Q&A: Angelique Chengelis

U-M beat writer Angelique Chengelis of the Detroit News is one of two writers from Michigan that participates in the Associated Press college football poll each week. She was kind enough to chat about the process and the challenges of voting. We closed talking a little about her relationship with Lloyd Carr finally about her new book, 100 Things Michigan Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die.

When did you start voting in the AP poll?
It was a few years back and I did it for a couple years.  When I started working the other job with ESPN and started covering some of the race weekends, and I felt like it wasn’t fair for me to keep voting because I wasn’t available every weekend to really watch and keep up with all the games.  This year Larry Lage of the Associated Press in Michigan asked me to do it again.  While I’ll still have the job with ESPN, I’ve only had two conflicts and felt comfortable going ahead and voting. 
It’s really a challenge every week.   It is really hard to keep up with what every team is doing around the country, but it’s a fun challenge.

The roster of voters is adjusted each season (and sometimes during the season).  Is there a formal process to add voters?
I think the Associated Press has someone like Larry Lage in major cities or regions, and they’re asked to find a representative.  I think the preference is to find someone who covers the major division I programs, if that’s the right word.  Larry was really adamant about having me do it again this year and I’ve been covering football for a long time. 
As far as people who drop out, the AP sends you a couple emails before the start of the season saying, ‘Look, if you know you’re going to be on vacation for two or so weeks during the season, please let us know now.’  Or, ‘If you’ve got this going on or that going on and you cannot be a voter who’s available every week or give it your all, then you’ve gotta back out.’  And occasionally there are people who have things coming up in their personal lives and they realize they can’t balance it.  And I think there are others who realize they don’t enjoy the voting process after doing it a couple weeks.

Do they publish voting guidelines/suggestions on how to vote each year? 
No, not really.  But you don’t want to have a regional bias.   It’s like voting for the Heisman trophy.  In 1997, because I was watching Charles Woodson every weekend and seeing how dynamic he was, I think it was natural for people to think, ‘Ohh, she’s covering Michigan so she’s voting for him.’  I think you really want to avoid that regional bias, and that’s why I really make a point to keep tabs in what’s going on in the Pac 10, and out west with teams like Boise State and certainly with the Big 12.  We see enough of the highlights on television, but I also try to read the local coverage of those teams so that there’s no bias.  I think that’s what they want us to do when we go into voting process.

Do you know anyone who’s been punished or removed as a voter from the AP Poll?
That’s a really good question and I haven’t.  I have to be honest when they revise the voter list each season I wonder about that. 
I actually have a story with regard to me.  There was that Minnesota game one year that went really, really late into the night.  I was sitting at the Metrodome until two or three in the morning and I had a really early flight so I knew I wouldn’t be able to get my vote in the next morning.  In my fatigue and kind of harried state, I left Oklahoma out of the top 25 and they should have been in there at 10 or 11 if I recall correctly.  I got hammered by Oklahoma fans by emails.  I was straight up and told them it was totally a mistake, that I was pressed by travel and stayed up late and all that.  I was even responding to people, saying, ‘Look, maybe I shouldn’t vote anymore,’ and, ‘I’m really ashamed of this mistake.’ But then the Oklahoma fans really supported me and thanked me for being so honest, and told me I should keep voting.  I talked it over and it was an honest mistake and I moved on.  For Oklahoma, my vote had nothing to do on whether they stayed in or out of the poll, but to this day that incident sticks with me every time I go to vote.

So how do voters actually submit their vote each week?  I would assume you see how you voted the week prior?  Or do you have to put a fresh ballot in each week?

I send in a fresh ballot each week.

When you say ‘send in’, do you submit an online form or do you email something in like a Word document or a spreadsheet or something?

I just send in an email, ranking the teams 1-25.   I have a couple different email addresses that I send it to and that’s what I’ve always done.  You’d think it’d be more formal, wouldn’t you?

Speaking of missing votes, Kirk Herbstreit didn’t vote this week (apparently due to logistical reasons).  When is the ballot due each week?

On Sundays, by noon eastern.  I’ve pushed it a couple times.  I really get hung up a lot with the bottom six or seven positions usually.  I sit there and I have a lot of scratching out, taking teams out, putting teams back in…I do that a lot. It’s not an exact science and I’m probably not great at it.  It truly is a challenge for me every week. 
I don’t want to stick people’s rules on how to vote.  At the start of the season if you beat a team, say Ohio State, I’ll probably keep you ahead of Ohio State at the beginning of the season.  But late in the season it’s different.  Like Oregon last week [interview was conducted before Oregon lost to Stanford]; it’s not like I ignore the Boise State game at the start of the season, but I’m not putting as much into that at this point.  I think Oregon’s a really fine team and I voted them ahead of Boise State.

So far as philosophy, you’re looking for the best team at a given point in the season?

Yeah.  I’m really not a big fan of having polls until around mid-October, and I know a lot of people feel that way.  I really do start focusing on the teams that are playing the best now, as opposed to looking back to how a team did in week one versus a certain team.  I’m really more tuned into what they are doing now, and looking ahead at their schedule.  I don’t project, but I do consider what’s ahead for them.

