A MONTH AFTER the presidential election, here's a sure sign that the party-out-of-power is off its game: the Democrats aren't crying foul over Cal-Berkeley's exclusion from the Rose Bowl.

Even more surprising: they're missing an easy opportunity to play the conspiracy card.

In case you're not a sports junkie, the big controversy in college football is which schools got the shaft from the Bowl Championship Series. Undefeated Auburn doesn't get to play in the title game despite an unblemished record in what is arguably the nation's toughest football conference. Meanwhile, #5 Texas slipped past #4 Berkeley in the most recent computer rankings (a formula based on teams' performances, plus arbitrary votes by coaches and sportswriters), thus claiming an at-large berth in the BCS and a trip to Pasadena. Berkeley's consolation: the less-prestigious Holiday Bowl, when it was hoping to make its first Rose Bowl appearance since the second term of the Eisenhower administration.

To many Americans, it's just another example of the flawed rules by which college football is governed.

That is, unless you're a diehard Democrat and thus prone to thinking that the world is a marionette and Karl Rove its puppet master. In which case, thanks to Berkeley's travails, Christmas comes early and your imagination can run wild.

To wit:

(1) Code (Burnt) Orange. Texas caught a break instead of Berkeley--and the cover-up leads all the way to the Oval Office. In a previous life as Texas governor, George W. Bush made daily pilgrimages to the Austin campus to lift weights and jog around the track inside Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Meanwhile, first daughter Jenna is a bona fide Longhorn (U-T Class of '04). That's more physical evidence than anything having to do with Enron or Halliburton. As for the President's ties to Berkeley, good luck, you won't find many. He's never visited the campus while president. For that matter, he's never made a stop in surrounding Alameda County, where he got a mere 23.4 percent of the vote last month.

(2) Rigged Vote. So now we've established a conspiracy motive: the president bleeds Texas burnt orange; he feels no pain for the blue-and-gold of the Golden Bears. Time to call in the henchmen. Getting Texas elected--er, elevated--is child's play for an evil genius like Rove. Heck, the guy just rigged a national election. Where's the challenge in manipulating a handful of the mere 126 BCS voters (65 sportswriters, 61 coaches) when you can magically produce a 120,000-vote win in Ohio? Since the election, Rove has been off the media radar screen. For BCS conspiracy buffs, this can only mean one thing: he spent the weekend working the phone, convincing the BCS' red-state contingent to take Berkeley down a peg. ("You're not going to vote for those gay-marriage, stem-cell hippies, are you?")

(3) The Pattern. Like any quality conspiracy, this isn't just a scheme--it's a massive cover-up that the Republicans have been perpetrating for years. We're talking the stuff of Oliver Stone films. See if you can find a pattern here. In 2004, Berkeley is passed over in favor of Texas, red-state trumping blue. In 2003, Southern California--yet another blue-state team--is snubbed in the title game, with the honors going to red-state squads Oklahoma and LSU. The other year of BCS controversy: 2000, when Nebraska (can't get any redder than that) is chosen for the title game instead of Oregon. Ok, you argue, then how to explain why Southern Cal is in next month's title game instead of red-state Auburn? That's simple: The best player on the Trojans' squad is named . . . Bush.

(4) Justice Denied. What could the Democrats do if they really were outraged by the seeming injustice of the Berkeley snub? Try tapping into the millions remaining in the Kerry-Edwards legal defense and take the case all the way to the highest court in the land. Alas, it's a stacked deck. Berkeley's biggest hurdle wouldn't be that seven of the nine sitting justices were appointed by Republicans. It might be that two of the justices (O'Connor and Rehnquist) are Stanford law grads while two others (Breyer and Kennedy) were Cardinal undergrads. That's four of nine votes belonging to justices with ties to a school that teaches tolerance--except when it comes to their arch rivals across the Bay. Next case, please.

OF COURSE, there's an adult way to look at this. The election's been over for only a month. Perhaps we've had enough with the histrionics about a war "made up in Texas" (Sen. Edward Kennedy's words), or that Karl Rove was somehow secretly orchestrating another Texas conspiracy (the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth). Maybe--just maybe--the left has grown up a little since November 2. Rather than fly off the handle and rushing to the defense of Berkeley, perhaps liberals are learning to handle adversity with grace.

Meanwhile, Berkeley's coach wants a public itemizing of which coaches and writers kept his team out of the Rose Bowl. Not a recount, mind you, just a full accounting.

Some habits, it would seem, are hard to break.

Bill Whalen is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he follows California and national politics.

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