Media polls — vote early and often

ray 'n' homerLast 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).

Well, maybe.

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.


  1. The big problem isn’t that college football uses a coach’s poll instead of a media poll in their formula, it’s that they are determining who plays in their championship game based on a freaking poll in the first place! I mean, come on, get real and institute a playoff system already.

    But, yeah, I agree with the thrust of the article. Media people should definitely be able to do polls like a top 25 for football and basketball, cast ballots for baseball’s post season awards, cast Hall of Fame ballots, and so on and so forth. I have a lot of respect for sports journalists, I’m a big fan of their history and their present work, in many cases, but I do think the fact that they are covering sports and not governments or peace submits is relevant (not in any kind of a derogatory way). It’s important that a political reporter just be reporting the facts and not be trying to influence the election, but part of the fun of the sports journalism is that it has a little bit of a different character to it — it’s supposed to be kind of a fun job (or at least something that looks like fun on the outside) and the reports are supposed to be kind of the gurus who get some sort of a say sometimes. The moves away from allowing media members to vote in polls and for awards is missing a subtle element of what sports journalism is and, a subtle distinction relative to some other forums of journalism — journalism is not a monoculture with one size fits rules, a sports guy is different from a news guy is different from a business guy is different from an entertainment guy.

  2. Ray:

    The problem with a media poll is the same problem that exists with a coaches poll. In neither case will the voters have had the opportunity to see the thirty or so teams that might actually be the best 25 teams in the country. Without seeing the teams play, the most polite way to describe the basis for their voting is “hearsay”. Less kindly – but more accurately – would be “ignorance”.

    One group may be more objective than the other in their voting. Nonetheless, both polls will have “ignorance” at the basis of the voting and that is simply not a good thing.

    Your point that having a vote increases the credibility of the reporter/columnist is correct. However, there exists a core readership out there who looks for writing that is informative and entertaining and that core readership will take pleasure in such writing with or without voting privileges on the part of the writer.

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