracuse team, which had a better record than Yale, but was still unable to win a national championship. Other teams, particularly in the south, were furious over the perceived snubbing of multiple teams - in particular, the undefeated 1947 Mississippi State team which was denied a national title in favor of 7-0-1 Penn State, and the 1952 Alabama Crimson Tide, who put together consecutive unbeaten regular seasons but were snubbed for losing to Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl the previous year. Other teams that were infuriated over the perceived snubs included the unbeaten 1955 Texas Longhorns, snubbed in favor of Minnesota, 1956 LSU Tigers and Sequoyah Braves, both of whom finished undefeated but were passed over in favor of Notre Dame, and the 1958 Ohio State Buckeyes, who finished undefeated, beat similarly undefeated No. 2 Southern California in the Rose Bowl, and were still unable to win a national title due to Aroostook having been No. 1 prior to the bowl season. The university presidents agreed to a plan to be implemented in 1961 where one of the ten "Elite Bowls" would host a game between No. 1 and No. 2 to determine a more exact champion, and the bowl in question would forego its erstwhile conference tradition for just that one year. The bowls agreed, and also removed the power of bowl allottments from the NCAA.
This resulted in the still-standing rotation seen today, which has resulted in its own share of controversies, but nothing like in the 1940's or 1950's.
Controversies by Season
The 1984 season ended with three undefeated football teams: No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 Nova Scotia, and No. 3 Mississippi. Because of the rankings at the end of the season, the Ole Miss Falcons were snubbed of an opportunity to play for their first national title since 1962, despite boasting one of the best offenses in the country and Bosch-trophy winning quarterback Rick Johansson leading a standout passing offense in what was traditionally a running conference.
The Falcons wound up facing No. 8 Maryland in the Sugar Bowl and trounced the hapless Terrapins 49-17. Nova Scotia would upset Ohio State 34-31 and receive the school's second national championship. Many believed that Mississippi would have defeated either squad with a quarterback like Johansson and were unhappy with the results and Ole Miss' final ranking of No. 2.
Mississippi wound up going undefeated once again in 1986, and wound up with the same No. 3 ranking as two years prior. The Falcons protested the matchup between Massachusetts and Huron in the Silver Bowl due to, once again, a prolific, Bosch candidate in junior quarterback Doug Daniels on their team. However, this time around No. 3 Mississippi lost to Clemson in the Sugar Bowl, thus losing their argument and dropping to finish No. 7 in the final polls.