SI To Sue Universities… For Coaches’ Poll Ballots?

Give SPORTS ILLUSTRATED credit: they’ve got balls. For as much as a publication might be mindful of frivolous use of expensive things like, y’know, lawyers’ fees, the magazine is prepared to go to the courts to uncover a football program’s deepest, darkest secrets.

Hanging Chad
(”Does this say Connecticut at #3? Oh wait, this is basketball. No wonder Villanova’s also in the top 10.”)

No, this has nothing to do with recruiting, personnel files, or anything related to the day-to-day business of running an athletic department or college football team. No, SI’s target is, um, coaches’ poll ballots.

Yes, as DR. SATURDAY reports, the secret ballots which have - for some weird reason - played an integral role in determining the two participants in the sport’s championship game (it bears repeating that this is the only major sport that doesn’t utilize a playoff system, unless you count one game a playoff) are in the magazine’s crosshairs. Weirder yet, SI just might have a case: will file records requests with the employer of each of the 51 public school coaches who vote in the 2009 poll. If the schools comply with the law, we should get a look at every ballot. Legal action may be required if schools refuse to comply, but if a recent case involving Florida State and the NCAA is any indication, judges likely will support the people asking that highly paid public employees be held accountable for their actions. Every ballot we receive will be published.

The problematic aspect of this is directly tied to the fact that the last thing coaches want in this instance is scrutiny; what once seemed like a good idea can turn into a political headache at the drop of a hat - or drop of a team out of the top 10 - and become one more thing that distracts the coach from the massive time commitment that is game-planning. Thus, it’s no surprise that the voting is usually pawned off on a low-level assistant instead of the coach.

So then the question looms large: Why does the ballot exist? Even if the coaches perceive a slight of a certain team by the media, any en masse movement to garner said team a higher ranking (by the way, this has never happened), the resultant backlash is going to accomplish no purpose than to draw undue attention to the coaches and force an explanation. Of the college football coaches today, we can see Pete Carroll being able to handle that situation. The list ends there.

That’s not to say SI’s idea is in any way ignoble; we support any and all forms of transparency when it comes to these things. But this oncoming clusterfudge should more ably demonstrate NOT that the poll needed more public oversight, but that the poll shouldn’t exist in any way similar to its current format in the first place. Coaches may be the best arbiters of quality, but if they’re able to rank the 25 teams with any reliability, they’re probably not doing their main job very well.