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USC hopes to share 1939 championship title

Published: Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 20:07

In the world of college football, programs are often measured by the number of national championships they win. When the 1939 Aggies beat Tulane, 14-13, in the Sugar Bowl, they were ensured a place in Texas A&M's football history as the only team to bring a championship home to College Station.

The University of Southern California, however, has disagreed with the results of the 1938-39 season.

According to a July 27 article in the Los Angeles Times, USC has laid claim to a share of the 1939 national title.

According to the NCAA, which does not name a national champion in football, three teams were ranked atop at least one of the 13 polls.

Texas A&M (11-0) ranked number one in 10 of them, while Cornell University (8-0) and USC (8-0-2) garnered two and one, respectively.

"There was a strong calling around here to claim another national championship," said USC Sports Communication Director Tim Tessalone.

"We found that there were six other years where USC could claim a portion of the national championship, and we decided after some significant research to claim 1939 as one of our 10 titles."

Tessalone said a ceremony is planned to recognize the surviving members of the 1939 team during an Oct. 16 home game against Arizona State.

USC's claim is based upon winning the 1939 Knute Rockne trophy for being ranked No. 1 by the Dickinson poll, a mathematic system devised by University of Illinois economics professor Frank Dickinson.

Over the poll's 14-year run from 1926-40, an average of 3.2 teams were recognized as national champions by the NCAA, including five in 1935.

In 1919, the National Championship Foundation awarded its national championship to A&M's team, which went undefeated and unscored upon. Though A&M is listed along with fellow national champions Harvard, Notre Dame and Illinois, A&M only recognizes the 1939 team as a national championship team.

Tessalone said Aggie fans should not feel slighted by the claim. "I'm not sure why they should be upset," Tessalone said. "No one's taking anything away from them or saying they shouldn't be national champs."

Senior mechanical engineering major Brian Johnson said he was skeptical about USC's claim.

"USC has no claim to the 1939 title. If they were to seriously look into sharing the national title for that year, they would have a lot of research to do on all national champions in that era to determine any other slights," Johnson said. "Applying that system is inherently negative. Last I heard, people have been upset with the current BCS. This past season was a perfect example."

A&M Assistant Sports Information Director Brad Marquardt said there hasn't been any communication between A&M and USC on the matter.

Cornell University Assistant Athletic Director Steve Erber, who said he was not speaking on behalf of the university, said Cornell doesn't claim a championship that year, even though it was recognized by two polls.

According to its media guide, Cornell beat Ohio State 23-14 that year to finish fourth in the nation.

Erber said the Trojans' assertion might be on shaky ground. "USC's claim seems like a bit of a stretch," Erber said. "Objectively, it seems like we would have a better claim (than USC)."

Texas A&M Associate Athletic Director Alan Cannon said A&M has two possible titles to lay claim to if the school were so inclined.

"A&M had an undefeated team in 1917 and 1919," Cannon said. "The nice thing is the Associated Press has named the national champion every year since 1936. In 1939 they named Texas A&M."

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