Tip Top 25 in helmets, smaller

Helms Athletic Foundation

Founded by Paul Helms, the Helms Athletic Foundation was a Los Angeles organization that operated Halls of Fame for a variety of sports, named All American teams for college football and basketball, and selected a college football "national champion" every year beginning with 1941. This last task was the duty of managing director Bill Schroeder, with input from the organization's college football hall of fame selection board. Furthermore, Schroeder went back and retroactively named national champions for every season from 1883 to 1940.

Although Helms is not generally seen as authoritative, the College Football Data Warehouse uses this organization, as well as the National Championship Foundation and College Football Researchers Association, for national championships prior to the first AP poll in 1936. They do not, however, use Helms, the NCF, or the CFRA for titles after 1935, which doesn't make much sense to me. If those organizations are good enough to acknowledge through 1935, why aren't they good enough for 1936 and later? Their criteria remain the same.

There are two appealing reasons to use Helms as a national championship source. The first is that it covers all of those years when there was no AP poll: 1883-1935. The second is that, unlike the AP poll, its selections were made after the bowl games were played.

Most of Helms' selections--or Bill Schroeder's selections, to be accurate about it-- are solid, but too many are weak, and some are downright ridiculous.

Stand-Alone Champions

The biggest problem with Schroeder's retroactive list (1883-1940) is its nearly complete lack of co-champions. This is particularly a problem in the first few decades of the 20th century, when there was often a severe lack of intersectional play.

In a given season, you might have an unbeaten dominant team from the East, and another from the Midwest, or from the West, or from the South. With very few games (and sometimes none) between relevant teams from different regions, it isn't always possible to logically and certainly pick only one of those teams as the best. Some years, you can only do so arbitrarily, like picking one from a hat.

Still, I suppose I could support Schroeder if his intention was to always split hairs and choose only one team, like the AP Poll does. A real #1. The problem is, he didn't quite do that. He named Alabama and Stanford co-champions for 1926 (they tied each other in the Rose Bowl). Which makes his selections inconsistent. Furthermore, the Helms Foundation ended up selecting co-champions seven times after the retroactive list, from 1941-'82.

Princeton and Yale 1906

Let's take a look at 1906 as an example. The Helms selection for that year is 9-0-1 Princeton. Alone. Yet 9-0-1 Yale is the team that tied them. Why would you make Alabama and Stanford co-champions for 1926, but not Princeton and Yale for 1906? But the problem with the Princeton selection goes deeper than that, because if you are going to select only one of those two teams to be #1, that team should be Yale, not Princeton.

First of all, any research at all will reveal that writers at the time considered Yale to be the best of the two teams, and comfortably so. Had there been an AP Poll at the time, Yale would have won it, likely by a landslide. That is because Yale won what was pretty much that season's national championship game in their finale against Harvard.

Harvard, at 10-1, is easily the third best team of 1906, and Princeton did not play an opponent nearly as strong (other than Yale). Princeton also did not play an opponent quite as strong as 8-1-1 Penn State, whom Yale defeated 10-0. Finally, the tie game between the two teams occurred on Princeton's home field. Everything points to Yale. They even had more consensus All Americans that year.

A Whiff of Bias

Because it is based in Los Angeles, you might expect a West Coast bias in the Helms selections. And there does appear to be such a bias, though it doesn't happen as much or as often as it could. Still, as an example, the selection of 10-0-1 California for 1937 carries more than a whiff of bias.

Cal was very good, and the fact that Helms takes into account bowl games might explain the appearance of bias, since Cal defeated previously unbeaten Alabama 13-0 in the Rose Bowl, whereas consensus national champion Pittsburgh (9-0-1) did not play in a bowl game. But Pittsburgh is a nearly unanimous choice for 1937, so choosing Cal over Pitt, without even naming Pitt as a co-champion, is all too easily dismissed as regional bias.

Similarly, Helms takes Stanford in 1940 when everyone else has Minnesota.

Downright Ridiculous

Despite naming national champions after the bowl games, Helms curiously ignores a few bowl results. Helms selects 10-1 Oklahoma for 1950, presumably ignoring their Sugar Bowl loss to 11-1 Kentucky (and Kentucky lost to 11-1 Tennessee earlier in the season, thus making Tennessee the sensible choice for 1950).

Helms also has Ohio State sharing the 1975 title with Oklahoma, despite OSU's 23-10 upset loss to UCLA in the Rose Bowl. OSU is #4 in the AP Poll, a rating that makes a whole lot more sense. If you're going to pick a team to share the title with 11-1 Oklahoma that year, why on Earth would it not be 12-0 Arizona State (AP #2)?