Encouraging Signs

Just a bit of a follow-up here on the BCS/Associated Press poll discussion below (sorry, folks, but until Steve gets off his ass healthy, you’re stuck with me and my college football obsessions).

Since last week’s final polls and the ensuing hullabaloos, there’ve been some encouraging signs regarding the future of the college football polls. One paper, the Charlotte Observer, has announced that it is resigning from the AP writer’s poll:

The credibility of this newspaper is more important than the prestige of voting in the AP poll. [Observer writer Ken] Tysiac will complete this season, the last in which a reporter from the Observer will vote in a poll tied to the BCS.

The AP basketball poll? We don’t have a vote this season, but we would consider voting in the future. That poll is for fun and to drive fan interest, and it’s basically meaningless because the NCAA basketball champion is determined in a playoff.

Now that’s a responsible, and long-overdue decision. While no other papers have followed the Observer’s lead to date, a growing number of sports writers have noted their own discomfort with the conflicted and arbitrary nature of the media polls: Carey Estes of the Birmingham Post-Herald (scroll down) notes,

For the past few weeks, many members of the media — myself included — have trashed the mad-scientist formula known as the Bowl Championship Series, a system that fails miserably in its attempt to produce an undisputed college football national champion.
Strangely, however, there has been little media outrage over the media’s role in all this BCS B.S. Namely, that newspaper reporters and other media members vote in the Associated Press college-football poll, which is one of the components used to determine the BCS rankings.

This means that journalists, who are supposed to be nothing more than objective observers and reporters of events, have now crossed over and become actual factors in how these events play out. We are now part of the game.

Why does this not seem to bother the journalistic community?

I work around these guys. Most of them are far from being in any sort of athletic shape. Some have a hard time completing the 40-foot dash to the pregame buffet. It should be an insult to every hard-working college football player that this motley collection of Oscar Madisons has any influence on championship and bowl matchups.

But we do. A few reporters bump up Texas in the polls, for whatever reason, and suddenly the Longhorns are headed to the Rose Bowl in place of California. I’m not saying Cal is more deserving of a Rose Bowl trip than Texas. I’m saying it is not the place of the media to help make such a decision at all.

You don’t see Dumpy Inkstain from the Omaha Daily-Fishwrap sitting in with the selection committee to determine who makes the field of 65 for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. So why should he, or any of us who don’t play the game, be able to so significantly impact the football postseason?

That was never meant to be our task. And it shouldn’t be any more. Because as long as the media persist in playing a part in the BCS process, then there is no need for anybody to pay attention to the media’s complaints about the BCS.

Mike Vaccarro of the New York Post chimes in with,

This has to end, of course. That much is clear. We can’t make the news and cover the news. We can’t complain that systems are flawed when we’re part of that system. It has to end.

Do away with the writers poll. And that includes the radio and TV sycophants who would gladly snatch a writer’s ballot before it hits the ground. Sorry, if we’re going to be allowed to rip the coach in Sunday’s newspapers, we shouldn’t be allowed to vote that coach’s team out of the Top 25 on Monday, too.

There’s plenty more, from Loren Nelson of the Bradenton Herald and Chris Lang of the Arizona Daily Sun, and no doubt a few others that I’ve missed.

All of these guys make it a point to single out the Huntsville Times’ Paul Gattis as an innocent victim of the BCS system’s whims. I disagree with them on that, (although their point about the writers’ public votes being unjustly subject to more heat than the secret coaches’ poll is more than fair), but the ridiculousness of holding a popularity contest to determine bowl matchups and even “championships” is finally, finally being seriously debated, and that’s the best news that college football has seen in many a moon.

Now, sports media, is your chance to do the right thing: abolish the polls, unilaterally. Shame the conferences and the schools into ditching this archaic and corrupt system in favor of a playoff. You’ll be doing yourselves a favor, and the sport an invaulable service.

UPDATE: As noted above, there’s no reason to single out the writers’ poll; the coaches are at least as ridiculous, and have worked out a system to avoid public records laws regarding written communication:

In response to the AJC’s public records request, American Football Coaches Association executive director Grant Teaff sent a memo informing the group’s 61 member voters they weren’t legally obligated to share their votes.

The Dec. 2 memo, labeled “Important & Confidential” and obtained by the AJC, stated: “The standard method of collecting the votes by USA TODAY is for coaches to phone in their weekly votes via voice mail; therefore, formal records by coaches are unlikely to be kept.”

Teaff, reached Monday at his office in Waco, Texas, said he’d “never heard” of a coach voting by e-mail or fax, documentation that would make ballots available under public records laws in many states.

There’s one word for this: outrageous.

