Ryan Chartrand

A tribute to Division I-AA football took place in front of 8,168 spectators Saturday night at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.

It wasn’t the great home crowd with roaring student sections, the gorgeous Mustang Memorial Field or even the moving ceremony at halftime.

In fact, it had to do more with the Mustangs being down 14-3 with just under 13 minutes remaining in the game. Cal Poly exploded for 15 fourth-quarter points on its way to an 18-14 win over Southern Utah.

Put simply, what the Mustangs were playing for was tangible. Their postseason lives may have been on the line.

Whereas Division I-A teams can have a stellar season and still end up in the AT&T McDonald’s Huggies EA Sports Computers Bowl, Division I-AA schools can actually mold their own destiny.

It’s something quaint, old-fashioned, yet universal to all other levels of football that has somehow escaped Division I-A.

Playoffs.

Before the immortal Jim Mora Sr. grabs the paper from your hands screaming, “Playoffs? Playoffs?” consider the embarrassing list of controversies the Bowl Championship Series has wrought since its inception in 1997.

Kansas State in 1998 was the first. It happened to Miami (Ohio) and Boise State in 2003. All should have played in BCS games but had the door to the party slammed unfairly in their faces.

And yes, with apologies to Nick Saban, USC would have drilled either LSU or Oklahoma had it been in the 2003 Sugar Bowl where it belonged.

But the godfather of all controversies occurred in 2004, when undefeated Auburn, Utah and Boise State were all denied the chance to play the Trojans for a national title.

Granted, USC likely would have knocked out anybody, but you have to ask yourself the question – how could Auburn have played any worse than Oklahoma, which was railroaded 55-19?

Oregon being ranked No. 2 in both human polls in 2001 should have meant enough to play for a national title, right?

Actually, Nebraska was given the right to get dismantled by Miami, 37-14, in the Rose Bowl.

Huh?

It’s more confusing than a New York Knicks press conference.

But while this moshpit of money-making and behind-the-scenes politics has sapped the integrity out of something that used to pride itself on purity, an example of the right way has been quietly at work for 27 years.

Since 1978, when Florida A&M beat UMass 35-28 for the I-AA crown, the division has been doing things like sports intended – with a cool thing called a bracket.

Five different schools have won I-AA titles since 2001, and fifth-ranked Cal Poly has a chance at being the sixth.

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