Regarding the timing of the first ballot, if voters are truly evaluating teams week-to-week and adjusting their ballots appropriately, what’s the harm of voting in the beginning of the season?

It’s a good question and I hadn’t thought of it that way.  I do think the poll is nice because it generates talk and hype and all that.  But I wonder, when we’re doing that preseason poll, do we really know what these teams have coming back?  I was trying to scour spring practice stuff and preseason articles to try to evaluate these teams.  I find the preseason poll the most challenging.  Are you using last year’s poll and basing it how they finished in the bowl games, or are you looking at what they have back, or how things went in the preseason camp?  That’s why I think the first couple weeks are tough because you just don’t know.

Sure, and what was Michigan ranked heading into 1997?  15th or so?

Yeah.  I thought Michigan State was going to be really good this year, and I had them at 25 in the preseason.  I was really waffling between Michigan State and Iowa in that poll and obviously I should have listened to the little Iowa Angel on my right shoulder instead of the Sparty Angel on my left [laughs]!

They just announced that the final coaches’ ballot will be made public.  Do you like that and do you think all of the coaches ballots should be made public (like the writers)?          

Yeah, I do.  What’s the word Rich Rodriguez used…”transparence.”  That would be nice and I think I understand the reasons they don’t make them public.  I think a lot of coaches vote based on their conference affiliation, and whether they coached at another school.  If you’ve looked at some of the final ballots you can see some of that trickling into that vote..  But I think you should be able to see it.  It’s an important ballot, obviously, in determining how the BCS goes.  But I don’t think we’ll ever see that week-to-week.  I don’t think the coaches will ever allow it.

The challenge of the writers finding time to review all the teams to make a ballot is one thing, but what about the coaches?  We all know how much time these guys spending on their own teams.  How do they really know what’s going on elsewhere in the country?

They don’t know.  Rodriguez probably has Dusty Rutledge checking the games and giving him a list of all the games and what’s happened, and they submit their vote.  But Rich says he pays a lot of attention on the final ballot.

Do you think we need a playoff?

I never thought that but now I think we do.   People are afraid we’d lose all the great debates that come with college football, the way it is now.  I don’t think you’d lose any of that, and I think it’d give us a truer national champion.  Michigan’s had teams, I think one of Gary Moeller’s teams, that started very sluggish but the way they finished, you could have made the argument that they were one of the best teams in the country.  Teams like that wouldn’t be in the mix without a playoff.

Do you plan on participating AP poll for a while?

I don’t know.  It’s really funny because every time I do it I get kind of nervous because I want to do a good job.  I have a lot of angst when I’m filling out my Heisman Trophy ballot, and I think about it for a few days to make sure I get the right three guys listed.   I know it’s just one vote but I feel like it’s a lot of pressure.  If Larry wants me to do it again next year I’ll do it, but I think I am getting a few more gray hairs and I think it might be because of the voting [laughs].

Do you enjoy being the Michigan beat writer?

I don’t think I’d want another beat.  I love college athletics and I love college football and every day it’s something different covering Michigan football.  There’s always something interesting.  Players are enjoyable to cover and I always enjoy the challenge of dealing with the coaches [laughs].

Speaking of the challenges with the coaches, people talk about you having a special relationship with Lloyd Carr – is that true?  Do you feel like you had a unique relationship with Coach Carr?

Yeah I do, and I think it grew.  Even though I’d known him as the defensive coordinator, when he became the head coach, those first two years there was a lot of friction between us.  I wasn’t crazy about him and I don’t think he liked me.  I wish I could tell you what the moment was when I thought, ‘Huh, I really like Lloyd Carr and really respect him.’   And I think he had sort of a mutual feeling for me as far as respect.  I think we did develop something and it was always professional because I felt like I could be hard on his teams when I needed to be.  I think we had a lot of trust and had a lot of fun ribbing each other.  I loved those Monday press conference; those were my favorites.

Do you still talk to Coach Carr?

Yes, and he wrote the forward to the book that I did, and that was a nice thing to do.  It was challenging for him because I don’t think he’s used to writing something like that, so it took him awhile to put down his thoughts.  I happened to run into him recently and it’s always fun to see him.

Speaking of 100 Things Michigan Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die, it’s been out for a while now.  How do you market this book for the many of us out there that maybe aren’t your traditional bookworms, those that patrol the message boards and read blogs?

It’s supposed to be sort of an interactive thing.  Sure there are basic things like knowing about Bo Schembechler and the winged helmet, but there are also ways for fans to be interactive and I do include things like the message boards and how people can subscribe, and join chats and be involved on a daily basis.  I talk about how fans can experience things like how to running out on the field in Michigan Stadium.  Things like that.  So it’s just not just a primer on Michigan football history, it’s about how to be involved.

- Greg Dooley is a GoBlueWolverine special writer.  Dooley also contributes to MVictors.com, a website covering the culture and history of Michigan athletics.  He can be reached at greg@mvictors.com.

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