Posted: Wednesday July 13, 2005 4:15PM; Updated: Wednesday July 13, 2005 4:15PM
1. Does this new Bowl Championship Poll poll represent a significant change in the system that so many people hate?
Would the new Harris Poll have made any difference for Cal in 2004, when the Bears were kept out of the Rose Bowl by Texas?
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Not much. That BCS promised changes after the confusion of the last two seasons, but it's taken the smallest of baby steps. The Associated Press yanked their poll from the process (kudos to the AP for this, and kudos to ESPN for getting out from behind its half of the coaches' poll), so the BCS' keepers needed another poll and got one.
The new poll will be operated by the information gurus at Harris Interactive, Inc. and will be comprised of 114 members, including former coaches and players and media members. The poll itself is a horse of a vaguely different color, but the overall BCS formula is affected very little. It remains a confusing mix of two polls (the coaches' poll is still involved) and six computer rankings whose outcomes often fly in the face of common sense and irritate a public that wants a playoff.
The new system isn't new at all. It's a coat of paint on the old system, nothing more.
2. O.K., but don't you think this new poll is a good concept?
Nope, and not just because I wasn't asked to participate (sniff, sniff); more on media participation below. Football polls that are used for anything but entertainment and arguments over chicken wings and beer are a lousy idea on two levels.
I am convinced that nobody -- at least nobody with anything resembling a life or a career -- can keep track of the top 25 teams in the nation and effectively rank them from week to week. I was a voter in the AP poll exactly once -- two years ago, in 2003. I was stunned at my own lack of expertise from week to week, particularly when it came to ranking teams outside the top five in the country.
There's a Catch-22 at work here. The people best qualified to judge teams are at games -- reporting, coaching, etc. -- every Saturday afternoon. They watch one game live, snippets of others on TV and maybe catch a game on Tuesday or Thursday night on ESPN. But in general, I found myself judging teams based on reading a box score, something for which I had long criticized my poll predecessors.
I think you need to examine a team's performance, win or lose -- not just draw conclusions from a small block of statistics on the Web. And while I felt at least passably smart when it came to the top few teams, I was embarrassed at helping guide the destiny of teams ranked 15-25, who were seeking bowl spots worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Conflicts of interest are everywhere. Writers and broadcasters who cover a specific team can't possibly be expected to evaluate that team without bias. Coaches, in my opinion, are even worse.
Now, I've been absolutely killed by readers in the past for suggesting that coaches make lousy poll voters. Let me get something straight: I think Kirk Ferentz knows a heck of a lot more about football than I do. I think Larry Coker is far more qualified than I am to judge the merits of a football team. But these analytical skills are lost in the forum of a national poll. You're asking competitive men to judge their friends and their opponents. How crazy is that? If Coach A has a spat with Coach B, it's going to affect his judgment. If Coach C would like to see Coach D get a better job (or a raise), it's going to affect his judgment.
Does it help that the coaches' final votes are going to be made public? Sure, it helps. A little. But by the time the last poll is voted upon, much of the top 25 order is hopelessly entrenched and besides, if a coach really has an agenda, I think he'll be willing to take a little heat.
As for the media. If I had been asked by Harris to vote, I would have said, no thank you. Not just because I cover other sports and stories during the college football season and no longer feel like an expert, but because I don't think any media member should vote in college football polls. It's simple Ethics 101: You don't make the news, you cover it. Sure, journalists affect the news by what they write, but a line needs to drawn somewhere and I think it should be drawn here. AP and ESPN did the right thing. Other journalists should do likewise and USA Today should take its name off the coaches' poll.
3. So there's nothing good about this new poll?
Submit a question or comment for Tim Layden.
As long as we're stuck with this system -- and we are -- there's one good thing about it. The first poll won't appear until Sept. 25, when some teams have played as many as five games. The theory is that this will reduce reliance on a preseason poll that has no connection to actual performance in the current season. It's a good theory, but of course, Harris voters will have the coaches' poll and AP poll to guide their decisions. They're both releasing preseason polls in August.
4. All right answer-man, what's the solution?
Since we know there's not going to be a playoff -- or a plus-one -- system anytime soon, and we're going to have to live with some form of the BCS lottery, the BCS gang needs to take the Harris Poll concept and run one big step further with it. Kill the polls, kill the weekly computer rankings, kill the current concept and go an NCAA basketball tournament-style committee that would, in early December, examine all the materials and rank teams for postseason play. No coaches on the committee. No former players on the committee. Just a small group of athletic directors and conference commissioners who are passionate about college football and proven in their dedication to getting things right.
Those people are out there. Sign them up. Put them in a conference room and give them a Selection Show. It's not January Madness, but it's better than a poll.
5. "Three pages? I could write the end of the world in a page and a half. What's this three pages?''
That question was posed -- animatedly -- by Hal Buell almost three decades ago in the sports department of a newspaper that was then called the Schenectady Gazette (now the Daily Gazette). Harold (Hal) Buell died on Sunday at the age of 89. He was the night sports editor of first paper I ever worked at, a sweet, crusty hard-working member of The Greatest Generation.
Buell spent three years in the South Pacific, an experience that shaped his life and his appetite (he loved mustard on roast beef sandwiches, the only man I've ever met who was so inclined) and forever changed his voice into a distinctive rasp. He was patient with me, a green college intern who thought I knew everything when, in fact, I knew almost nothing. Yet he could be forceful when the situation called for it, as it did most nights after 11, when deadline approached.
There were two rules in Hal's office at night: Get it right and get it in on time. Anything else was gravy. He enforced those rules with passion and an unforgettable humor. Journalism has changed dramatically in the last quarter-century, but Hal's cardinal rules still apply and they have sustained me every time I sat in front of a laptop. I am fortunate to have known him.