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The real BCS controversy

Want evidence of bias? Just look at coaches' votes

Posted: Wednesday December 7, 2005 11:34AM; Updated: Wednesday December 7, 2005 2:10PM
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Perhaps the Ibis filled out Larry Coker's ballot -- and put the 'Canes at No. 4.
Perhaps the Ibis filled out Larry Coker's ballot -- and put the 'Canes at No. 4.
Heinz Kluetmeier/SI

I have to thank USA Today for making my cross-country flight home from Los Angeles on Monday go by a lot faster than usual. No in-flight movie could possibly have provided as much amusement as the first-ever publication of the coaches' final Top 25 ballots.

Allow me to share a few of my favorite moments:

• Miami coach Larry Coker -- apparently every bit as delusional as the 'Canes' own fans -- voting his team No. 4.

• Ohio coach Frank Solich, who apparently got the score of Saturday's SEC title game backward (or was tipping the bottle again), placing LSU fifth and Georgia 15th.

• Oregon coach Mike Bellotti -- his team about to be squeezed out of the BCS by Notre Dame -- placing the Ducks fourth and the Irish ninth, while OSU's Jim Tressel, his own team battling Bellotti's for the Fiesta, had the Buckeyes fourth and Oregon ninth.

• Arkansas coach Houston Nutt ranking SEC rival Auburn third and Big East champion West Virginia ... nowhere.

• South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier burying Notre Dame at 14 and ranking his own team 21st -- higher than on any other ballot.

• A long list of coaches ranking their teams notably higher than they finished in the actual poll: Notre Dame's Charlie Weis (fourth), Auburn's Tommy Tuberville (fourth), Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez (16th), Clemson's Tommy Bowden (20th), Oklahoma's Bob Stoops (21st), South Carolina's Spurrier (21st) and Northwestern's Randy Walker (21st).

Ladies and gentlemen, as if you needed proof, the fortunes of the nation's college football teams -- not to mention tens of millions of dollars -- are being determined by the equivalent of a high school student-council election.

Every week, my inbox is clogged with people complaining about various media biases in the sport. While I would never suggest my profession is 100 percent ethically sound, I can't imagine too many writers have as obvious an agenda as a group of men who are employed by the subjects on which they're voting.

While my own "analysis" of the coaches' ballots was largely informal, a couple of guys with significantly more time on their hands, Jay Barry and Jeff Steck of the Notre Dame blog Blue-Gray Sky, actually ran the data to discern which biases could be detected. Among their findings:

• On average, coaches voted their own teams 1.7 spots higher than did the other 61 voters, and ranked other teams from their conference about one spot higher that they did teams from other conferences.

• Eight of the 13 coaches who voted Oregon seventh or lower came from the two conferences that had teams vying with the Ducks for a BCS at-large spot, SEC (Auburn) and Big Ten (Ohio State).

• Similarly, while half the poll's voters had Ohio State fourth, eight of 12 SEC and Pac-10 coaches had the Buckeyes lower, while the same percentage of that group had Notre Dame eighth or lower.

Meanwhile, in the Harris Poll, Notre Dame great Rocket Ismail made it clear which Fiesta Bowl matchup he wanted to see, ranking the Irish fourth, Ohio State fifth ... and Oregon 11th.

Let me make it clear that any college football poll is inherently subjective, that there's no such thing as a right or wrong ballot and that every voter is entitled to his opinion. But these kind of voting patterns aren't some sort of giant coincidence. The voters in the BCS' two polls exhibit blatant provincial favoritism. Perhaps Congress ought to hold some hearings on that.