SI Vault
Douglas S. Looney
November 28, 1988
When the 54th annual Heisman Trophy is awarded on Dec. 8 at Manhattan's Downtown Athletic Club, it will go to a deserving player. Why? Because it always does. This is not to say that the Heisman voters have never made a mistake or that factors other than a player's feats on the gridiron don't come into play, but simply that the trophy is not nearly as tarnished as its critics would have us believe.
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November 28, 1988

Those 'bad' Heisman Picks Were O.k.

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Clearly, a variety of factors can affect a player's chances of winning, not the least of which is how much attention he receives from the national media before the balloting. Huarte's experience notwithstanding, a player almost always needs to have a strong junior year, and it helps if he's on a very good team. Thirteen winners were on undefeated teams, while another 14 played for teams that lost only once. It pays to play at a major school—Walter Payton was the all-time NCAA point scorer at Jackson State but finished 14th in '74—and early and often on TV. Miami's Vinny Testaverde all but locked up the '86 Heisman with a lights-out effort against Oklahoma in the fourth game of that year.

Many Heisman critics maintain that these peripheral factors are often more important to the selection process than the candidates' accomplishments. Although that has rarely been the case, the danger exists that it could be in the future. To make the process fairer, several changes should be made:

•Reduce the number of voters from 870 sportscasters and sportswriters to, say, 450. In 1987, of 1,050 possible voters, only 781, or 74%, cast ballots. The current number, while somewhat smaller than last year's, is still too large to guarantee well-informed electors.

•Make the list of voters public. The Downtown Athletic Club is against this, saying that voters would be deluged with information from lobbyists for individual candidates. Phooey. At the start of each season, only a dozen or so players, tops, have a real chance to win, and as the season goes on, that number usually is reduced to two or three. Would it be so horrible if voters were given information about them? Even in metropolitan areas where voters can see eight or 10 college games a weekend, it's hard to know what's going on all over the country. Heisman voters, chafing at the criticism that they always vote for quarterbacks and running backs, would love to select a worthy center. How do they get to know one? Promotional material would help, and if a particular school goes nuts with glitz and flash, that would probably work to its disadvantage.

•Release a list of how the voters voted. There's nothing like the harsh light of day to keep some weird-thinking balloter honest.

•Restructure the ballot. The current one provides space to write in three players in order of preference. Because it is so hard to know all the players and to help do away with the bias toward quarterbacks (14 have won) and running backs (35), the ballot should list 10 to 12 names, each followed by a line or two of stats and achievements.

•Don't give the Heisman every year. Says Brown, "If someone doesn't dominate, why force it?" The Downtown Athletic Club can tinker with the numbers, but one way to guarantee a consensus would be to mandate that a candidate receive at least 75% of the first-place ballots to win the award.

•Give mini-Heismans, or supporting-cast awards, to those who helped a player win. After all, how effective would Texas's Earl Campbell, the winner in 1977, have been if he had had to run behind Rice's offensive line? When Huarte won, wasn't Snow deserving of a nod? Recognizing a winner's essential teammate or teammates make sense because of the obvious problem of awarding an individual award in a team game. This idea wouldn't dilute the Heisman, but would spread its glory.

While the Downtown Athletic Club is mulling over these proposals, it should immediately declare several other harebrained suggestions out of bounds:

•Having coaches vote. Coaches are even less qualified than sportscasters and writers to cast a ballot because they concentrate so single-mindedly on their teams and their opponents. Besides, as often happens with the weekly UPI coaches poll of the nation's Top 20 teams, many coaches seldom vote. They usually just turn the job over to their sports information directors.

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