Keeping votes secret will ultimately ruin integrity of the coaches' poll
The AFCA decided to keep the final regular-season coaches' poll ballots secret
The change, which was unanimously passed by the 16-member board, starts in '10
If coaches don't want to be held accountable, they shouldn't be part of the process
DESTIN, Fla. -- Maybe it's because he's one of the most principled men in his sport. Or maybe it's because his program appears so rarely in the Top 25. Whatever the reason, Vanderbilt football coach Bobby Johnson trusts his colleagues a whole lot more than most people when it comes to coaches' poll votes.
"My personal feeling is that a person is more free to vote his conscience instead of worrying about what the public is going to think about his vote," Johnson said Wednesday in response to the news that final regular-season coaches' ballots would become secret again beginning in 2010. Johnson is a member of the American Football Coaches Association's board of trustees, the group that rubber-stamped a list of changes to the poll recommended by Gallup World Poll -- the company whose namesake gave us "Dewey Defeats Truman."
The sumptuous milk shakes that aren't on the menu but are very much available at Vandy-adjacent eatery Rotier's must cure cynicism, because Johnson expects the best of his fellow coaches. He seemed offended Wednesday when I suggested the change might allow coaches to act on their grudges with impunity. "If you want to think the worst of somebody, then yes," Johnson said.
When it comes to multimillion-dollar coaches whose jobs sometimes depend on their position in a poll that counts for one-third of the BCS formula, a little cynicism is healthy. So is a little transparency, especially when 103 of the 120 schools fielding Football Bowl Subdivision teams are supported by public dollars. Only a handful of those athletic departments are self-sufficient, so most of the coaches doing the voting -- 56 of 61 voters from 2008 work at public universities -- are getting paid at least partially with your tax dollars.
But according to the AFCA, we should just trust coaches to do the right thing even with millions of dollars at stake. While the AFCA press release trumpeted the vote as unanimous -- the 16 board of trustees members include two Football Championship Subdivision coaches, two Division II coaches, two Division III coaches and an NAIA coach -- not all coaches want the final poll kept secret. "I like that last one that you have to make public," said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, a 2008 voter.
Spurrier was always transparent when he routinely ranked Duke No. 25 each preseason as a thank-you to the school that gave him his first college head-coaching job. Last year, AFCA executive director convinced Spurrier not to cast that vote because of a concern for the integrity of the poll. Come 2010, we'll have no way to know whether the poll has any integrity.
For example, we would never know if a coach abstained from voting, as Ohio State's Jim Tressel did in 2006 when the polls decided whether Michigan or Florida should meet the Buckeyes in the BCS title game. In hindsight, maybe he should have voted Michigan No. 2. We also wouldn't know that Missouri coach Gary Pinkel doesn't think very highly of schools from outside the six power conferences, evidenced by the fact that his final 2008 ballot had Utah, Boise State and TCU ranked Nos. 15-17.
If coaches don't want to be held accountable for their votes, maybe they shouldn't be part of the BCS formula. Most of them stay too focused on their own teams all season to watch games from across the country anyway, so they probably aren't the best judges. In many cases, a sports information director or another staffer fills out a coaches' ballot.
Sportswriters also are ill-suited, but for a different reason. We need to report the news, not make it. That's why The Associated Press pulled its poll from the BCS mix. So who should decide? Certainly not Harris Interactive poll voters, some of whom barely even paid attention last season.
"I don't know who you give it to," Florida coach Urban Meyer said Wednesday. "I start looking at the Harris Poll, and people are voting who have never seen the Gators play or seen someone else, or they say, 'I knew this guy back in 1987.' Obviously, there's not a perfect way."
So we're probably stuck with the current system. And come 2010, we'll have a bunch of millionaire coaches too scared to own up to their own ballots. That's OK. Remember, the vast majority of the voters work at public universities. Most states have open records or Freedom of Information Act laws that require the actions of public employees to be recorded and made available for public inspection. Come this fall, I'll be requesting the weekly ballot of every public-school coach in the poll. I imagine many of my colleagues will do the same. Come 2010, we should have the records request thing down pat.
If the schools comply with their state laws, the coaches will be held accountable -- whether they like it or not. If they don't, we'll probably still know the bottom of one coach's ballot this August. "I may vote for [Duke] this year," Spurrier said. "What did they win? Four last year? I may vote for them again this year. I've got more of a legitimate reason."
Possible signee cap?
The SEC may sponsor legislation to cap the number of football signees at 28, commissioner Mike Slive said Wednesday. Slive said he isn't sure if the league would enact the rule on its own or try to push the legislation for a vote of the entire Division I membership.
The NCAA allows schools to bring in a maximum of 25 new scholarship football players each academic year, but some schools sign far more. This past February, Ole Miss signed 37.
Don't expect the SEC to be the lone wolf on this one and restrict only its members to 28 signees. The conference won't do anything to put itself at a competitive disadvantage. But if a few other conferences get behind the idea, oversigning may be a thing of the past.
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