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Mythical national championship

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A mythical national championship (sometimes abbreviated MNC) is national championship recognition that is not explicitly competitive. This phrase has often been invoked in reference to American college football, because the NCAA does not sponsor a playoff-style tournament or recognize official national champions for the Football Bowl Subdivision. The relevant recognition before 1998 came from various entities, including coach polls and media ballots, which each voted to recognize their own national champions. The contrary term would be an undisputed national championship.

College footballEdit

If there are any Big Ten teams that shoot for a national championship, they're damn fools...You play to win the Big Ten championship, and if you win it and go to the Rose Bowl and win it, then you've had a great season. If they choose to vote you number one, then you're the national champion. But a national champion is a mythical national champion, and I think you guys ought to know that. It's mythical.

— Bo Schembechler of Michigan, July 1989[1]

"Mythical national champion" is a term that has been used since at least 1920[2] for a championship won by a NCAA Division I football team, especially for titles won before the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) system began in 1998. Before the BCS, polls in which coaches and/or sportswriters voted, such as the AP, UPI, and USA Today polls, awarded championships. This led to seasons in which two or even more teams could claim to have won the national championship.

Traditionally, each top team played a single postseason bowl game per season.  The process of selecting a national champion during this was complicated by the fact that the champions of major conferences were tied to specific bowls (for example, the Big 8 champion was tied to the Orange Bowl), and the top two teams in the nation often played in different bowls.  A few bowls over the years featured a #1 vs. #2 matchup; one example was the 1987 Fiesta Bowl, played January 2 following the 1986 season.

Two attempts to annually crown a champion on the field were the Bowl Alliance (1992-94) and Bowl Alliance (1995-97). However, their effort to host a national championship was hampered by the lack of participation of the Pac-10 and Big Ten champions, who instead opted to play in the Rose Bowl.

The BCS was an improvement on the Bowl Coalition and Bowl Alliance because it included the Rose Bowl and the champions of what were then the nation's six most powerful conferences. It attempted to eliminate uncertainty by ranking college teams and inviting the top two teams at the end of the regular season to play in a championship game. These teams were determined by the BCS ranking formula, which itself used a combination of human voter polls and computer rankings. The process of selecting the two best teams for the BCS championship game had nonetheless resulted in controversy, which reached a head in 2003 when the AP poll refused to vote the BCS champions (LSU) as their national champions. Instead, the AP voted USC as national champions for the 2003 season. This resulted in disputes between which team was the real champion, and as a result, the 2003 BCS Champion is not unanimous. As a result of this controversy, the AP removed itself from the BCS formula in 2004.

Since the 2014 season, the College Football Playoff—an association of Division I FBS collegiate conferences and independent schools, along with six bowl games—has arranged for the top four teams (based on a thirteen-member committee that seeds and selects the teams similarly to the Final Four) into two semifinal bowl games and the winners go on to compete in the CFP National Championship Game. It was intended to eliminate future instances of championship disputes, as the winner will always have defeated two top-4 teams in consecutive games, a feat which would normally in and of itself warrant top-ranking. This proved wishful thinking when undefeated UCF was not selected for the 2017 playoff and, upon winning their final game, promptly declared themselves national champions to widespread publicity (and controversy) and with one major national championship selector agreeing.

At lower levels of play in college football, mythical national champion crowns also continue to exist, separate from NCAA and NAIA championships, in the form of the black college football national championship. This is competed for by teams from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). In the present day, the winner of this crown at the NCAA Division I FCS level is generally considered to be the winner of the Celebration Bowl, DI FCS's only bowl game.