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29 Responses to “Encouraging Signs”

  1. pianoman Says:

    This seems to me to be a part of a general problem in journalism today, and that is a greater emphasis on creating news rather than just reporting it. Apart from the BCS fiasco, a good example is Edward Lee Pitts, the embed reporter with the Chattanooga Times Free Press who planted a question during a Donald Rumsfeld press conference. In this case, Pitts was more interested in making news than actually reporting it.

    Will’s point is completely valid, of course. However, if a 4-team, post-Bowl playoff system were put into place, this discussion wouldn’t be happening. The sports writers would be haggling over that coveted #5 spot after the Bowl games were played — which is a lot different than haggling over the #3 spot where three teams go undefeated.

    I wonder when the first anti-trust lawsuit will happen, and which university will file it?

  2. ScienceTeacher Says:

    Cal was robbed. I only hope that it puts a fire under next year’s team so they kick USC’s buttocks along with everyone else’s.

  3. Blaine Says:

    College football had what should have been highly desirable. A unique system to end the season, Bowl games. In May we were still arguing over who was number one, sometimes bar fights were had. It was glorious. All the other sports on the day after the championship game was played conversation stopped, it was silly to argue just look at the score. Now they are trying to have the best of both worlds, and we have what we deserve. Number One in the nation is much to be desired but at what cost, to be just one of another championship given out each year. The BCS gives us a national champion, but a playoff would suck the rest of the life out of the remaining fun to be had. The court of public opinion was the best indicator of number one.

  4. Will Allen Says:

    Blaine, we could determine who is number one by tossing the head coaches into a pond, and seeing who sank first. It would probably generate quite a bit of controversy, but still might not be the best way to go..

    For better or for worse, major college football is an entertainemt industry, and until the games are broadcast without commercials, and the coaches paid like sociology professors, that is what it shall always be. Thus, there is only one metric to pay attention to when thinking about how to organize major college football; how many eyeballs are attracted.

    A properly structured playoff could actually enhance the conference races, drive down the cupcake scheduling that results in 56-7 contests (which is one of the worst aspects of the game), and would allow college football to own December, in terms of national attention. The national championship game on January 1 would rival the Super Bowl in ratings, and the total viewership of the game throughout the season would greatly increase.

  5. Brian Says:

    Amen to all of that, but are the coaches any better? Granted they know the game, and I certainly trust their judgment on the teams they know. The problem is, what coach has time to become informed on any more than their team plus 10-12 others?

  6. Chas Rich Says:

    The reason for the BCS in the first place, was because the AP writers didn’t want to be put in the position to determine the national championship game (along with the coaches poll) — it would be a conflict of interests to decide things they were merely supposed to report upon.

    That’s why the computers were originally added to the system, so the writers wouldn’t be the kingmakers. Now as we’ve seen them keep tweaking it they have effectively given the AP and Coaches nearly all the influence afterall.

    The system has mostly evolved to where the BCS schools wanted it.

  7. Tom Says:

    One of the problems with simply abolishing the polls, aside from that fact that you can’t just abolish the (slightly better) AP poll but would also have to abolish the (even more ridiculous) coaches’ poll is the problem of what replaces it. Computer rankings? I don’t necessarily have a problem with that, but there’s a reason the BCS is now 2/3 polls and 1/3 computer rankings, and me not having a problem with the computers has nothing to do with that.

    Frankly, what we’re seeing here is two problems. First, the problems of a system designed ex ante having to deal with ex post problems. Second, the fact that you can only put two football teams on the same field at a time. The BCS solved problems we almost certainly would have faced previously, like how to match up Florida State with Virginia Tech in 1999 and Miami with Ohio State in 2002, and serves to help in year like last year, where Oklahoma played LSU, and this year, with USC facing Oklahoma. These matchups would not have happened withouot the BCS. The problem is, the only fair way to match up three teams is with a round robin, where the first team to win two games in a row is declared the champion.

    A playoff system works for college basketball for a couple reasons. One is that it’s inclusive, probably ridiculously so. Every team with a ghost of a chance is included. Second, the idea of perfection or near-perfection is almost unheard of in a basketball season. In football, by contrast, it’s a reasonable expectation and the standard by which greatness is measured.

    I can go on all day, but this is long enough for a comment.

  8. Will Collier Says:

    I’d say, for an eight-team field, take the five major conference champions (SEC, ACC, B12, B10, Pac 10), plus three at-large selected by an NCAA committee, a la basketball. I’d prefer a 16-team field, which would allow for more automatic bids, as well as more wild cards, but I don’t think it’d be adopted. The university presidents are relentlessly terrified of upsetting the status quo. Eight would be a miracle, IMO.

  9. Ricky Says:

    Nah Will! a 16 team playoff would be too much like right! Can’t have that, it makes sense too!!
    Plus, it works in 1AA and you know the Big Boyz would never accept an idea with such lowly precedents!
    Go Hens in ’05!

