I’ve written almost everything that I’d like to write on the BCS Championship hoopla. There is one thing, however, that I’d be remiss if I didn’t chime in on. It is a subject that has gone grossly underreported by the media. There have been a few articles by local newspapers but nothing substantial from the national media. I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of the possibility that voters would try to manipulate the results beyond simply voting for Florida or Michigan #2. It seems almost too obvious looking at it now but I have to admit I didn’t see it coming.
A handful of voters from the Harris Poll tried to dictate the final results of the poll by voting in a way that would have a greater impact than the average voter. Imagine, for a moment, if one voter ranked Michigan #25. That one voter would have single handily put Florida in the BCS Championship game. The media would have identified that voter and he/she would have been vilified. That sounds far-fetched but I don’t think it is as crazy as it sounds. Although no voter went to that extreme, a collection of voters (either working together or individually I’m not exactly sure) had a similar impact. Five voters from the Harris Poll either voted Florida #1 or Michigan #4. Two voters from the Harris Poll voted Florida #5. I tried to get a hold of the individual Harris Poll ballots from every week of the college football season but they were only available for the final December 3 poll. As a result, I don’t know whether these voters changed the way they voted for the final poll in an attempt to disproportionately influence the results or if they had been voting that way all along. If they tried to disproportionately influence the results they should have their voting privileges revoked for being incompetent and/or unprofessional. If they had simply voted the same way all year, they should have their voting privileges revoked for being embarrassingly inept at ranking college football teams.
I’ll let my readers decide for themselves if these guys should have the authority to influence the college football National Championship game:
Ray Melick (Birmingham News)
1). Ohio State
10). Notre Dame
11). West Virginia
Melick has Louisville ranked ahead of Michigan. Louisville’s one loss was to #15 Rutgers. Michigan’s one loss was to #1 Ohio State. Louisville only beat one team that Melick ranked which was #11 West Virginia. Michigan, however, beat Melick’s #6 and #10 teams. Michigan also played a considerably more difficult schedule. If Wisconsin and Notre Dame are top ten teams in Melick’s mind and West Virginia is not, then it is borderline illogical to rank Louisville ahead of Michigan. Melick’s ballot had the same effect as two voters who voted Michigan and Florida #2 and #3 (regardless of order).
Tim Neverett (Colorado play-by-play announcer)
1). Ohio State
10). Notre Dame
25). Oregon State
I’m 20/80 as to whether Neverett actually handed in the wrong ballot by mistake. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he actually meant to submit the above rankings. It would not surprise me, though, if I came to light that Neverett made a mistake. According to Neverett, the three best teams that USC beat are #10 Notre Dame, #11 Arkansas and #20 California. The two best teams that Michigan beat according to Neverett are #10 Notre Dame and #13 Wisconsin. Based on that information alone, I can see how USC has the edge at this point of the comparison. However, there is the little tidbit called USC losing to Neverett’s #25 team (Oregon State) and a team that Neverett doesn’t have ranked at all (UCLA). Yes, that adds up to two losses. Michigan, on the other hand, had one loss and that was to Neverett’s number one team. Out of all of the Harris voters that sent in ridiculous ballots, I think Neverett is the most likely to have done it to disproportionately influence the results of the poll. His vote, like Melick’s, had the same impact as two voters who voted Michigan and Florida #2 and #3 (regardless of order).
Gene Ponti (Louisiana sports host)
1). Ohio State
7). Notre Dame
Ponti is basically Melick and Neverett redux. All three think Florida is the #2 team and all three think Michigan is the #4 team. Interestingly enough, all three have different teams ranked #3. According to Ponti, Michigan beat the #7 (Notre Dame) and #8 (Wisconsin) teams in the country and lost to the #1 team. Also according to Ponti, LSU beat the #15 team (Arkansas) and #19 team (Tennessee) and lost to the #2 team (Florida) and the #9 team (Auburn). Yes, LSU’s losses add up to two. Ponti’s logic was just as irrational as Neverett’s. If Notre Dame and Wisconsin are top ten teams and Arkansas and Tennessee are not, then it is almost a fact (not quite but pretty darn close) that LSU could not reasonably be ranked higher than Michigan. Even if there are one or two people still unconvinced that LSU being rated higher than Michigan is even remotely acceptable, there is the fact that LSU beat Arkansas and Tennessee by five and six points respectively while Michigan beat Notre Dame and Wisconsin by 26 and 14 points respectively. Throw in the fact that Michigan only lost once to LSU’s two losses, and you have to think that Ponti tried to disproportionately influence the polls. Like Melick and Neverett, Ponti’s ballot had the same impact as two voters who voted Michigan and Florida #2 and #3 (regardless of order).
