The College Football Playoff has changed the game, although we may still be attempting to determine if it is for better or worse. One thing I do know about the College Football Playoff despite a single game under the new format being played is this: the coaches’ poll may be the most irrelevant thing in college football, and it should be retired at the end of the season.
In a sport that now has some semblance of a playoff structure in place, the coaches’ poll has no place in college football and should be left to rest at the conclusion of this season. The poll has no role in the new postseason format, and the coaches have better things to do than spend time filling out a ballot. That is, for the few coaches who may actually take their votes seriously.
One of the worst-kept secrets in college football is the coaches rarely are the ones casting their ballots for the weekly poll. If the coaches are not taking the time to fill out their ballots, then why should anyone bother wasting time getting worked up about it? If the coaches do not care about the coaches’ poll, then neither should we. There was a time when the coaches’ poll had a significant place in the sport, but that time has now passed with the advent of the College Football Playoff.
First, let’s quickly review the history of the AP poll and coaches’ poll to see why we even had them in the first place.
The Associated Press introduced the College Football Poll in 1934 and has been running a continuous poll since 1936. The poll was used as a way to crown a national champion at a time when major college football lacked a true postseason format to determine a national champion, with big bowl games and elite conferences having their own deals for postseason play. Even in the 1930s and 1940s, power conferences and big money bowls trumped the NCAA in the college football postseason. Perhaps some things never change. The AP poll was created as a way for sportswriters to determine a national champion, and it quickly became the premier college football ranking of record.
United Press International, a rival media news agency, saw what the AP was doing with its college football poll and how it was becoming a staple of college football. Looking to get in the game, UPI organized its own college football poll in 1950, with coaches casting the votes instead of media members. The philosophy was rather simple at the time. Coaches know more football than the sportswriters would ever dream of knowing, so why not let the coaches decide who is the best team in the sport? Most years the AP and coaches’ polls would agree on the national champion, but 11 times there was a difference in opinion between the polls. The coaches’ poll crowning national champions before the bowl season until 1974 led to five different national champions alone. The coaches’ poll started casting final ballots after the bowls in the 1974 season, but six more split national championships would come over time.
The Bowl Championship Series was a step in the right direction toward unifying the AP and coaches’ polls under one system, but the AP had its poll removed from the BCS formula in December 2004. The previous year the AP voted USC its national champion after the Trojans were locked out of playing for the BCS national championship. LSU won the BCS national title with a 21-14 victory in the Sugar Bowl over Oklahoma. The 2004 season paired USC and Oklahoma in the BCS Championship Game and left out an undefeated Auburn. Only one spot was made available in the BCS lineup for undefeated Utah, leaving undefeated Boise State to play in a middle-tier bowl game. The AP had a chance to vote Auburn number one in its poll after a 16-13 victory over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl, but USC made the decision easy with a blowout of Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.
Since 2005 the AP poll has remained a constant in our consumption of college football, although it never went astray of the BCS results when it came to crowning a national champion since. The AP poll remains an industry standard and provides a wide span of opinions across the country to determine where college football teams rank. However, in the grand scheme of it all, the poll itself is nothing more than something to give us preseason discussion. Some voters may go through the routine of submitting their ballots without much thought, but if any poll can be taken seriously, this is it.
The coaches’ poll, not so much.
Baylor head coach Art Briles has provided the latest example of why the coaches poll is a joke. The head coach of the Bears was recently asked about his final 2008 coaches’ ballot, when he voted Oklahoma ahead of Texas by four spots. Texas and Oklahoma each went 11-1 in the regular season, and Texas defeated Oklahoma in the regular season. That season saw a three-way tie for first place in the Big 12 South, with Texas Tech also in the mix. The tiebreaker procedure had to go to the fifth tiebreaker, which went to the highest BCS ranking. This went in favor of Oklahoma in part because it had more time to rebound from a loss than Texas. At the end of the season, Briles voted Oklahoma four spots ahead of Texas despite identical regular season records and a head-to-head victory for Texas. Given the current conversations about Baylor and TCU, you can see why this might be relevant.
Briles on voting Texas No. 5 and OU No. 1 in 2008: “I didn’t vote on that poll. I passed it on to somebody in the office.”
— David Ubben (@davidubben) November 17, 2014
Briles is not the first coach to suggest he did not take his vote seriously, nor will he likely be the last as long as there is a coaches’ poll. If nothing else, this just strengthens the argument of how the coaches poll is no longer needed.
Briles played Texas and Oklahoma in 2008, his first at Baylor. Briles’ Bears lost to Oklahoma by 32 and to Texas by 24. Perhaps margin of victory was the key in the mind of whomever it was that cast his ballot. Coaches may spend more hours in a week watching game film than any of us, but the odds are very good you and I spend more time each week watching multiple games from around the country each week. The flaw in the coaches’ poll system is the coaches lack awareness of the week-to-week changes on the field that you and I can see on multiple channels on any given Saturday with as many as nine or 10 different channels at once. How many coaches are putting enough time into their ballots to truly understand what is happening around the country? Or rather, how many sports information directors are giving that much care to the votes?
The idea of criticizing the coaches’ poll is certainly nothing new. This stance has been around for years now. We have now reached a state of college football that is changing, evolving. With realignment, large-scale media rights packages being negotiated every few years, the age of autonomy, and a new College Football Playoff, this is no longer the same game it was in the 1940s, 1970s, or even the 1990s. Things change. Some aspects of the game survive and others are forgotten. If the coaches’ poll was one of the next to be forgotten, it would not be missed.
The American Football Coaches Association will continue to award the top team in the coaches’ poll with the traditional crystal football, thus keeping the Crystal Ball Run on for the time being. This appears to be the only reason for a coaches’ poll, but how often will the coaches differ from the winner of the playoff?
Want to present a trophy? Have at it. However, at the end of the year, we all know who that crystal football is going to, and we don’t need a weekly poll to figure that out.