The Fallacy of the College Football Associated Press and USA Today Coach’s Polls

Geoff Ratliff

It’s that time of the year again. Week 7 of the college football season is in the books and the first BCS rankings of the year were released last night. Relax, this is not going to be another rant about how college football needs a playoff system – it does but that’s another topic for another day. Instead, I want to focus on an even bigger issue which rarely impacts the National Championship race, but bothers me nonetheless: the irresponsible nature with which human voters treat the polls.

Exhibit A from Week 4 of this season: a veteran Oklahoma State team, ranked #7, travels to College Station to face the Texas A&M Aggies in a tough road environment. A&M was a 3.5 point favorite, no doubt due to the home-field advantage, and most people expected this to be a tightly contested, high scoring, shoot out. We got a little bit more defense than anyone expected and Oklahoma State escaped with a narrow 30-29 victory. You can’t win a game by less than one point so this is exactly the type of outcome you’d want from a matchup of conference opponents separated by one spot in the polls. So it infuriated me to then look at the human polls the next day to find that Texas A&M had fallen from #8 to #14 in the AP Poll and to #13 in the USA Today Coaches poll. Really? A one point loss to a higher ranked team merits a six spot drop in the polls?

This type of thoughtless voting happens every single week by lazy voters who simply look at box scores, sort teams by wins and losses, and pay no attention to the quality of the opponents or the competitiveness of the contests. I understand that these voters, especially in the coaches poll, don’t exactly spend their Saturdays watching as many college football games as possible, but neither do I. Most of my weekends are spent out doing family activities, but if I, a casual fan who does NOT get paid to cover college football, can gather enough from a one-hour highlight show to know that Texas A&M probably shouldn’t have dropped at all, at least not out of the top ten, then is it too much to ask that voters take their responsibility seriously and do a little research?

I blame the bulk of this decision on this rush to get the new poll results out less than 24 hours after the last game of the weekend has been played. Maybe I’m in the minority, but I’d be fine with waiting until Monday to see the polls if it meant that the rankings would become a more accurate reflection of what actually happens on the field. I’d actually be ok with taking the human element completely out of the picture and leaving it to the computers, but this likely isn’t the best answer either.

There’s no logical reason – regardless of the countless excuses that the University Presidents throw out about academics and preserving the bowl system – why we shouldn’t at least have a plus one system to crown a true national champion, but ultimately I don’t have much of a beef from year to year with the actual BCS rankings, precisely because they don’t rely solely on the human polls. Many of the computer rankings, some of which are used to contribute to the BCS, actually do factor in things like strength of schedule and margin of victory, objective measurements that go a long way towards determining who the top teams in the country truly are.

At the end of the season, despite how loud the talking heads tend to get, the top five teams are actually pretty accurately ranked, but as good of a job as the computers do at determining who the best teams are, there will never be a true substitute for the eye test, and as such there will always be a need to factor the human polls into the BCS rankings at some level. With that in mind, I strongly urge the Associated Press and Coaches to treat the voting process like what it is – a part of their jobs. It may seem like a tedious task, but if the polls begin to consistently lack credibility, then they will eventually become meaningless. But maybe that’s what you want, one less chore associated with the cumbersome job of covering or coaching sports for a living. Tough life fellas!

Follow Geoff on Twitter @snglemarriedguy

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