CLINE: Coaches Poll - A Flawed Poll

The first edition of the USA Today college football poll for 2007 is out. Sixty coaches will take part in this silliness for another season, and Florida's Urban Meyer has again opted not to be one of them.

From a self interest standpoint, it's a foolish choice. As last year's close call with Michigan in the final BCS numbers illustrated, every poll point counts and it makes sense to vote if those you're competing with do. As a matter of personal integrity, Meyer is making the right decision. The continued existence of this poll shows again just how flawed the college system for choosing a champion is. It has no place in the BCS and should have been done away with years ago.

The concept of a coaches poll sounds great. After all, who would know more about football then the men who coach the teams? The problem is the same qualities that make them successful as a head coach are the ones that make them completely ill-suited for this task. These guys are obsessively focused on a single goal - winning as many games as possible for their team.

Does anyone think a coach in the Big 12 who won't see a single SEC or ACC team on his schedule all season has really spent time analyzing the merits of Tennessee versus Virginia Tech for placement on his ballot? Of course not, which is why the vast majority of them don't actually vote themselves.

The examples of votes cast by other people keep piling up. Purdue's Joe Tiller publicly acknowledged not casting his own vote, yet he's still got one. According to Washington State coach Bill Doba, Mike Price didn't cast his own ballot while he was coach there. Various staffers took care of it for him. Penn State's Joe Paterno has acknowledged having an associate AD fill out his ballot previously, and split his vote between USC, Auburn and Oklahoma rather than pick a number one at the end of the 2004 season.

These are just cases that have come to public light, but it's openly acknowledged around college football that many coaches don't even know who they've "voted" for. Calling the USA Today vote the Coaches Poll sounds catchier than "A Few Coaches and Sports Information Directors and Graduate Assistants and a Coach's son-in-law who really likes football" Poll, though, so the fraud continues.

Allowing people who may have bonuses in their contract for things like reaching a BCS bowl game to vote in a process that will help determine who reaches those games is an obvious conflict of interest. To try and keep that problem from becoming an issue, USA Today and the coaches agreed to release their final ballots last season. That seemed to be a positive step, considering the kind of manipulation the system allowed before.

Who can forget two coaches voting a Florida team which was undefeated before being whipped in the Fiesta Bowl by Nebraska number 11 and 13 in 1995's final rankings? Those two ridiculous votes allowed Tennessee to squeeze past the Gators into the number two spot. It was obvious intentional manipulation of the polls. As usual, nothing was done about it and the coaches responsible weren't forced to be accountable to the fans for their votes. I have no idea if Phillip Fulmer was one of those coaches or not, but the fact he might, shows what a farce this poll has always been.

Like the cartoon where the guy in a boat plugs one hole and water immediately begins shooting up from somewhere else, the new reform of revealing the final ballots from all the coaches created another issue. Ohio State's Jim Tressel refused to vote in the final poll because he was concerned about the impact on the Buckeyes national title chances if it was known he chose the team which didn't wind up playing in the title game as his number two. Tressel's actions were completely inappropriate and unprofessional. No one made him agree to be a poll participant, but he wanted the benefit of casting a vote each week.

Pete Carroll and Urban Meyer intentionally do not vote in part to avoid being put in that position. So how was Tressel punished for his complete disregard for his responsibility as a voter? You guessed it - he wasn't. He's one of the sixty guys with a vote again this season.

This situation can not be fixed because there's no way to remove the conflicts of interest from the mix. When coaches like Texas A&M's Dennis Franchione state publicly that they bump their opponents up in the polls so their team will look better by beating them, what more evidence do we need that the coaches poll has outlived its usefulness? The AP poll is out in two weeks. It's by no means perfect, but it's a vast improvement over what USA Today and the coaches have to offer.


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