Last month, when we learned the final regular-season college football coaches’ poll will become anonymous starting in the 2010 season, it got me thinking about how the media have pulled back from exercising authority in polls and awards.
The Associated Press media poll no longer is part of the Bowl Championship Series ranking formula. Many prominent newspapers prohibit staffers from voting in polls, for league awards such as Most Valuable Player or for halls of fame.
The thinking is that, by voting, the media are making the news rather than just covering it. Media members also are put in position, the argument goes, to have significant financial impact on teams (getting them into lucrative bowl games) or players (who might have incentive clauses tied to where they finish in award votes or can reap the benefits of being hall of famers).
I’m not going to assume every sportswriter or broadcaster casts his or her vote based only on the purest of motives. Nor am I going to say deserving players or teams haven’t gotten jobbed.
But that is going to happen no matter who is voting. I would argue media members have a better shot at being objective than, say, coaches. Let’s say Enormous State U. and Eastern Southern Tech A&M are locked in a battle for a spot in the BCS title game. Then let’s say the Enormous coach has a poll vote, but the Tech coach doesn’t. Then let’s say when that final poll comes out, an anonymous someone casts a vote for Tech at No. 24 after it had been ranked second or third all season.
However, that isn’t even the main reason to keep the newspaper guys and gals voting. As the print branch of the mainstream media struggles to maintain viability — something, ahem, I know a little about — why do those in charge take away an element that keeps sportswriters relevant?
This non-voting edict was implemented as part of the moves to impose ethical standards on the profession — such as the end of travel and food provided free by clubs or tickets distributed gratis. Those practices are far different, though.
It might not make you and your neighbors pick up the Daily Bugle to read the baseball coverage because you know Word Smith (just sneaked in a Philip Roth reference) has a Cy Young vote. But that vote helps establish the writer’s credibility as an authority, even if he — heaven forbid! — doesn’t appear on TV.
So maybe you do pick up the Bugle (or, more likely, click on its Web site). And things being the way they are these days, it’s way past time for newspaper sports departments to stop riding high horses to ivory towers.