Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Mike Price is the only coach who should go near a poll.

Unsure which way to spell the title for the joke to work...

In any event, as seen at Georgia Sports Blog, the USA Today Coaches Poll has a very interesting flash tool to see all the coaches' ballots. And as should be expected, there are countless errors and illogical rankings. I posted a comment to Paul Westerdawg's post which gets at some of the issues:

Take a look at this, just looking at Georgia and LSU (since I can't see any argument whatsoever that LSU should be ranked ahead of UGA).

Tommy Bowden: LSU 10, UGA 12
Bobby Bowden: LSU 8, UGA 12
Mack Brown: LSU 6, UGA 12
Larry Coker: LSU 9, UGA 11
Darryl Dickey: LSU 7, UGA 13
Joe Glenn: LSU 9, UGA 10
Mike Gundy: LSU 9, UGA 11
Ken Hatfield: LSU 8, UGA 12
Howard Schnellenburger: LSU 8, UGA 12
Frank Solich: LSU 5, UGA 15

So about 1/6th of the coaches voted LSU ahead of UGA, despite the same record and a resounding head to head victory on a neutral field where one team thoroughly dominated the other in all aspects of the game, offense, defense and special teams. These are indefensible votes. 1 out of 6 ballots can completely skew the result. Luckily this year didn't have that kind of controversy like last year. If I were an Auburn fan, just looking at these ignorant ballots would piss me off from last year. I've said it before: This is no way to decide a champion.

Solich's ballot is a total mess. He ranks Alabama ahead of Auburn, LSU ten spots ahead of UGA, Miami at #6, as if they hadn't lost to GT. It almost seems like he just didn't change his ballot after the week of Nov. 12th, but then he gives Nevada a vote, and they had nothing to crow about until their win over Fresno State two weeks later.

Houston Nutt didn't rank 10-1, conference champion, BCS bound West Virginia.

And while I hint at the problem in my comment, the UGA-LSU thing didn't have all that much of an effect on the bowl selections (well, it did, but indirectly, and I'll get to that in a second). The main debate was Oregon, Ohio State and Notre Dame. If Oregon is ahead of Ohio State (4 and 5 respectively in the BCS), Oregon has an automatic BCS bid. If Notre Dame doesn't get to #6, it's bid isn't necessarily automatic (though for all intents and purposes, ND was getting a bid no matter what - less of an issue here than the Oregon-OSU question).

Here are some of the voters whose polls look a little strange comparing Oregon and Ohio State:

Phil Bennett: OSU 5, Oregon 15
Dick Tomey: OSU 4, Oregon 10
Jim Tressell: OSU 4, Oregon 9 (raise any flags?)
Randy Walker: OSU 4, Oregon 9
Barry Alvarez: OSU 4, Oregon 8

It's possible that these voters seriously didn't think Oregon was that good. But it's also possible that biases and personal connections might've had something to do with it. Tressell obviously has a reason to vote himself high and Oregon low. Alvarez and Walker have personal reasons to do the same (Big 10 having an at-large team means a few hundred grand added to your athletic department budget and all the bowl eligible teams in the conference slot up one bowl, sending the Badgers and Wildcats to a better location). Lloyd Carr had the Bucks and Ducks right next to each other, and Terry Hoeppner and John L. Smith had them two slots away from each other. Every Big 10 coach in the poll had Ohio State ranked above Oregon.

At the same time, there were several voters whose ballots looked odd and it affected OSU negatively:

Larry Blakeney: Oregon 6, OSU 9
Dennis Franchione: Oregon 6, OSU 9
Ken Hatfield: Oregon 4, OSU 10
Skip Holtz: Oregon 5, OSU 10
Tom O'Brien: Oregon 4, OSU 8
Steve Spurrier: Oregon 5, OSU 8
Bobby Wallace: Oregon 4, OSU 8.

As for Pac-10 coaches, there appears to be less home-cooking. Bellotti had Oregon and OSU side-by-side, with Oregon at 4, OSU at 5. Doba had OSU at 4, Oregon at 5. Harris had OSU at 4, Oregon at 6. Tedford and Willingham had Oregon at 4, OSU at 5. None of the Pac-10 ballots are too crazy as to this.

But the thing is that the votes above would give me pause had Oregon jumped OSU. For purposes of this analysis, I take no position as to who deserved the bid. My position is solely that the system is flawed. Had Ohio State missed out on the Fiesta to Oregon's benefit, and there had been fishy ballots, I'd be just as suspect.

And to go back to my point about LSU's inflated ranking on several ballots. When a voter enters a strange ballot, which has some random team elevated too high, or some deserving team too low, it throws off the entire ballot. And like the Harris Poll, every vote counts in the coaches poll in terms of BCS rankings. When one random voter forgets to rank a very good team (like Houston Nutt), it might not affect that team's position in this poll, but the fact that that team is missing 15-20 points from the total votes might affect the team's standing in the BCS. The poll components do not derive from the ranking alone, but rather from the percentage as against the total number of vote numbers possible. Only 15 points separated Oregon from Notre Dame.

Every vote counts under this system. And the public votes of the various coaches should be enough for people to see how flawed the system is. If coaches can't be bothered to wait until the games are played (Bowdens, I'm looking at you) to send in their votes, if coaches can't double check their poll to realize they left off a one-loss team that won its conference, if coaches don't want to trouble themselves to check the box scores and change their ballots according to on-field results, what credibility does the poll system have.

And also, I think the coaches' poll has more credibility than the utterly ridiculous Harris Poll, whose voters have more conflicts of interest and concealed biases.