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Oklahoma State football: OSU and the NCAA owe Barry Sanders five touchdowns

COMMENTARY — Barry Sanders' NCAA record for touchdowns in a season may be surpassed by a running back who scores fewer TDs. Don't blame Wisconsin's Montee Ball. Blame the NCAA and Sanders' own school — Oklahoma State.
by Berry Tramel Modified: December 26, 2011 at 6:49 pm •  Published: December 26, 2011

Barry Sanders scored 44 touchdowns in his monster season of 1988.

Wisconsin tailback Montee Ball has scored 38 touchdowns this season, and if he gets at least two more in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2, Ball will be the NCAA record-holder.

Yes. You read that right.

Welcome to the nebulous world of college football statistics, where getting things right is not as important as keeping things tidy and making things easy.

Bowl games did not count in the NCAA's statistical records until 2002. And when bowl games were included, they were not made retroactive.

Thus Sanders' 222 yards rushing and five touchdowns against Wyoming in the Holiday Bowl do not count in his NCAA records of 2,628 yards rushing and 39 TDs. His actual totals for 1988 were 2,850 yards and 44 touchdowns.

The NCAA's director of statistics, Jim Wright, said records before 2002 remained the same, despite the bowl policy change, because “we did not have the resources to, literally, recreate every bowl game with complete stats and play-by-plays that would allow us to see what additional records would be impacted.”

I understand what Wright is saying. Many of the olden-days bowl games have limited scholarship. It's hard to get accurate information, for example, on the 1939 Orange Bowl.

I understand it. But it's wrong. What Wright is saying is that because the NCAA can't find all the bowl data, it won't recognize any of the bowl data, before 2002. Which is like saying because we can't catch all the criminals, we're not going to try to catch any criminals.

The truth is, the world is full of sharp people who love to research their passion. If we can recreate the box score of an 1884 National League game between the Providence Grays and the Boston Beaneaters, we can find out how many yards Tennessee gained in the 1940 Rose Bowl.

And until that day comes, why ignore what we do know? Like Barry Sanders' five touchdowns?

Besides, with expanded seasons – Ball will play 14 games; 12 regular-season, plus the Big Ten title game and Rose Bowl – to not count a bowl game from years when teams played nine, 10 or 11 games, with no conference championship, seems patently unfair.

Ironically, fairness was an issue cited by Wright for not using bowl data before 2002. He said the NCAA “did not think it appropriate or fair that by adding in the bowl stats, a team or individual might lose a national statistical title years or even decades after the fact.”

Now that one, I don't understand. If Nebraska A&M has spent 45 years thinking it had the nation's highest-scoring team in 1966, how is it unfair to point out that Southern Ohio actually deserved that distinction?

If Johnny Jones of Alabama Tech spent 40 years believing he led the nation, but it was actually Tommy Taylor of Minnesota State, seems unfair to not bring it to light. Mr. Jones was on the gravy train long enough.

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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