Sunday, September 20, 2009

Two examples why the football coach poll needs to be public


UltimateSportsInsider.com wrote an in-depth article back in May that was critical of the decision by the American Football Coaches Association's (AFCA) to allow coaches to keep their votes in the national poll secret.  The poll is 1/3rd of the formula that is used to determine the teams that will compete in the BCS championship game.  As I wrote back in May, secrecy increases the possibility of the poll being manipulated by coaches who have a vested interest in the outcome of the rankings. 

Two examples of poll manipulation have come to light recently one related to the coaches poll and another in a parallel setting.  The first example is the preseason voting of South Florida football coach Jim Leavitt. His preseason rankings placed his own team 18th. He also ranked Oklahoma #1 (he and Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops worked together in the 1990's), didn't rank Ole Miss anywhere in the top 25 and ranked four other Big East schools in the Top 25. Granted, preseason rankings are harder to accurately gauge since no one has played a game and they are based largely on reputation, but it seems unlikely that all of his rankings were coincidental.

The second example comes from a recent article by InsideHigherEducation.com describing the manipulation of peer ratings that are used by US News and World Report to determine the best colleges and universities in the country.  Inside Higher Ed reveals Clemson University engaged in an institutionally coordinated effort to have administrators rate "all programs other than Clemson below average".  Clemson's stated goal is to become a Top 20 public institution in the US News rankings.

Inside Higher Education believes a secret poll is a bad idea because "the reputational survey is subject to problems, such as haphazard responses and apathetic respondents, that add to the lingering questions about its legitimacy."  

Haphazard and apathetic responses.  Institutional gain from manipulating ratings.  That's not exact how you want the best academic schools in the country determined.

Individuals with the potential for personal gain who are voting with their own self-interest at stake will struggle to be objective in their evaluations.  Secret rankings increase the possibility of manipulation if these judgements can occur without public scrutiny.  If Clemson's academic administrators are willing to engage in a concerted effort to improve their US News ranking, is it all that far-fetched to think that a football coach might do the same, especially in a circumstance where his voting is secret and his team, his recruiting and his paycheck stand to benefit?

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2 comments:

A. G. Dube said...

I can understand your points about secret rankings in college football. I think I agree with you, but I can see some downsides to open rankings. In theory, a coach today can rank teams without concerns about politics. With open rankings, there may be more pressure from the fans and administration to rank rival teams lower than what the coach wants to rank them. That would be a concern. Like I said though, the reasons you list for transparency do make sense.

Michael Cross said...

As I mentioned in my earlier article in May, any coach who can't handle the pressure of determining who should be in the top 25 in the correct order probably shouldn't be making any selections. I would also think that the pressure regarding rankings is significantly less than the pressure they have related to their own program. They're used to being in one of the most pressure filled jobs in all of athletics. This should be easy compared to their "day job" and the pressure is a convenient excuse to explain the desire for secrecy more than a reflection of reality.