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Archive for Saturday, October 1, 2005

Commentary: Harris poll already looks foolish

October 1, 2005

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The BCS never disappoints when it comes to comic relief.

The first Harris poll - that mishmash of people who have a big say in which teams get into college football's megabuck bowls - came out Sunday. While most of the top 25 was right on target, check out some of the teams that at least one voter thought worthy of being among the nation's best.

Illinois picked up 13 votes despite being 2-2 and fresh from a 61-14 pummeling by Michigan State. Arizona got 10 votes with a 1-2 record, though maybe the Wildcats were mistaken for that 3-1 team that's two hours up the road.

But how do you explain Bowling Green, which received five votes even after a 48-20 loss to Boise State dropped the Falcons to 1-2? Or worse, Idaho, which is 0-4 and scored six points in its last two games, yet still got five votes?

Granted, the votes are minuscule and won't affect the BCS standings, which begin next month. But the geniuses who thought Bowling Green and Idaho should be in the top 25 this week will be the same ones helping decide who's playing in the Rose Bowl for the national title.

"Votes like that hurt the credibility," BCS expert Jerry Palm said. "Whether it's carelessness or ignorance, you can't have votes for Idaho. It only takes one guy voting for Idaho to ruin it for the rest of the 114."

Credibility has never been the Bowl Championship Series' strong suit, though. The BCS has been trying since 1998 to find a foolproof way to pair the clear-cut No. 1 and No. 2 teams in a season-ending, winner-take-all matchup. So far, all they've perfected is the fool part.

Playoffs have worked quite nicely in college football's lower divisions and pretty much every other sport from the Pee Wee leagues to the pros, but BCS officials won't budge. They're convinced a ranking system will produce the 1-2 game everyone wants to see, along with solid matchups for the other three marquee bowls.

Only it hasn't worked. The BCS has tried polls, computers and statistical modules only an actuary could love, tinkered with one formula after another, and gotten it perfect twice.

"Part of their credibility problem goes all the way back to the beginning, where they just haven't settled on a formula two years in a row," Palm said. "If you don't have enough faith in the formula to defend it in the face of controversy, then why should you have it?"

This latest incarnation came after the Associated Press told BCS officials last season to stop using its media poll as part of their formula. The AP poll had counted for one-third of a team's BCS grade, with the USA Today coaches' poll and a compilation of six computer rankings counting for the other two-thirds.

Without the AP, the BCS came up with the Harris Interactive College Football Poll. The panel of 114 former players, coaches, administrators and media was supposed to be knowledgeable and give equal representation to all 11 conferences and independents. But, in true BCS fashion, it was bungled from the start.

A handful of pollsters, including former Notre Dame and South Carolina coach Lou Holtz, had to bow out right away because they worked for ESPN. Hardly a surprise, considering ESPN had pulled its affiliation with the coaches poll over the summer to avoid conflicts of interest. Another pollster withdrew because his only connection to the game was his father-in-law, the coach at Troy.

Harris didn't release its first poll until Sunday so voters wouldn't get caught up in the kind of preseason hype that doomed Auburn last year. Obviously some needed a longer reality check. Or a refresher course on the responsibilities that go with being a voter.

"Since it is an opinion poll and you're entitled to your opinion, there certainly is a possibility for an unusual vote," BCS spokesman Bob Burda said.

Well, that's reassuring. With millions of dollars at stake, it would be nice if the people supposedly in the know showed more sense than those who rank teams by uniform colors and mascots.

Some do. Dave Newhouse, the Cal beat writer for the Oakland Tribune, considers everything from game scores to strength of schedule to a coach's track record. He can give you a detailed explanation of why he ranked each team where he did.

"I'm trying to be conscientious," Newhouse said.

Others vote for Idaho.

The harebrained votes probably weren't accidents, either. Harris Interactive has safeguards in place so if you voted for Illinois, Bowling Green or Idaho, you know it. But don't worry, nobody else does because individual votes aren't published until the final season ballot. Until then, voters can do whatever they please, and we can only shake our heads at the nonsense.

Which, come to think of it, is pretty much what we've been doing since the BCS commandeered the postseason.

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