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Why the coaches' poll votes must be made public

5/28/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The realization came a few years ago, early one morning in the Lubbock airport, when I thought nobody could have cared what I was doing.

After a long night of covering Texas Tech, I was scheduled on the first flight back home the following morning. But before I left, I knew I had to take care of something.

As I went to a bank of pay telephones back in those pre-cellular phone days, I mumbled off my list of 25 teams to the Associated Press desker in New York City. I usually tried to get my vote in by 9 a.m. -- always settling on them the night before but always looking at them one more time the following morning before I submitted them.

The teams tumbled out in my order for the week. After I finished, I tried to relax for a couple of minutes before my flight left until an elderly man tapped me on my shoulder.

"Excuse me, sir," the man said. "I think you had Michigan ranked too high this week. And West Virginia, they were way too low."

How the fellow passenger had determined I was a voter, I had no idea. But he -- as do most college football fans at that time of the year -- had his own idea how the polls should be voted. And fans don't hesitate to tell you about it, either, in person or by e-mail.

That idea infused me with the thought of how important some considered my vote. As such, I knew the kind of diligence the poll deserved if I was voting.

And the idea that my vote was being made public each week made me take even more care in trying to get things right in my mind. Because, I knew I would hear something if it was skewed.

This is why I think the American Football Coaches Association's decision to keep their final votes private is so wrong.

Horribly wrong, in fact.

Not making the votes public robs the poll of its greatest attribute -- its credibility. When that is stripped away, the poll loses its relevance.

AFCA executive director Grant Teaff argues differently.

"Why do you think they have voting booths," Teaff told the Tulsa World. "Why do you think they have curtains around voting booths? Experts believe that's the truest way of getting the purest vote. That's what coaches are after."

Teaff is wrong in his thinking. Horribly wrong, in fact. 

For every coach who was staying up late watching games and voting with their conscience, there are others who are sloughing off the duties to his sports information director. And if you don't believe that pettiness and favoritism can play a part in voting, just consider some of the voters in last year's poll.

That's on top of the financial achievement that coaches would have to vote their teams higher in the poll. And if we don't think that could be a factor, we're kidding ourselves.

Look at a study that I conducted last season after the final regular-season poll -- which, incidentally, was used to determine the teams that would play for the national championship.

Before those bowl games, let it be noted that Oklahoma had a 31-26 edge over No. 2 Florida. Among those who voted for the Sooners first in that final regular-season poll included Baylor coach Art Briles, Colorado coach Dan Hawkins and Nebraska coach Bo Pelini. In the spirit of full disclosure, it should be noted that Leach and Pelini both worked as assistants under Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and Briles worked under Leach, making him a second-generation descendant on the Stoops coaching tree.

Texas could not win its way into the championship game, but still received four first-place votes. They came from then-Iowa State coach Gene Chizik, North Texas coach Todd Dodge, UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel and Mike Price of UTEP.

Chizik coached under Brown before taking the Iowa State job. Dodge played for Texas. And Price played against the Longhorns earlier in the season in a 42-13 loss that was considered the biggest home money game in the Miners' football history when the Longhorns visited.

The Longhorns' lowest voters were fifth, given by four coaches -- Briles, Leach, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio and Rutgers' Greg Schiano.

Even more telling was how the coaches viewed Texas Tech, which finished the poll in eighth place. Its highest votes were the second-place ballot cast by Leach and a third-place vote delivered by then-New Mexico State coach Hal Mumme, who has been considered Leach's coaching godfather after hiring him at Iowa Wesleyan in 1989.

Nobody else had the Red Raiders higher than sixth. Among the 12 coaches who had Tech at sixth place were Briles, Chizik, Pelini and Missouri's Gary Pinkel. Texas coach Mack Brown had the Red Raiders eighth.

But their lowest vote was 11th, cast by TCU's Gary Patterson. The Red Raiders delivered a 70-35 whipping to the Horned Frogs in 2004. It remains the most points ever allowed by a Patterson-coached team and the worst defeat in his head-coaching career.

With those factors, can Teaff and the other coaches really make the claim that there won't be agendas in the voting if they aren't released?

And those votes were made with the idea that they would be made public. Imagine what will happen when the voters know their votes will remain secret.

There are other points of the AFCA's announcement that were also wrong, such as the move from 25 back to 10 or 15 teams. For many teams, the chance to make the top 25 ranks as a red-letter achievement that is trumpeted in their media guides and on their Web sites.

The elimination of a preseason poll would be wrong, too. It will keep the excitement from college football from percolating before the season as is now the case when those preseason polls are released.

Leach told the Houston Chronicle that he's uncertain that keeping the ballots confidential will really change anything.

"It's still going to be political no matter what happens," said Leach, who had no problem disclosing his final ballot. "There's still going to be some politics and agendas involved with this no matter what. I don't know if there is a way to avoid it 100 percent."

Earlier, Brown had openly talked about getting out of voting after his disgust in the system -- particularly after his team was kept out of the national championship game and the Big 12 title game by its BCS ranking. The coaches' poll played a part in that final ranking.

But Brown endorsed the changes that were announced on Wednesday.

"I like the changes that are taking place this year and am excited about the recommendations for the future," Brown told the Chronicle.

The coaches know more about football than I'll ever conceive of knowing.  But they are wrong on this one.  

I just wish that man in the Lubbock airport -- and a bunch of other disgruntled fans -- could tell them how misguided they really are.