CLINE: Fix the Harris Poll

The BCS numbers have been finalized for another year, and as always there are calls from fans and media members across the college football landscape for changes to the process. As much as I'd love to believe we're getting closer to an overhaul of this broken system, we're not.

As a result, I always look for places where changes can easily be made without TV contracts and big dollar corporations getting involved. The number one item on my hit list is the Harris Interactive Poll. The last three years have made it clear the company running this vote will not reform it, so the poll needs to be scrapped altogether.

Do you realize how sloppily put together the Harris Interactive Poll is and has been from the beginning? The original panel's resumes were so well evaluated it included a guy whose only qualification to be a voter was that he was the Troy head coach's son-in-law. Some schools have multiple people voting whose primary association is with their program. For example, out of 114 voters three are Hawaii affiliated: former head coach and current Kamehameha-Hawaii AD Bob Wagner, former AD Hugh Yoshida, and 26 year Honolulu Star-Bulletin reporter Cindy Luis.

There are three voters from SMU, including both halves of their 1982 quarterback/wide receiver combo Lance McIlhenny and Bobby Leach. Meanwhile, there aren't three people with primary ties to all the schools combined from the entire state of Florida. We're supposed to accept this as a balanced group of voters?

The most persistently irritating thing about the Harris Poll is that the voters aren't held accountable until it's too late for doing so to change anything. The AP poll, which this was designed to replace, makes its voters rankings available weekly. That transparency means voters who choose to differ widely from the general consensus will have their thoughts challenged. Sometimes those arguments may reveal things they hadn't thought through well enough or information they didn't know.

Anyone choosing to participate in the Harris Poll should have been required to make their weekly votes available as well, but instead only the final ballots are open to the public. It lends itself to all kinds of irresponsible voting - here are this year's five most egregious examples of poor pollster behavior...

1. Larry Keech, former sportswriter who covered Wake Forest for the Greensboro, NC News and Record - Keech votes all undefeated teams first, then all one loss teams, etc. without making any effort to evaluate schedule quality. Hence, he was one of two voters last year to have eventual national champion UF at fifth in the final Harris Poll. Did he learn from his error? Nope - he was the one voter to put Hawaii first overall, had a Kansas team that didn't win their division ranked second ahead of both teams that actually played in the Big 12 title game and had Florida ranked 15th while leaving three SEC teams that finished ranked in the Harris top 25 off his ballot altogether.

2. Dr. Terry Schmidt, dentist and former Ball State and Chicago Bears cornerback - Another voter with a Kansas team that lost its own division and has no wins over anyone in the Harris top 25 ranked second overall. He has Oklahoma third, Missouri seventh and LSU at number 10. Okaaaaaay. (He's one of two voters from football powerhouse Ball State, by the way.)

3. Craig Morton, former Cal and NFL quarterback - Georgia gets his second place vote, Hawaii is at number six, and Florida at seven - four spots ahead of LSU. The team with two triple OT losses who won the SEC is well behind two teams that didn't make it to Atlanta, one of whom has more losses and was beaten by LSU during the season. Does anyone want to even try and explain how this ballot makes any sense?

4. Paul Schneider, KBOI radio in Boise - The man who's been the radio play by play voice of Boise State for 34 years says BSU's the 13th ranked team in the country, two spots ahead of Florida. He's got Hawaii at two, Kansas at three ahead of both Big 12 title game participants and LSU at ten. There is no way to justify a current "voice" of any school having a vote in a poll this important, and even less of one when Schneider clearly uses it to be an irresponsible homer.

5. Bill Arnsparger, former LSU coach and UF athletic director - I'm thinking if coach Arnsparger was on the job this year to see Kansas ranked second and LSU at number five in this poll, he wouldn't have been too crazy about the person who did that. AD Arnsparger would have likely been curious about someone putting UF at 14, behind BYU and Boston College among others. Whether Arnsparger has an agenda, I can't say for sure. The silliness of his vote does make you wonder.

So what can be done to fix the Harris Poll? I'd like to see the current setup scrapped and a smaller BCS selection poll formed. If an effective selection committee can be appointed for basketball each year, there's no reason a balanced group of well qualified voters - five appointees from each of the six BCS conferences plus five non-BCS school voters and five national media figures - can't be selected to vote in a new poll. Forty people can do every bit as good a job at voting as 114.

The BCS should start the new 40 person poll midway through the season and make it completely transparent so people have to defend their votes if they choose to be homers for their school/conference. Unlike in the current Harris Poll, no one should be a voter for more than two consecutive years. Does this solve all the problems with the BCS? Not by a long shot, but it's much more easily doable than the elaborate playoff setups people are always suggesting. We have to start somewhere, and this flawed mess of a ratings component is as good a place as any.

The Heath Cline Show airs daily from 11-1 on Gainesville's Star 99.5 FM

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