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Submission Corner
« Speaking of Polls | Main | It's Saturday, and You're Bored »

Headline Good, Rest Not So Good

Here's an article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution dated July 31, 2005 titled:

Commentary: You want my vote?  I vote for the old, simpler bowl system.  By Furman Bisher, Cox News Service.

I'm feelin' kinda Fisky, so let's take a look at this.

Well, I should have felt honored. Where else but in America is an old dude such as I invited to pass judgment on college football teams?

Nice gig.

Where else, of course, for only in America do colleges mix football with education. In fact, during the autumn months you can barely detect education beneath all the clamor of football, which hangs over the campus like a gathering storm.

You clearly enjoy your role as writer and social critic.  Clamor, gathering storm... oh, the imagery.

Once upon a time, college teams were invited to play in bowl games, reserved only for top-grade teams with the craftiest athletics directors. Bowl sponsors went for the teams they wanted, invited them and it was done.

First assertion of fact from which follows the main argument.

Some used to say that the bowl picture was never sorted out until Bear Bryant decided which way he was going, then everything else fell into place. It was that simple. Bowls did business with the colleges, the colleges made the best deal they could, alumni got in line for tickets and made their reservations, and the game was on.

It sounds so romantic and idyllic.

"Get your best holt" was the advice athletics directors got, and the most industrious ones got their best "holt."


Bowl games were named for fruit, flowers, sweetening or in one case, even the sun. Now they're named for tires, credit cards, steakhouses and cellphones. Anything marketable.

You forgot the Salad Bowl.  To be serious for a moment, the new names are annoying and have stricken from memory some more identifiable bowl names.  But that's part of the cost of doing business in America.  I'm not shedding any tears.

The other major change is how the bowls and the teams get together, which brings me around to the Bowl Championship Series, or BCS, as it is best known. The whole process is determined by polls, and there have been polls of all sorts, media polls, coaches polls, computerized polls and a new one this year, known as the Harris Interactive College Football Poll.

Here comes the second argument thrust.

The Harris poll has been in the business for years, polling everything that can be polled. This is Harris' first bold venture in the football field, and I use the word bold advisedly. When you start voting on things having to do with college football teams, you'd better have a thick skin and a strong defense.

Nice finish, even if it's cliche-ridden and contrived given the subject matter.  But a good, tangential point is made regarding the frenzied nature of public decisionmaking such as voting in the world of college football.

The other day I had a very official letter inviting me to be one of the pollsters. "You have been nominated to be part of this group, and your participation is important to the success and statistical balance of the poll results," I was told.


Enough to make your chest swell, especially for one who has been out of the polling business since Ronald Reagan was president. In fact, I was once chairman of the NCAA media committee that assigned colleges to the division in which they performed, based on strength of schedule. That was easy.

Hopefully you were there trying to put a brake on the super-expansion of Division I into the current 117 (119?) team monster that it is.

For the longest time, I was one of the voters who decided who won the Heisman Trophy. When the Downtown Athletic Club sold out to television, yet relied on the media to do the voting, that was unsavory enough. But when the show was sold out to the people who make whatever Suzuki makes, that did it. I didn't choose to participate in a vote to determine Japan's college football player of the year.

Now isn't this a bit dramatic?  HP, have any thoughts?

To play ball in the Harris poll means you must get a bellyful of football on television


until they turn the lights out on the West Coast

This almost did in Reggie Bush's Heisman campaign.  See: State, Fresno.  Luckily the public made like that elementary game of "telephone" where an initial message is whispered from person to person until it arrives back at the original messenger, completely disfigured.  Last I heard Bush had gone from running for 295 yards to taking down that horrible beast Grendel.

Until Washington State is through playing UCLA

Fantastic game.  Seriously, I hope Harris voters saw it.

It means you get up Sunday morning and start putting together all the scores

Or doing your level best to watch as many games as possible Saturday, and staying awake the extra few hours to cheerfully fulfill a responsibility.

a lot of the games over too late to make the morning paper, and you rate the teams

In this era, there's no excuse to be voting based on whatever's published in the morning papers.  Either you care and watch (or gametrack, etc.) as many games as possible, and you are concerned about fairness to give every team their due, or you aren't.

Lee Corso, the untaciturn voice of ESPN, said the other day, "I don't vote on these things. I don't know how good Oregon State or Texas Western is."

That's damning.

That pretty much tells the story of just how reliable a college football poll can be.  You fire from the seat of your pants.  You pick by what you read and hear and seldom see — like, for instance, I never saw Alex Smith throw a football last season. Now he's a multimillionaire San Francisco 49er.

It doesn't have to be that way.  It shouldn't be that way.  I'm not a voter, but I go to pretty great lengths to watch as many games as possible every week.  It's easy to do if you care.  I understand many AP voters are beat writers and have little time to deviate from their team and its opponent, but what about those involved in the Harris poll?  Nobody's asking for perfection, only a respectable effort and hopefully an independent and informed voter.

And if you didn't see a single Alex Smith pass two seasons ago, you're not much of a college football fan and shouldn't be anywhere near the game's power apparatus.

Well, it was nice of HICFP. But the decision was easy: There's a rule at our paper that we don't vote on any kind of poll, and that took care of that.

Saved by the bell. 

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