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Columnist
Unfair polling helps make college football unfair fight
By Lindsey Willhite | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 10/9/2007 12:13 AM

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I confess. I'm a voter. I help to perpetuate the myth that humans can adequately rank college sports teams.

Now, I'm not part of the AP Top 25 football poll -- I vote in the AP's men's basketball poll instead -- but I'm still part of the problem.

Let me explain. In roughly a month, I need to send in my preseason basketball poll.

Considering I'll be sorting through 343 Division I teams hailing from 49 states and the District of Columbia, do you really think I can do this task justice?

Heck, I love college basketball and like to think I have a pulse on the sport, but I'd be hard-pressed to do an effective job ranking the 12 Division I programs within Illinois.

The college football universe isn't quite as huge as college basketball, but the same problems apply.

When the 65 writers (AP) and the 60 coaches (USA Today) sat down in July and August to determine their preseason rankings, did they really break down all 119 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in detail?

Let's be honest. They didn't. They focused on brand-name schools with good 2006 records, checked out how many returning starters they had and projected accordingly.

Nothing against the voters and their methods, because it's impossible to know who's best before anyone takes the field.

If they could predict how seasons are going to play out, then why does this week's coaches poll feature four teams -- No. 13 Arizona State, No. 17 Cincinnati, No. 19 Illinois and No. 20 Kansas -- that didn't receive a single preseason vote?

And check out No. 4 Boston College, co-No. 5 South Florida, No. 11 Missouri and No. 12 South Carolina. Those teams didn't start in the Top 25, but at least they received some preseason votes.

I'm sure my 2006-07 preseason basketball poll looked just as stupid as the season neared the midpoint.

But here's the point I'm trying to make. It's not a new one, but one that can gain steam if enough people "Pound the Rock," as the favorite football coaching metaphor goes.

In basketball, it doesn't matter how well or how poorly I project the teams. The players decide who's best during the NCAA Tournament.

But in football, as everyone should know by now, the human element of the coaches poll and the Harris Interactive poll account for two-thirds of the Bowl Championship Series formula.

(Harris took over for the Associated Press when it thankfully bowed out of the king-making business prior to the 2005 season).

Because the polls matter, they give the preseason favorites an unfair head start in the BCS race.

What if the Democratic presidential primaries started with Hillary Clinton owning a 250,000-vote head start over Barack Obama, who had a 250,000-vote head start over John Edwards, who had a 250,000-vote head start over Joe Biden and the rest of the candidates?

It's absurd. It's undemocratic. It flies in the face of sport, which is to let two opponents sort it out on the field/court/rink/mat/course.

Why does Wisconsin (5-1), which just lost 31-26 at Illinois (5-1), remain four spots ahead of the Illini in the coaches poll?

Because the Badgers had a head start. The four available BCS computers, meanwhile, have Illinois ahead of Wisconsin by an average of nine spots. That seems about right.

Listen, I'd love to see a college football playoff. Me, you and about 20,000,000 other fans.

But since one of Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany's hair follicles has more BCS power than our entire beings -- and he's a college football kingpin -- we probably can't win that battle.

So let's compromise, Jim. Demand no polls until October. Let college football become a fairer fight.