College basketballEdit

The national championship of collegiate basketball that is officially recognized by the main governing body for collegiate athletics in the United States, the NCAA, has been awarded to the champion of an annual national post-season tournament run by the NCAA since 1939. Prior to the advent of national post-season college basketball tournaments, beginning with the NAIA national men's basketball championship in 1937, the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) in 1938[3] and the NCAA Tournament in 1939, virtually no third-party organizations selected basketball national champions.[4]

The Official NCAA Men's Basketball Records Book lists title selections of pre-tournament era teams by the Helms Athletic Foundation.[5] The Helms Foundation's Bill Schroeder named a national champion from 1901 to 1982, with his selections from 1901 to 1941 being named retroactively in 1943 and 1957.[4] The Helms champion, for the years in which the NIT and NCAA post-season tournaments were played, reflected the winners of the 1938 NIT and 1939 NIT, as well as the winners for all years of the NCAA Tournament except for 1939, 1940, 1944 and 1954.[6] Most recently, the retroactive end-of-year Premo-Porretta Power Poll has provided the first national rankings of college basketball teams for the 1895–96 through the 1947–48 seasons.[7] (No regular, recognized national polling took place prior to the establishment of the Associated Press Poll and the Coaches Poll for college basketball prior to the 1948–49 and 1950–51 seasons, respectively.[8]) The Premo-Porretta rankings were published in 2009 in the ESPN College Basketball Encyclopedia. As with the Helms selections, the Premo-Porretta poll recognized the 1938 and 1939 NIT Champions as national champions; in addition to 1939, the poll's national championship selections differed from the results of the NCAA Tournament in 1941, 1943, 1944, 1945, and 1947.[9]

During World War II, from 1943 to 1945, the NCAA, NIT and Madison Square Garden cooperated to host "mythical national championship games" between winners of each year's NCAA and NIT tournaments in order to benefit the American Red Cross' War Fund.[10] The series was described by Ray Meyer, coach of the losing 1945 DePaul team, as "the games for the national championship".[10] The NCAA champion prevailed in all three games.[11][12]

During the early years of the two tournaments, the NCAA and NIT competed against each other, giving rise to debate over their relative prowess. In 1939, the inaugural year of the NCAA tournament, the NIT was generally considered to be superior.[10] During the 1940s, the relative status of the two tournaments was unclear, and thus some years produced disputed national championship claims. Some contemporary sources claim superiority for the NIT during this time.[13] In 1943, in a shrewd competitive move the NCAA tournament began sharing Madison Square Garden with the NIT.[10] In 1945, following victories by the NCAA champions over the NIT champions in the Red Cross games, The New York Times indicated that many teams who could potentially get bids to enter either tournament would probably choose the NCAA tournament "because it involves stronger competition."[14] In 1950, City College of New York won both the NIT and the NCAA tournaments in the same season, coincidentally defeating Bradley University in the championship game of both tournaments, and thus united the titles.

After the fall-out from the 1951 gambling and point-shaving scandals, the NCAA tournament pulled out of Madison Square Garden.[10] With conference champions and the majority of the top-ranked teams participating in it, the NCAA tournament since then came to be regarded as the more important post-season tourney and the sole determiner of the national championship, although following the taint of the gambling scandals, the NIT was still considered a quality tournament for some time afterward.[15][16][17] The NCAA built on the momentum of three consecutive Red Cross "mythical national championship" game victories over the NIT, eventually outmaneuvering the NIT by adeptly avoiding permanent damage from the 1951 gambling and point-shaving scandals and by adding more teams.[10] As the NCAA Tournament steadily gained preeminence and became the sole source of naming the national champion, winners of the NCAA Tournament during those early years were given the same level of honor.[4]

Schools that claim pre-NCAA Tournament basketball championshipsEdit

Many schools claim or recognize pre-tournament era national college basketball championships by virtue of being selected by third-party selectors, such as the Helms Athletic Foundation, including the University of Kansas,[18] Purdue University,[19] Stanford University,[20] the University of North Carolina,[21] the University of Pittsburgh,[22] the University of Wisconsin,[23] Syracuse University,[24] and Washington State University.[25] In addition, in some years teams won playoff series or tournaments played on the court for a national championship. For example, LSU claims the 1935 championship by virtue of winning the American Legion Bowl game against Pittsburgh in a match-up of regional powers.[26]

Three schools claim a national championship based on their NIT championships: DePaul (1945),[27] Utah (1947),[28] and San Francisco (1949).[29] Long Island also recognizes its selection as the 1939 national champion by the Helms Athletic Foundation.[30]

The following table is a partial list of schools that claim a national championship from the pre-NCAA Tournament era of college basketball. See also Helms Athletic Foundation Basketball National Champions. Not all schools recognize national championship honors bestowed by third-party selectors.

