Thursday, May 28, 2009

coaches' poll is once again a farce

So, football coaches can't handle the heat.

That's the only logical conclusion to the story that the coaches' poll in football is going to go back underground. Starting in 2010, once again you won't be able to tell who voted who where, despite the fact that each coach directly determines 1/180th of the national title picture.

I can see one, and only one, legitimate reason. Let's say Mack Brown needs to figure out where to put Oklahoma, who he's beaten but who is still in the title hunt. Brown truly thinks Oklahoma is overrated. Doesn't think their defense is so hot. He can think of five teams he thinks would beat Oklahoma. He can put them sixth and nudge their overall standing ever so slightly downward, but obviously, if the rest of the country thinks Oklahoma is #2 and the Texas coach is voting them #6, there's going to be a lot of flak aimed his way, and no amount of explanation will make it go away.

This, however, is ridiculous. Don't coaches put up with this stuff on a daily basis anyway? Didn't Al Groh have to walk past Beta Bridge and find that someone wanted him gone badly enough to spend money on a few gallons of paint? Why are you starting this guy and not that guy? Why did you call that play? Why didn't you punt? Why did you punt? Seriously - when you're hired as a head football coach at a major university, if you're surprised that people are going to question what you do and even get angry over it, you're at your first and last job. And if Mack Brown votes Oklahoma #6 when everyone else thinks they're #2, who's gonna hate you? Oklahomans? They already do! Who cares?

This is why you see the Blogpoll directing voters to vote based on what a team has done rather than what they might do, once there's enough evidence to go on. Yes, it still requires a certain amount of guesswork, but it's much easier and more accurate to compare the resumes of two teams that haven't played than to try and guess who'd win if they played. And a lot more objective. If someone is being stupid about a team, you can whack them upside the head with the hard evidence. If they still stubbornly think that team is the best in the land based on stuff other than the results, well, you can argue all you want, but an opinion is an opinion.

The convenient excuse the coaches have is that they hired Gallup to advise them, and of course Gallup told them they should make it anonymous, because that's all Gallup ever does. Gallup is in the business of conducting polls that are as close to statistically accurate as possible. Anonymous is their business. It's like being unsure of whether or not to sue someone and asking a trial lawyer for advice. Hiring Gallup was either really dumb or a calculated move to provide a shield to hide behind.

This is not a poll that ever pretends to be statistically accurate, nor does it ever need to be, nor should it ever try to be. When Congress votes on a bill, are you looking for a statistically accurate representation? No, obviously. You could argue that, in theory, a closed vote would ensure the best representation because Congressmen could vote their conscience (HA) without being bothered by outside influences. Communism, theory, etc. In practice we all know what would happen. Most bills that pass would do so by a vote somewhere in the neighborhood of 100-0 and 435-0 because there would be such shameful behind-closed-doors vote-swapping that the whole exercise would be pointless. Accountability to the people who voted them in is why you don't have a Senator promising to vote for that income tax hike if he can get federal money for that road to his lakeside cottage. At least, not too often.

The coaches' poll should be the same way. Coaches who can't take the heat should get out of the kitchen - and toss their multi-million dollar paycheck into the oven on the way out. Accountability is part of the job description. It's a part of the reason - not the biggest reason, but certainly part of it - why they're paid so damn much. And it's absurd for them to get to have a say in the championship and not have to be held accountable for it. If the coaches don't want to be held responsible for what they say - then don't vote. Simple, you'd think.

This isn't, by the way, about some high-and-mighty "right to know" for the public. You and me, we really don't have that right. It's about trying to make the national championship process the best it can be. Transparency is much better than no transparency - period. The original complaint about the BCS was that people didn't really know what went on. The data got fed into some computers, and some polls were taken, and the whole process churned its gears and spit out a couple of teams who then went to go play for the title. Over the past ten years the BCS has taken steps - slow, torturous steps - to improve this. It's now much easier to figure out than it used to be, to the point where, a couple weeks out from the end of the season, most people know what has to happen for Teams X, Y, or Z to make it to the title game.

It's not like hiding the results produced a better result in the past. Michigan fans know this better than anyone, having had half a championship yanked out from underneath because the coaches didn't have to divulge their preferences. The rumor goes that Phil Fulmer dropped Michigan as far as he felt he could get away with in retaliation for his boy Manning losing the Heisman to Charles Woodson. Why would the coaches not want to put that kind of thing to rest, unless that's actually what went on?

For the BCS's part, they appear to be taking the right tack so far.

"'In the past, the conference commissioners have strongly favored transparency,' BCS spokesman Bill Hancock said Thursday. 'And they will discuss [the new AFCA stance] at the end of the '09 season.'"
That's a plus and hopefully code for "we're thinking of kicking the coaches out on their ass." The BCS has every right to take its ball and go home and leave the coaches' poll out in the cold, and they should. At a time when Congress is sticking its ugly nose into the BCS' business, the last thing they need is one of their key components telling everyone to piss off. The biggest problem for the BCS will be finding a new poll, but that's exactly what should happen if the coaches insist on being babies about this.

1 comment:

Bird said...

First, let me start by saying that I knew the guy that used to fill out Chan Gailey's poll ballots when he voted. He said Chan would only really put in his input for the final poll but was mostly too busy during the season to worry about it.

Concerning the post, I think you've got a couple reasons that it's hidden.

1) The coaches don't want to be dragged up and down the street when their ballots show conference/regional/irrational biases. The Mack Brown example is a good one.

2) To protect coaches from their conference offices for not voting their own teams into BCS games. It keeps the poll less political by making sure no one is obligated financially to make a decision that will determine the BCS lineup. Imagine the pressure Mack Brown'd get from the Big 12 office to vote straight Big 12 teams if they actually could see his ballot.

Those are my thoughts.