May 28, 2009
Largely lost amid the righteous outrage over coaches retreating behind the veil of secrecy Wednesday were another pair of potential changes to the Coaches' poll, both of them* much more drastic shifts than the (traditional) specter of a secret ballot:
Among the Gallup recommendations that will be under study for the future:
• Reduce to 10 or 15 the number of teams ranked.
• Evaluate with other shareholders in college football the value of a preseason poll.
Reducing the number of teams in the poll seems weird and arbitrary, especially when the current number (25) seems like a good balance between increased inclusion and visibility of more teams -- more obscure schools in particular -- and upholding a high standard, but you know, whatever. Only the top handful of spots have any tangible impact on bowl destinations and the distribution of the small fortunes that accompany them.
Eliminating the preseason poll, though, is something else. I'm not as much of a critic as preseason ballots as some people -- overwhelmingly, they shake out accordingly over the course of the season -- but I'm not too dense to recognize that the initial pecking order can make a difference: If you don't think so, ask Auburn if starting the season 16 spots behind USC and Oklahoma made any difference in the end in 2004, or how much beginning the season unranked cost Utah last year, or Boise State in 2004 and 2008, when BCS snubs kept BSU from earning millions after undefeated regular seasons. Beginning the voting four or six weeks into the season can give teams like the Broncos a chance to make their case as a top-10 or 15 team without the burden of hopping anyone in the line.
Think about it this way, I guess: If you can't rid the poll of bias or shortsighted assumptions that are more intuitive than analytical, at least there are a couple shreds of reality forming the assumptions.
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* I don't have anything to say about the other proposal under consideration -- "Develop an online process for capturing coaches’ votes that would assist in improving the accuracy of the rankings and decrease USA TODAY’s review time for each vote" -- except, uh, has "accuracy" been a problem?