Jim Walden (Former Washington State football coach)
2). Ohio State
I would also put Walden in the group of people that likely tried to disproportionately influence the poll results. Walden had Ohio State number one in last week’s Harris Poll but oddly voted Florida number one in the final Harris Poll. Florida’s best win was over the #11 team (LSU) in Walden’s mind. Ohio State’s best win was over the #3 team (Michigan) in Walden’s mind. Ohio State’s best non-conference victory was over Texas which beat Walden’s #4 team (Oklahoma) 28-10. Florida didn’t play a team that finished with a winning record in its non-conference schedule. Then there is the little thing about Florida actually losing a game. In case Walden didn’t follow college football this year—Ohio State didn’t lose!
Paul Zeise (Pittsburgh Post Gazette)
1). Ohio State
10). West Virginia
15). Notre Dame
24). S. Florida
I don’t think Zeise tried to disproportionately influence the polls. His voting did not hurt Michigan in favor of Florida any more than if he simply voted them #2 and #3 respectively. I just think he doesn’t know the first thing about college football. First of all, he has Louisville ranked second. According to Zeise, Louisville beat the #10 (West Virginia) and #24 (South Florida) teams in the nation and lost to the #14 team (Rutgers). Michigan beat the #5 team (Wisconsin) and #15 team (Notre Dame) and lost to the #1 team. Florida beat the #7 team (LSU), #12 team (Arkansas), and #18 team (Tennessee) and lost to the #13 team (Auburn). Of the three teams, Louisville has the worst loss, the worst collection of wins, and by far the worst strength of schedule.
Zeise has already proved his incompetence as a voter by his fumbling of the Louisville-Florida-Michigan rankings but his rating of South Florida is the “icing on the cake”. I don’t see how anybody could logically rate South Florida ahead of Cincinnati. As far as I can tell, South Florida has the worst collection of wins of any team in D1-A college football. Among South Florida’s impressive string of victories are McNeese State, Florida International, Central Florida University, Connecticut, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and apparently the only required win for a team to be ranked, West Virginia.
South Florida did beat West Virginia. They are among the dozens of teams that pulled off upsets this season. So let’s see what the South Florida Bulls did that made Zeise rank them over the other teams that pulled off big upsets.
South Florida’s first opponent was a Division 1-AA opponent (McNeese State). I’m throwing that win out all together. South Florida’s remaining six wins were against teams with a combined record of 21-51. A college football Athletic Director could not put together a worse group of opponents if it tried to do so intentionally. Among South Florida’s opponents was one of only two winless Division 1-A teams in Florida International. South Florida performed marvelously against Florida International winning by one point at home. There are a number of teams that deserve to be ranked in South Florida’s place. I chose Cincinnati as an obvious choice simply because they both play in the same conference and the comparison isn’t even close. Cincinnati lost to Zeise’s #1, #2, #10, and #16 teams while South Florida lost to Zeise’s #2, #14, Kansas (a terrible team) and Cincinnati. It is laughable for anyone to rank South Florida ahead of Cincinnati.
Larry Keech (retired sportswriter from Greensboro, NC)
1). Ohio State
2). Boise State
8). Notre Dame
Keech may have also tried to disproportionately influence the polls but I’m not 100% convinced since he has Boise State number two. It may just be that Keech doesn’t have a good handle on college football. Wisconsin hasn’t beaten a ranked team all year according to Keech. Florida, on the other hand, has beaten the #9, #18, and #19 teams. Iowa should secede from the Big Ten and join the WAC. At least they’ll know that Keech would vote them no lower than #2 every year.
Robert Lawless (Former Texas Tech President)
1). Ohio State
10). West Virginia
13). Notre Dame
Lawless is Keech with a few adjustments. I would not be surprised to find out that both were graduates of the University of Wisconsin. Of the seven voters that I’ve written about in this post, Lawless actually had the biggest affect of them all. His ballot had the same impact as three voters who voted Michigan and Florida #2 and #3 (regardless of order).
The story here isn’t that Michigan or Florida got screwed by the voters. Thankfully, these voters didn't end up affecting the final order. There were malcontents on both sides that kind of offset each other. The story probably has more to do with the fate of college football’s National Championship being in the hands of people that can influence the results by strategically arranging their ballots. What if Michigan and Florida finished within three points of each other? Melick, Neverett, Ponti, and Walden would have essentially chosen the second team in the BCS Championship game. How is Jim Tressel’s decision to not vote any worse than the decision of four people to disproportionately influence the final poll? At least Tressel didn’t influence the poll at all. He let the rest of the voters make the decision. Melick, Neverett, Ponti and Walden tried to make the decision for the other voters.
I can’t see how someone could vote as neglectfully as the above voters did and keep their position as a voter in the Harris Poll. If two voters had voted Michigan #2 and Florida #25, and all else remained the same, Michigan would be going to the BCS Championship game and vice versa. Judging from the ballots that these voters turned in, that might not be so far-fetched. What is keeping a voter from going to that extreme? These seven voters turned in terribly misguided ballots and nobody has said a thing. What good is a poll if there is nothing in place to keep individual voters from manipulating the results?