Potential Integrity Of USA Today Poll Brought To Light By Lane Kiffin’s Comments
The concept is sound. Have a number of experts in the sport determine the top teams. They know more about it than sports writers anyway, as many are quick to say.
But the execution, like a UCLA offensive possession, is seriously flawed.
This has been simmering for years but came to a head with none other than Lane Kiffin. Of course.
Kiffin, who can’t tell the truth if he were standing in front of judge, said he would not vote USC #1 in the pre-season USA Today coaches poll when in fact he voted USC #1 in the USA Today coaches poll. He covered himself, as he is prone to do, by making up some “dog ate my homework” excuse but it was too late. USA Today broke ranks and exposed the lie, then Kiffin removed himself from the voting. Which, frankly, instantly adds a bit of credibility to it.
But the big picture here is that coaches should not be voting in a poll in the first place. In fact, many of them don’t, even as they are assigned to do it. Much of the time, the SIDs (Sports Information Directors, another term for the athletic department’s public relations director) turn in the coach’s ballot. Coaches know their team and their opponents but only occasionally catch part of other teams’ games. They might see scores, but with something so important hanging in the balance – a say in the National Championship game – they need to pay attention.
And they don’t have the time to pay attention. Do you think Nick Saban wants to take time away from his team to figure out if USC, Oklahoma State, Oregon or Oklahoma is worthy of a Top 5 ranking, or who the #25 team in the country is each week? He can sure tell you about Arkansas and LSU, though.
This is nothing new. Just a few years ago, Ohio State’s Jim Tressell tried to use the system to influence the team the Buckeyes would play in the National Championship. And through the years, coaches have had the ability – and power – to sway results in close final polls. In 1978, the Purdue coach voted Alabama #6 and USC #1 after the #2 Tide had defeated #1 Penn State in the Sugar Bowl. By ranking Alabama so low, it enabled USC to capture the UPI National Championship (the coach wanted either a Big 10 or Pac-10 team to win it).
Now if you felt USC deserved the title, fine, but knowing just how much you had to drop the competitor, well, he should have been thrown out of the voting for that stunt.
But what about sports writers voting in the AP poll, long considered the standard for determining the National Champion in the pre-BCS days. There was always an “East Coast bias” against teams from the South. And while the ones best suited to vote are actually at games covering teams, which means it’s impossible to see all key games taking place on any given Saturday.
Still, they are better judges than coaches. And today, with so many games on TV, many in the South are gathering at their hotel bars to watch West Coast games.
The best solution is sports writers and a panel, which is kind of what the sport is getting with the four-team playoff in 2014. Then again, we’ll see how that works out when it arrives.