May 12, 2009

Changes to the College Football Coaches Poll on the horizon?

Interesting news out of the college football meetings last weekend. The coaches association is considering some changes to the coaches poll. Let's take a closer look at some of the proposed changes.

1) The coaches' final regular-season ballots and the identity of the voters would be secret.

I don't know how long the open ballot has been in place, but the final regular season ballot has recently been made available to the public. It has become tradition in early December to scrutinize these ballots. Who wouldn't want to know how Mack Brown voted or Joe Pa or Steve Spurrier?? I enjoy the publication of the votes. I like looking through the ballots to see who voted for who and whether conference coaches stayed loyal to each other.

I have to think about whether I would be ok with changing to the secret ballot for the final regular season vote. On the one hand, I think it's ridiculous that the coaches in the COACHES POLL are trying to hide from being accountable for their vote. The whole thing just seems shady. If you want to have a say in who goes to the BCS title game, then man up and tell us who you voted for. The coaches poll is already a joke as it is. Most of these coaches don't watch that many games outside of their conference. Why add another element of anonymity to make this process even more secretive and shady?? I don't want to see coaches using their anonymity to knock other teams down ten spots lower in the rankings than they should be. Some of these coaches have an axe to grind about other schools and use their vote to achieve that. The last thing I want to see is Spurrier or Rich Rodriguez knocking ND out of the BCS by voting us #21 or something like that.

On the other hand, is it possible that anonymity would actually allow the coaches to vote their minds instead of just doing the politically correct thing or voting for conference affiliates?? A lot of these coaches vote with the knowledge that everyone is going to be scrutinizing their vote the next day. That has to have an effect on their ballot. I think it's lame that coaches vote their conference brethren higher. Just vote the teams that you think are actually the best. If coaches could actually be candid with their votes, then I could maybe get behind the idea of secret ballots.

2) Whether or not 25 is the right number of teams for the poll.

Interesting idea, but I'm curious about something. Why is this idea even being discussed?? Is there something wrong with a top 25 that I'm not aware of?? Did the coaches protest about having to come up with 25 teams to rank?? Or was it the opposite and they wanted more teams to rank so that teams can feel better about themselves?? Is this just something so that Jim Leavitt can go to his fanbase and say "hey, we finished #28!! We were ranked!!"??? Did the mid-majors complain about not getting enough teams ranked, and now we can have Southern Miss and Central Michigan sneaking into the rankings in the late 20s??

I need to find out the reasoning behind this one. The top 25 is tradition. I don't see it as a pressing issue that needs to change, but maybe I need to think about it more.

One reason I could think for having a top 20 instead of a top 25 is that it might affect the BCS standings in some capacity. If coaches aren't able to properly evaluate those last five teams in the top 25, it might affect the BCS standings for the top 5 that probably beat one or two of those teams at the bottom of the top 25. These BCS computer rankings are usually tight, so ranking a team 21 vs. 24 might actually make a difference. Maybe these coaches don't feel comfortable ranking anyone beyond the top 20.

The only other reason out there to reduce the top 25 is that these coaches just don't think 25 teams deserve to be ranked. I'll go ahead and say that there's a 0% chance that's the reasoning. These college coaches will do anything to trumpet their records. Heck, Jim Boeheim has been foolishly advocating an expansion of the NCAA Tournament in basketball for years. Coaches want to be able to go to their fans and point to some benchmarks that the team accomplished. NCAA Tournament, bowl game, top 25 finish, etc. No coaching association is going to voluntarily reduce the top 25 by five spots because that's five less schools that can tell their fans that they finished in the top 25.

Now that I think more about it, I think it would be kinda cool to only have a top 15 or something like that. As a Notre Dame fan, I could care less about finishing #19 or #23 in the poll. That's considered a mediocre/bad year at Notre Dame under historical terms. Finishing in the top 15 is probably a good barometer for being a really good team. Anyone below that is just filling out the rest of the poll. A lot of these teams at the bottom of the top 25 are like 8-4 type teams. If the coaches wanted to just rank the top 15 as the teams worthy of being ranked and everyone else was lumped in with the rest, sign me up.

Anyway, I personally think the change to the top 25 would be an expansion to 30 or even 40, so discussing the merits of a top 15 are probably a waste of time. While I'm not going to jump up and down if there's an expansion to 30 teams being ranked, I also cringe at the thought of watering down this traditional benchmark. The last thing I want to see out of Charlie Weis (or Mike Brey for that matter if this also happens in basketball) is this "well, we finished #29, so anytime you finish ranked it's a good season!" talk. No thanks. Finishing #29 in football is no great shakes.

3) Elimination of the preseason poll

Here's an interesting idea that I've heard for years from college football writers and message board types. No preseason poll, and maybe no polls at all until the first few games are underway. The theory behind this idea is that you take the preseason bias out of the picture. The coaches won't be obliged to keep a team ranked high in the standings if they don't look impressive early on, and it might also reward teams that come out of nowhere and play great. A team like Alabama last year came out of nowhere (although college football fans could see that coming from a mile away before the season started) and shot up the polls like a rocket. If they hadn't had a preseason poll, Bama would have been ranked #1 by the end of September when the first poll was released. Instead, they had to inch their way up until they eventually reached #1.

I could get behind this idea, but I do have one fear here. My fear is that some of these mid-majors will get ranked too high out of the start and snake their way into the BCS title game. NO. I don't want that at all. I don't want Utah to get off to a 4-0 start and then suddenly be in the top 2 when the first poll is released because they are one of 2-3 undefeated teams. Call me biased or whatever, but I want my heavyweights in the top 5.

Elimination of the preseason poll is not the biggest problem with the ranking system. The biggest problem with the polls is that these clown pollsters put too much weight on how many losses you have. They don't seem to understand the concept of strength of schedule. An undefeated West Virginia team that had played NO ONE was ranked #1 two years ago while there were better teams with 1 or even 2 losses behind them. The SEC champ with one loss or even two losses is better than some undefeated Big 10 team, and yet these SEC teams always have to wait on some crappy Big Ten team like Penn State to lose before they can get into the title game. I don't care about your total losses. I care about how good you are and who played and who you have beaten. A one loss team is not necessarily better than a two loss team, and an undefeated team is not necessarily better than a one loss team if the one loss team played a brutal schedule. Look at who has won the title the last three years!!! SEC teams with multiple losses. It's not some coincidence.

To me, that is the biggest issue in college football. I want coaches to start to understand that the level of play in the SEC and at USC is at a different level than the level of play elsewhere even if the loss totals don't match up. We are long past due for an SEC champ-USC title game. Heck, that should be the title game EVERY YEAR, and yet we keep missing that because these pollsters keep voting in these teams with fewer losses than USC.

Anyway, should be interesting to see if any of these changes take place. The only one that would probably have any major impact on the regular season would be the preseason poll issue, so we'll have to see if that one shows up some time in the next couple seasons.

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