Dickinson System

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The Dickinson System was a mathematical point formula that awarded national championships in college football. Devised by University of Illinois economics professor Frank G. Dickinson, the system crowned national champions from 1926 to 1940, and included predated rankings for 1924 and 1925.

The system was originally designed to rank teams in the Big Nine (later the Big Ten) conference. Chicago clothing manufacturer Jack Rissman then persuaded Dickinson to rank the nation's teams under the system, and awarded the Rissman Trophy to the winning university.[1]

The Dickinson System was the first to gain widespread national public and media acceptance as a "major selector", according to the NCAA Football Records Book[2] prior to the establishment of the Associated Press poll in 1936.

Dickinson System champions were awarded the Rissman National Trophy, named after Chicago clothing manufacturer Jack Rissman. The trophy was retired in 1930 by Notre Dame, and later the Knute Rockne Intercollegiate Memorial Trophy.[3]


An explanation for the mathematical calculations was usually given as part of the story of the season ending rankings. In 1927, the AP story about the "national football championship" for that year noted that "Scores of 96 football teams were compiled by Dr. Dickinson in seven football conferences, including an Eastern group of 25 leading teams regarded for convenience as a conference...

"The Dickinson system awards 30 points for a victory over a strong team, and 20 for victory over a weak team. Defeats count half as much as victories [15 pts vs. strong team, 10 pts vs. weak team], and ties are considered as games half won and half lost [22.5 points vs. strong, 15 vs. weak]. Dividing this total by the number of games played gives the final rating."[4] Professor Dickinson later added another variable, a "sectional rating" which provided for different points in games where the teams were from different sections of the country.[5]

National champions[edit]

Season Champion
1924 Notre Dame
1925 Dartmouth
1926 Stanford
1927 Illinois
1928 USC
1929 Notre Dame
1930 Notre Dame
1931 USC
1932 Michigan
1933 Michigan
1934 Minnesota
1935 SMU
1936 Minnesota
1937 Pittsburgh
1938 Notre Dame
1939 USC
1940 Minnesota



  1. ^ Herschel Nissenson Tales From College Football's Sidelines (Sports Publishing LLC, 2001), p93.
  2. ^ USC Now Will Recognize Its 1939 Football Team As A National Champion :: Trojan have 10 national champs in the sport
  3. ^ Notre Dame Fighting Irish - Football
  4. ^ "ILLINOIS BEST FOOTBALL TEAM OF YEAR," The Syracuse Herald, Dec. 4, 1927, p23
  5. ^ "Dickinson Discovers Gophers Are Nation's Best Football Eleven," The Vidette-Messenger (Valparaiso,IN), Dec. 3, 1940, p6
  6. ^ "Dickinson System National Championship Selections". College Football Data Warehouse. Retrieved 2009-10-27.