Year (pre-1939) School Source
1904 Hiram[31][32][33][34][35][36] 1904 Olympic Games college championship tournament
1908 Chicago[37][38] National Championship Playoff
1912 Wisconsin Helms Athletic Foundation
1914 Wisconsin Helms Athletic Foundation
1915 Illinois Helms Athletic Foundation
1916 Utah[39]
AAU tournament
Helms Athletic Foundation
1917 Washington State Helms Athletic Foundation
1918 Syracuse Helms Athletic Foundation
1920 New York University[39]
AAU tournament
National Championship Playoff
1922 Wabash[41][42][43][44][45][46][47][48][49]
First National Collegiate Championship Tournament
Helms Athletic Foundation
1923 Kansas Helms Athletic Foundation
1924 North Carolina
Helms Athletic Foundation
AAU tournament
1925 Princeton
Helms Athletic Foundation
AAU tournament
1926 Syracuse Helms Athletic Foundation
1927 Notre Dame Helms Athletic Foundation
1928 Pittsburgh Helms Athletic Foundation
1929 Butler
Montana State
Veteran Athletes of Philadelphia
Helms Athletic Foundation
1930 Pittsburgh[50] Naismith Basketball HOF Championship Game, Helms Athletic Foundation
1931 Northwestern Helms Athletic Foundation
1932 Purdue Helms Athletic Foundation
1934 Wyoming Helms Athletic Foundation
1935 LSU[51] American Legion Bowl Game
1936 Notre Dame Helms Athletic Foundation
1937 Stanford Helms Athletic Foundation
1938 Temple Helms Athletic Foundation, NIT

Black national basketball championshipsEdit

In 1941, Southern University, coached by the famed football coach Ace Mumford, defeated North Carolina Central, 48–42, in the National Invitational Intercollegiate Basketball Tournament; this tournament was held because the NIT would not invite HBCUs at the time. NCCU was still designated national champions by the Associated Negro Press that year.[52] There would be several other attempts at creating HBCU national tournaments in the 1940s.[53][54] In late 1947, National Championships, Inc. announced that they would begin hosting a postseason football bowl game and basketball tournament for HBCUs;[55] the basketball tournament does not appear to have been held. Jet magazine began sponsoring HBCU basketball polls in 1974.[56] Dr. Cavil's Classic Cuts names champions for a "Major Division" (NCAA Division I)[57] and a "Mid-Major Division" (NCAA Division II, NAIA Division I, and NAIA Division II).[58]

The following table contains a list of men's black national champions.

