In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
The Associated Press, made up of sportswriters to pool stories for newspapers across the United States, releases its first college football rankings. With the NCAA not having an official National Champion, several different rankings would determine the best teams in the country. The AP poll would soon begin appearing in newspapers all over the country and became the most definitive ranking. The AP, however, would not start releasing a post bowl ranking until 1968, while the coaches poll run by the UPI became a rival poll that began in 1950, creating decades of debate. Minnesota was the first team ranked first in the AP poll and won the 1936 AP National Championship.
Who is #1?, that is a debate that has driven College sports since the early days of the NCAA. While sports like basketball and baseball created tournaments, football's National Championship has been driven by the polls. From the early days of college football when Rutgers beat Princeton in the first intercollegiate game in 1869 to the modern-day, seasons have been determined by the polls. The Dickinson System using a mathematical formula had been in place since 1924, and it was the most reliable tool in picking the top teams in the country. However, the reporters covering college football decided to begin releasing their rankings in the newspapers that carried their game summaries.
The Associated Press, founded in 1846, was an independent national news service that wired stories to newspapers across the United States. This enabled news from California to reach New York and vice versa. As college football became one of the most popular sports in the USA, reporters were sent out to cover the key matchups each week, with reporters pooling their stories so that all the country's major newspapers can read the game story. These writers decided they could rank the teams based on what they had seen and began releasing a weekly poll midway through the 1936 season.
The AP first thought of a poll in 1934 when they released a ranking based on popular opinion. In 1935, AP sports editor Alan J. Gould declared a three-way tie for the national champion in football between Minnesota, Princeton, and Southern Methodist. Fans protested, feeling there was no structure to the rankings. Cy Sherman, a colleague of Gould, suggested that the sports editors across the country be chosen to select those rankings for the AP since the papers and reporters often acted as a network while covering football for the various newspapers in the nation.
The first AP poll ranked the Top-20 teams in the nation, with Minnesota earning the top ranking, followed by Duke, Army, Northwestern, and Purdue ranking the top-five. The AP would release a ranking every week following, with Minnesota coached by Bernie Bierman and led by tackle Ed Widseth, winning the first AP National Championship.
Over the first few seasons, the AP would begin releasing a ranking in October. It was not until 1950 when the UPI began releasing a coaches' poll, the AP started releasing a preseason poll. The Coaches' Poll created an era of disputed national championships, with the two polls often splitting and creating co-National Championships. Curiously the AP did not start releasing a poll after the bowls until 1968, creating even more controversy over championships in college football.