WHEN THERE still was a scintilla of hope that the Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. megafight could be salvaged for Nov. 13, I was faced with a possible decision that would have required the wisdom of Solomon: Should I cover the biggest boxing match in years, or the Penn State at Ohio State game that could have national-title implications?

Thanks to the many perpetrators who have made Pacquiao-Mayweather the most overhyped sports story since Brett Favre's latest "retirement" saga, my plans for that date are now firm. As I have near-zero interest in Pacquiao's consolation-prize bout with hand-wraps cheat Antonio Margarito, it's the college kids all the way. And maybe that's how it should be. Hey, the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes are going to play regardless of who lines up at quarterback 10 1/2 weeks hence. Pacquiao-Margarito, for reasons I will touch upon, is as palatable as a tuna-salad sandwich made from the stale contents of a bowl left on the kitchen counter for a couple of days.

But what's scary and sad is that Pacquiao-Mayweather, if and when it does get made, will leave that same sour taste in my mouth. It's no longer a question of who's to blame and who isn't for this pugilistic Super Bowl being placed on indefinite hold. As I see it, everyone is to blame to some degree; no one can claim to hold the moral high ground.

Does anyone really care whether Mayweather (41-0, 25 KOs) is dictating to Pacquiao (51-3-2, 38 KOs) with his demands for Olympic-level drug-testing? Or if he's "afraid" to risk his undefeated record against the one man perhaps most capable of handing him an "L"?

Until recently, I had been siding, if somewhat tenuously, with the Pacquiao camp in its contention that Mayweather was the primary culprit for a fight everyone wants to see not happening. But then Pac-Man's promoter, Top Rank founder Bob Arum, gave us Margarito (38-6, 27 KOs) as a replacement opponent, which, frankly, stinks.

Consider how we have arrived to this point. Margarito, who still claims he had no knowledge of the plaster-like inserts in the hand wraps he attempted to enter the ring with for a Jan. 24, 2009, bout with Shane Mosley in Los Angeles, was denied reinstatement of his boxing license by the California State Athletic Commission following the Nevada commission's decision to table his motion to relicensure.

Rather than take "Pac-Man's" act to Mexico or another foreign country disinclined to recognize the California suspension, Arum then turned to Texas, whose much-maligned commission is the closest thing to a Wild West operation this side of Billy the Kid. William Kuntz, executive director of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, granted Margarito a license without asking him a single question, although Kuntz did issue a prepared statement in which he says that "after a thorough review of his application it was determined Mr. Margarito met the requirements of the Texas Combative Sports Act and Rules."

It seems to me that Margarito got off a lot lighter than suspected horse thieves did in hanging judge Roy Bean's frontier saloon/courtroom. And am I the only one who has a nagging feeling that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, whose $1.2 billion Cowboys Stadium will be the venue for the second consecutive Pacquiao fight (he also defeated Joshua Clottey there on March 13), used his considerable clout to influence Texas' rush to give a thumbs-up to the tainted Margarito?

I'm also not too keen on Arum's apparent intention to keep Pacquaio busy by having him fight only members of the Top Rank stable, as Margarito is and Clottey was, while seemingly more deserving fighters are kept on the outside looking in. Pacquiao was in two exhilarating slugfests with Juan Manuel Marquez (51-5-1, 37 KOs), against whom he is 1-0-1, but Arum did not so much as entertain the notion of a third meeting. Is it because Arum detests Golden Boy bigwigs Richard Schaefer and Oscar De La Hoya, who have Marquez, even more than he does longtime nemesis Don King, who appears to have gained favor with Mayweather?

HBO Sports executives are as complicit in this mess as Arum. Didn't they accept a sports Emmy last year for televising Eric Drath's documentary, "Assault in the Ring," which details the notorious 1983 fight in which Luis Resto, with doctored hand wraps and nearly unpadded gloves, brutalized Billy Collins? HBO is doing the pay-per-view for Pacquiao-Margarito and no one with the pay-cable giant has uttered a peep about Margarito's Resto-like transgressions.

But what of Pacquiao himself? The newly elected Philippines congressman ran on a platform of honesty and integrity, but he meekly acquiesced to Arum's dictum that he accept a $15 million payday to fight Margarito when there were less-soiled options available.

The WBC is sanctioning Pacquiao-Margarito for the vacant WBC super welterweight championship, which, if he wins, would be Pac-Man's eighth title in a different weight class. That's nearly as historic as WBC president Jose Sulaiman providing additional proof that his organization has no shame or sense of decorum.

At least we can be thankful we have college football to look forward to on Nov. 13. *

Send e-mail to fernanb@phillynews.com