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In a CBS sports article, I read this sentence:

Alabama wrapped up its 10th national championship of the wire service era, winning its third national championship in four years with a 42-14 thrashing of No. 1 Notre Dame in the BCS title game.

There are a few definitions of "wire service" out there. For example,

wire service (noun): A news-gathering organization that distributes syndicated copy electronically, as by teletype or the Internet, usually to subscribers.

My estimation is that the wire service era coincides with the advent of some wire-based transfer of news, but I'm not sure which. The article references Alabama's 10th National Championship of the WSE, the first of which happened in 1961.

Is anyone familiar with this term, and, if so, could you shed some light on the timespan of the "wire service era"?

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1 Answer 1

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The wire service era might refer to the fact that the champions are decided based on a poll of sports-writers. The Wikipedia article for the 1959 college football season notes:

During the 20th century, the NCAA had no playoff for the college football teams that would later be described as "Division I-A". The NCAA did recognize a national champion based upon the final results of "wire service" (AP and UPI) polls. The extent of that recognition came in the form of acknowledgment in the annual NCAA Football Guide of the "unofficial" national champions. The AP poll in 1959 consisted of the votes of as many as 201 sportswriters. Though not all writers voted in every poll, each would give their opinion of the twenty best teams. Under a point system of 20 points for first place, 19 for second, etc., the "overall" ranking was determined. Although the rankings were based on the collective opinion of the representative sportswriters, the teams that remained "unbeaten and untied" were generally ranked higher than those that had not. A defeat, even against a strong opponent, tended to cause a team to drop in the rankings, and a team with two or more defeats was unlikely to remain in the Top 20. The top teams played on New Year's Day in the four major postseason bowl games: the Rose Bowl (near Los Angeles at Pasadena), the Sugar Bowl (New Orleans), the Orange Bowl (Miami), and the Cotton Bowl (Dallas).

This is confirmed by a recent news story on Notre Dame:

Notre Dame has had a charmed gridiron history. Notre Dame claims 11 mythical national championships based on No. 1 rankings in wire-service polls, and the NCAA recognizes 13 such titles.

The 1936 season appears to have been the first one to employ a wire-service poll to decide the champions.

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+1. And thanks for the links. It led me to this bit of trivia about Knut Rockne: "it was Frank Dickinson's math system that was one of the first [ranking systems] to be widely popularized. His system named 10–0 Stanford the national champion of 1926, prior to their tie with Alabama in the Rose Bowl. A curious Knute Rockne, then coach of Notre Dame, had Dickinson backdate two seasons, which produced Notre Dame as the 1924 national champion and Dartmouth in 1925." The guy sure knew how to win. –  tylerharms Jan 8 '13 at 9:43

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