  10. Steve Malynn Says:

    Blaine is right, the rest of you wrong. Bleh, cat-calls, raspberries, to any supposed play-off.

  11. Will Allen Says:

    A sixteen team field, with the top eight seeds, and first round home field advantage, reserved for conference champs, would maintain the intensity of the conference races. Why shouldn’t the Mountain West, WAC, or Conference USA champs get into the top eight? Utah, Boise State, and Louisville sure seem worthy this year, and the Big East could easily produce such a champ in the near future. For teams like California and Texas, well, if your 2nd place finish is so indicative of your strength, beating a champ from a weak conference on the road should not be so difficult.

    Actually, if only an eight team playoff is doable, I’d still prefer that it be reserved for the top eight conference champs, in order to maintain the intensity of the conference races. If your team is like Texas or Cal this year, hey, you had more of a chance to win it on the field than Auburn got this year. Wanna be national champ? Win your conference first.

  12. Will Allen Says:

    Yeah, Steve it really is best to have a scribe with a Sunday morning hangover, or a coach with a hidden agenda, coronate the national chmap.

  13. Drew Says:

    “Now, sports media, is your chance to do the right thing: abolish the polls, unilaterally. Shame the conferences and the schools into ditching this archaic and corrupt system in favor of a playoff. You’ll be doing yourselves a favor, and the sport an invaulable service.”

    But without polls, how do you select the playoff field?

  14. Skeet Skeet Skeet Says:

    Solution to the BCS problem

    Vodkapundit has been covering the media’s reaction to the problems with the Bowl Championship Series. For those unfamiliar, College football uses a complex mix of votes, polls and other things to determine pre season rankings. if the #1 team is unbea…

  15. ATM Says:

    The entire concept of what a national champion should be is ill-defined. Should the team that has played well all season be rewarded? Should the team that is peaking towards the end of season be rewarded? Should it just be based on wins or should it consider who the wins were against? Should the winner of 4 or 8 way play off be considered the national champion for just winning two or three additional games? Or should they just be considered the playoff champion?

    Personally, I think the only problem with current system is there isn’t enough data to compare top teams in conferances and conferances over all with each other. This is especially the case for the top conferances who generally don’t play that many games against each other, instead choosing to schedule patsy’s for many of their nonconferance games. That is the fundamental problem with trying to rank a bunch of undefeated teams from different conferences. What I would propose doing is instead of lengthening the football season with a bunch of play off games, eliminate one of the pre-season scheduled games and replace it with a game that is scheduled to match team of a given rank with a team of a similar ranking in another conferance. The idea is to generate more data about how the conferances compare to give the voters and the computers greater insight to the strengths of conferances and the teams within them.

  16. Will Allen Says:

    ATM, why not just limit the playoff to eight conference champions, thus rewarding excellence during the season, and then determine the national champion through head to head competition? If the objection is that some conferences are much weaker than others, well, that may be true, but if a team cannot win their conference, they quite obviously aren’t the best team in the country. Also, such a system would likely eventually have the effect of distributing talent more evenly among the conferences, since players would know that any program with a good chance to win a conference championship had a good chance to play for a national title. College football interest would explode nation-wide.

    Yes, there exists a chance that in some years (very, very, infrequently) that nine or maybe even ten conferences would have excellent champions, but this is when a teams non-conference strength of schedule could be given paramount importance; no credit given for beating Northeastern Southern Central Western Arkansas 75-0, but some credit given for going to Oklahoma and losing 17-14. Thus, the motivation to schedule cupcakes, which really is one of the worst aspects of the game, disappears, and enough inter-conference powers play each other to fairly rank confererences 1-8.

    I have favored a sixteen team playoff in the past, but the more I think about it, an eight team field comprised of conference champs would be best. The conference races would be every bit as important today, the non-conference schedules would improve as well, and the national champ would not be determined by a hungover sportswriter, a bitter coach, or software.

  17. Rod Stanton Says:

    Cal was jobed.

  18. Steve Malynn Says:

    Will, I prefer the arguments for 6 months after the season to any coronation. To be honest as much as I love March madness, I forget the tournament as soon as it’s over. Whereas I still scream about how ND was jobbed in ’93-94.

  19. Will Allen Says:

    Heck, Steve, why play any games at all then? The schools can save a lot of money on scholarships, and every fan can vociferously claim that their school is number one.

    If one really appreciates athletic competition, what one likes is seeing the best competitors test each other. The most thorough way of doing this is through a play-off system.

    This is also the way to attract the most eyeballs, which, for an entertaiment business (which is what major college football is), is the only metric that matters.