Yearly national championship selectionsEdit

Year School Source
1941 Southern[52] National Invitational Intercollegiate Basketball Tournament (def. North Carolina Central, 48–42)
North Carolina Central[52] Associated Negro Press
1942–1943 (no champions selected)
1944 Lincoln (PA)[53] Negro National Championship game (def. North Carolina Central, 57–52)
1945 (no champion selected)
1946 Langston[54] (unspecified "national tournament" championship game; def. Southern)
1947–1973 (no champions selected)
1974 Maryland Eastern Shore[56] Jet
1975 Kentucky State[59] Jet
1976 Alcorn State[60] Jet
1977 Kentucky State[61] Jet
1978 Winston–Salem State[62] Jet
1979 (no champion selected)
1980 Alcorn State[63] Jet
1981 Savannah State[64] Jet
1982 Xavier (LA)[65] Jet
1983 UDC[66] Jet
1984 Norfolk State[67] Jet
1985 Virginia Union[68] Jet
1986 Cheyney[69] Jet
1987 Norfolk State[70] Jet
2009 Morgan State (Major Division)[71]
Claflin (Mid-Major Division)[72]
Dr. Cavil's Classic Cuts
2010 Morgan State (Major Division)[73]
(unavailable) (Mid-Major Division)
Dr. Cavil's Classic Cuts
2011 (unavailable)
2012 Norfolk State[74] Black College Sports Page
Norfolk State (Major Division)[57]
Shaw (Mid-Major Division)[75]
Dr. Cavil's Classic Cuts
2013 Benedict College[76] Black College Sports Page
Southern (Major Division)[57]
Benedict College (Mid-Major Division)[75]
Dr. Cavil's Classic Cuts
2014 North Carolina Central[77] Black College Sports Page
North Carolina Central (Major Division)[78]
Wiley College (Mid-Major Division)[58]
Dr. Cavil's Classic Cuts
2015 Texas Southern (NCAA Division I)
Livingstone College (NCAA Division II)[79]
Black College Sports Page
Texas Southern (Major Division)[80]
Talladega College (Mid-Major Division)[81]
Dr. Cavil's Classic Cuts
2016 Hampton (NCAA Division I)
Virginia State (NCAA Division II)[82]
Black College Sports Page
2017 North Carolina Central (NCAA Division I)
Clark Atlanta (NCAA Division II)[83]
Black College Sports Page

National championships by schoolEdit

School National championships Seasons
Norfolk State 3 1984, 1987, 2012
North Carolina Central 3 1941, 2014, 2017
Alcorn State 2 1976, 1980
Kentucky State 2 1975, 1977
Morgan State 2 2009, 2010
Southern 2 1941, 2013
Benedict College 1 2013
Cheyney 1 1986
Claflin 1 2009
Clark Atlanta 1 2017
Hampton 1 2016
Langston 1 1946
Lincoln (PA) 1 1944
Livingstone College 1 2015
Maryland Eastern Shore 1 1974
Savannah State 1 1981
Shaw 1 2012
Talladega College 1 2015
Texas Southern 1 2015
UDC 1 1983
Virginia State 1 2016
Virginia Union 1 1985
Wiley College 1 2014
Winston–Salem State 1 1978
Xavier (LA) 1 1982

The following table contains a list of women's black national champions.

Yearly national championship selectionsEdit

Year School Source
1978 South Carolina State[62] Jet
1979–1981 (no champions selected)
1982 Claflin[65] Jet
1983 Norfolk State[66] Jet
1984 Dillard[67] Jet
1985 Hampton[68] Jet
1986 Alabama A&M[69] Jet
1987 Albany State[70] Jet
2007 Coppin State
North Carolina Central[84]
Black College Sports Page
2008 (unavailable)
2009 North Carolina A&T (Major Division)[85]
Langston (Mid-Major Division)[86]
Dr. Cavil's Classic Cuts
2010 North Carolina A&T (Major Division)[87]
(unavailable) (Mid-Major Division)
Dr. Cavil's Classic Cuts
2011 (unavailable)
2012 Shaw[88] Black College Sports Page
(unavailable) (Major Division)
Shaw (Mid-Major Division)[75]
Dr. Cavil's Classic Cuts
2013 Hampton[89] Black College Sports Page
Hampton (Major Division)[90]
Wiley College (Mid-Major Division)[75]
Dr. Cavil's Classic Cuts
2014 Hampton[91] Black College Sports Page
Hampton (Major Division)[92]
Wiley College (Mid-Major Division)[93]
Dr. Cavil's Classic Cuts
2015 Savannah State (NCAA Division I)
UDC (NCAA Division II)[79]
Black College Sports Page
Texas Southern (Major Division)[94]
UDC (Mid-Major Division)[95]
Dr. Cavil's Classic Cuts
2016 North Carolina A&T (NCAA Division I)
Virginia Union (NCAA Division II)[82]
Black College Sports Page
2017 Texas Southern (NCAA Division I)
Virginia Union (NCAA Division II)[83]
Black College Sports Page

