Monday, May 18, 2009

Time to Talk Polls!

A story recently in the Detroit News mentioned that Michigan football Coach Rich Rodriguez weighed in on the debate over the USA Today Coaches Poll. What debate you ask? Well, the debate over showing the public how each coach votes, of course!

The debate has raged in niche sports circles for a long time, and every once in a while it pops into mainstream media. Evidently this is one of those times again, because the off season is the perfect time to evaluate rules and procedures for all things college football, and that means that USA Today is considering changes to it's Coaches Poll procedures.

Currently, the poll releases the full ballots of each coach only for the final ballot of the regular season. All other ballots during the season are secret. Is this a big deal?

Well, remember that the Coaches Poll is one of the two human polls used to calculate the BCS Standings. And those determine which schools play in which bowl games, with millions of dollars at stake, not to mention the intangible benefits to recruiting, prestige, and even general enrollment.

According to Pollspeak, a great site that has championed this issue, making the ballots public "allows anybody – fans, universities and the voters themselves to see that the process is open and fair. Even if fans don’t agree with the voters, they at least know that the rankings really were their opinions and not some mythical cover-up or mistake."

Currently, any coach with a vote could attempt to artificially sink or inflate any other team, including conference opponents or others on their schedule. Why would a coach do this? Because of the millions of dollars involved. Because being a higher ranked team makes his team look better. Because having your rival unranked could help you land that recruit who's visiting next week. Any reason. Do coaches currently do this?

Coaches Poll representatives told Pollspeak that "We closely examine each ballot every Sunday. If we see something that seems the least bit out of whack, we contact the coach, with whom we can usually resolve the issue. Most of the time, it's over an inadvertent omission. If it cannot be resolved there, we will bring an AFCA (American Football Coaches Association) representative into the discussion."

So, the argument that the Coaches Poll makes is "Trust us." Evidently, that is not good enough. Pollspeak has a petition up urging the BCS to use only human polls that release every voter's ballot. And that is OK with
Rodriguez. "To me, it doesn't matter one way or the other," Rodriguez said to the Detroit News on Sunday. "I can understand why some coaches don't want to release it, but I can also understand why a lot of folks want it released for transparency or whatever."

So how did Coach Rodriguez final ballot look? Not much different than Coach Dantonio's, actually. He had Northwestern a little high (#16), and agreed with Dantonio about MSU's place in the poll (#18). Overall, voters put MSU anywhere from #13 (Bobby Bowden, Gary Pinkel) to unranked (Gene Chizik).

So, what do you think? Tell us in the comments or vote in the poll.

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