  20. Steve Malynn Says:

    Thanks Will for listening so well, and addressing the point Blaine raises, and I echoed. Try not to put so many words in my mouth, or try to address the fact that college football existed before you were born, too.

  21. Will Allen Says:

    I did address it; you prefer arguments to having the best teams play each other. That’s fine. I prefer having the best competitors test each other. That’s fine. What, exactly, does the age of the college football business have to do with what would attract the most viewers today?

  22. tim Says:

    Every other sport and level in the colleges finds a champion on the field/gym/track etc. D-I football can also. 16 teams. Certainly # 17 will bitch but really, how often will there be 17 undefeateds? THe big bowls can round robin the playoff levels so each one gets the final .

  23. Stephen Says:

    College Football is unique because every game counts. Go to a playoff system and you kill College Football. Imagine an undefeated team loses its conference game to a 7-4 team.You now have a playoff where an 8-4 team is in and an 11-1 team is out. So the playoffs will expand to at least 16 teams.(NCAA Basketball has 65 teams in its playoffs out of @200 Div 1 schools,an equivalent would be 32 teams out of @100 Div 1 football schools.)
    Because of uncertainity of who’s playing,neutral sites will not sell out except for title game,meaning games will be played at home stadiums-a huge edge for higher seeded teams. Bowl games will be killed-see NIT.
    The only strong support I see for playoffs is among sportswriters and tv talking heads. They want an easy story to follow. The network who gets title game will be happy,but rest won’t. The old Bowl system was far superior.

  24. Steve Malynn Says:

    Will, you want college football to evolve into the professional model, I don’t.

    You posit “greater viewership”, sorry, I think Stephen has the better argument.

    And the “certainty” and “best competition” arguments are really not concerns that College Presidents (you know the academics who nominally run things) should honor.

  25. Will Allen Says:

    Steve, I want to maximize the number of athletic contests between the top teams, under the the most pressure-filled situations, because I enjoy observing athletic contests between top competitors. I don’t care about arguing about it. You think that arguing about it is better than more competitions. I disagree.

    Most of Stephen’s arguments are without merit. If conferences don’t want a 7-4 team to be a conference champ at the expense of a 11-1 team, then they should structure their conference races so as to eliminate that possibility. The Big Ten has never had a round-robin schedule, and they haven’t had any trouble naming legitimate champs. There is no reason that a playoff sustem has to devalue the conference races, because there is no reason to structure a playoff system like basketball’s.

    In fact, Stephen contradicts himself. If the home field is as big an advantage as he maintains, then having a sixteen team field, with eight conference champs with home field advantage, makes the conference races all the more important. Also, if a team is truly of champioship caliber, well, there is no greater test of that than going on the road to beat a good opponent on their home field.

    Numbers don’t lie, and as much as you don’t like a playoff systems, the football cartel with the playoff system has many, many, more viewers. To say major college football is not a professional sport is to live in a dream-world. As I said, when the people get in the gate for a nominal fee, when the NCAA, conferences, and BCS stop demanding money for broadcast rights, and coaches are paid like sociology professors, and the players are held to the same academic standards as any other student, then this will be a non-professional sport. Until then, the University of Southern California football team is every bit as professional as the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the object of professional sports is to maximize viewers.

    The BCS College presidents are a collection of cartel-driven hacks who wish to avoid sharing money with non-BCS conferences. That is the only reason there isn’t a playoff system. If these phonies cared at all about academics, they wouldn’t have their basketball players missing 16 days of class in March, and they would abolish spring practice for football. Ask any AD or President from a non-BCS school about the resistance to a playoff being driven by academic concerns, and after he’s done laughing, he’ll explain the reality to you.

  26. ricky Says:

    “The BCS College presidents are a collection of cartel-driven hacks who wish to avoid sharing money with non-BCS conferences”

    Nicely phrased! Couldn’t agree more…
    Of course I may be biased having gone to a 1aa school…

  27. orpheus_sail Says:

    While I agree with your point, I have to challenge the reasoning of Carey Estes from Birmingham. Does a person need to be a tuned athlete to judge the quality of a football team? Parcells and Charlie Weis are hardly Adonis, but they identify and create quality football teams. Estes’s reasoning implies that one would have to contract lung cancer in order to diagnose lung cancer.

  28. A Bluegrass Blog Says:

    Yes, Virginia, the BCS Must Die

    I’ve said before that I think the BCS is a horrible aberration, a pox on all that is good about the world.

  29. Felix Says:

    I like Div. 1A football the way it is now. The bowl system is unique to sports and the national championship is determined by the team who had the best season(as opposed to the best playoffs).

    If a playoff system must be put in place, then build one that only includes undefeated teams. That still places the emphasis on the regular season, while providing an outlet for all the fans who want to see the extra games.

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