Johnson: Butkus Award Defies Logic

This year's finalists for the 2010 Butkus Award, which traditionally goes to one of the nation's top collegiate linebackers, raise questions about the award's credibility.

On Wednesday, the Butkus Award announced its 2010 collegiate finalists.

They were Akeem Ayers out of UCLA, Justin Houston out of Georgia, Von Miller from Texas A&M, Luke Kuechly from Boston College and Bruce Carter from North Carolina.

Unless I'm missing something, that is an odd list. It's certainly not a list of the best performing collegiate linebackers this year. So I figured I would check out the Butkus Foundation's website to read up on what criteria they use to pick their finalists.

The site lists five traits as its selection criteria. They are toughness, on-field leadership, competitiveness, football character and linebacking skills. OK, that's a little vague but it seems like they are looking for the best linebackers on winning teams who are known for being upstanding young men on and off the field.

But when I look at those criteria and then I look at a list of the linebackers putting up the best numbers across the nation, there's a disconnect. Why is Carter, whose team is 6-5 and embroiled in year-long NCAA investigation, on the list over someone like Miami's Colin McCarthy, Virginia Tech's Bruce Taylor, or NC State's Nate Irving?

Those players are on better teams, have put up better performances and none of them were almost held out of the season opener because of cheating allegations. Irving also happened to come back from a near-fatal car crash – you know, in case you were looking for someone who showed toughness or character. Oh, wait.

I attempted to find a list of the panel members that vote on the award, but the website doesn't give a full list of its voters. Here's the description of the selection panel, straight from the award's website.

"The Butkus Committee is comprised of 51 voters stemming from the NFL, college and high school ranks, including many NFL general managers and head coaches, NCAA head coaches and defensive coordinators and seasoned NFL talent evaluators who have been heavily exposed to the nation's top linebackers."

Clearly, these 51 ‘experts' got too much of their exposure from reading NFL scouting reports. Four of those five finalists are considering top draft prospects. The only outlier is Kuechly, a sophomore who isn't draft eligible and leads the nation in tackles.

When questioned about the award's selection of Bruce Carter, or its failure to include any number of more deserving linebackers in his place, fans received an e-mail from the Foundation's listed contact, Ron Arp. Everyone received the same canned e-mail response, regardless of the question that was asked. Here's an excerpt from the e-mail.

Several on the committee specifically noted Carter's less-traditional finesse-oriented style that is similar to 2004 winner Derrick Johnson, and felt his overall athletic performance and coverage ability merited recognition. They also noted the talent and achievements of Nate Irving, his tremendous comeback and his recent record-setting performance. Both are apt to find themselves in the NFL in different defensive schemes.

Even in this e-mail they can't escape their love of NFL potential. This is a collegiate award, and none of the selection criteria says anything about NFL prospects, yet that is quite clearly what this committee is using as a basis for its voting.

Look, these people are free to pick whoever they want to win their award. But when you name five finalists and one of them isn't even going to end up a first-team all-conference player, or at least shouldn't, you are devaluing the significance and respect associated with your award.

Whoever wins the 2010 Butkus Award can't feel like they won the award because they exemplified the qualities outlined in the selection criteria. They'll have won simply because they were the prettiest girl at the ball – or, more appropriately, the kid who made NFL scouts drool the most.

So congratulations in advance to whichever linebacker wins this award. I wish I could say they deserved it.

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