National championships by schoolEdit

School National championships Seasons
Hampton 3 1985, 2013, 2014
North Carolina A&T 3 2009, 2010, 2016
Texas Southern 2 2015, 2017
Virginia Union 2 2016, 2017
Wiley College 2 2013, 2014
Alabama A&M 1 1986
Albany State 1 1987
Claflin 1 1982
Coppin State 1 2007
Dillard 1 1984
Langston 1 2009
Norfolk State 1 1983
North Carolina Central 1 2007
Savannah State 1 2015
Shaw 1 2012
South Carolina State 1 1978
UDC 1 2015

College baseballEdit

HBCUs first had a mythical black national champion named in 2002, by More recently, a black national champion has been named since 2015, by The latter names champions for a "Large School Division" (NCAA Division I) and a "Small School Division" (NCAA Division II, NCAA Division III, and the NAIA).[96]

Yearly national championship selectionsEdit

Year School Source
2002 Bethune–Cookman[97]
2003 Southern[97]
2004 Bethune–Cookman[97]
2005 North Carolina A&T
2006 Prairie View A&M[97]
2007 Bethune–Cookman[97]
2008 Bethune–Cookman[97]
2009 Bethune–Cookman[97]
2010 Bethune–Cookman (NCAA Division I)
West Virginia State (NCAA Division II & NAIA)[97]
2011 Bethune–Cookman (NCAA Division I)
Edward Waters College (NCAA Division II & NAIA)[97]
2012[98] (unavailable) (NCAA Division I) *
(unavailable) (NCAA Division II & NAIA) *
2013–2014 (no champions selected)[98]
2015 Alabama State (Large School Division)[99]
Winston–Salem State (Small School Division)[100]
2016 Alabama State (Large School Division)[101][102]
West Virginia State (Small School Division)[101]
2017 Bethune–Cookman (Large School Division)
Winston–Salem State (Small School Division)[100]
2018 North Carolina A&T (Large School Division)
Albany State (Small School Division)[103]
2019 Southern (Large School Division)
Winston–Salem State (Small School Division)[104]

Note: *—Alcorn State, St. Augustine's, and Stillman College are listed by a source as having been named black national champions by, but the year(s) of the championships is not specified by the source;[96] the year could be 2012, since champions were reportedly named that year[98]

National championships by schoolEdit

School National championships Seasons
Bethune–Cookman 8 2002, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2017
Southern 3 2003, 2005, 2019
Winston–Salem State 3 2015, 2017, 2019
Alabama State 2 2015, 2016
North Carolina A&T 2 2005, 2018
West Virginia State 2 2010, 2016
Albany State 1 2018
Edward Waters College 1 2011
Prairie View A&M 1 2006

High school sportsEdit

Because high school sports in the United States such as football and basketball are state-centered sports involving thousands of schools, it would be almost impossible to have a national championship playoff. A single-game playoff for football, however, was attempted in 1938 and 1939, particularly difficult at that time due to many states' prohibition of postseason games. Nearly all states crown several champions in different classifications, which are not uniform from state to state, based upon school enrollments.

Some publications and internet sites release nationwide rankings for high school sports based on polls or mathematical formulas which take into account various factors like average margin of victory and strength of schedule. Schools that finish atop these rankings, particularly the USA Today poll, often claim to be national champions, and the press calls them "mythical national champions".[105]

National Football LeagueEdit

In the earliest days of the National Football League, the NFL championship was determined by a formula and by the votes of the NFL owners. In three instances, 1920, 1921 and 1925, this led to disputed titles. In 1932, two teams tied atop the standings led to a one-game playoff for the championship, which was made permanent the next year. There has been some sort of NFL playoff ever since, and as the league grew, so too did the tournament, which eventually took form as the single-elimination tournament it is today.


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