Rankings or Predictions? Polls or Playoffs? Can We Just Play?

Barry ChristianContributor IAugust 27, 2008

If a person was to read or watch the sports news over the past few weeks they might get the impression that the college football season has already started.

We have too many preseason polls and rankings to keep up with; AP, Coaches, Sporting News, SI, ESPN, Athlon, Lindy, etc., etc., etc. and none of them are worth the paper they are written on. Sure, they are fun when you don't have any football to watch yet, and for that reason alone, I say we keep them around.

However, if you take a hard look at the last few years of preseason polls you will see that their predictions are almost as inaccurate as the people who predict catastrophes from global warming or even the people who predict how many hurricanes we will have.

I must have heard over a dozen revisions to the estimate during last year's hurricane season, both up, and down. I wish I could estimate my tax payments that poorly and get away without a penalty.

I even saw yesterday that ESPN's College Football Live is running simulations of college football games using a video game! I hope that goes the way of the ESPN simulated press conference (what a disaster).

The other and by far the most irritating thing about the preseason polls is that they can't even agree on what the term "ranking" means. Even voters in the same poll! Is it how good you think a team is, or is it how you think the final ranking after the bowl games will end up?

I have watched this debated on ESPN College Football Live and other shows over the past month. In my opinion, if it is a ranking, then make it clear that it is about who the pollsters think is the BEST team RIGHT NOW. Look up the word RANKING, people!

On the other hand, if it is an end-of-season prediction, then CALL IT THAT! I think both are legitimate and perhaps we could have both, but they just should be identified clearly and named correctly.

If enough pollsters in one poll see the poll as an end-of-season prediction and they rank a team, that they think is the best, lower because of a tough schedule, then what happens when the team loses a tough game to another highly ranked team?

Do they get to keep their high ranking because the pollsters thought they would lose that game and already ranked them accordingly? No, of course not, they go down.

So, they end up getting penalized twice; Once for the tough schedule, then again when they lose a game they were expected to lose. How fair is that? Not at all. Even if each individual pollster who saw it as an end-of-season prediction was consistent (I know. Pure fantasy.) and decided not to lower the ranking for that team because they met their expectations, what about the other pollsters who see it as a true ranking? They lower them.

It is clear that a lack of consistency in how people view these polls can have an impact on a teams ranking, which in-turn can impact the bowl they play in, which in-turn will impact the school financially.

Who can blame college presidents for trying to get a playoff system in place, especially presidents of schools with good teams, when their finances can be influenced by the caprice of a sports reporter.

The inconsistency of the view and meaning of the polls should be addressed, and the only people who can do it are the people who are responsible for the two major polls, both the AP and the Coaches polls.

Consider this an open letter to them, pleading for this clarification. Please, please, please, make an unambiguous statement as to the criteria for your ranking. Decide if it is a true ranking or a prediction of the outcome of the season. If you can't decide, then make two polls, one for each.

On the topic of being No. 1: I am sure that the Georgia Bulldogs players and coaches are sick of hearing it. The fans probably love it for the most part, but even they are likely sick of hearing it.

It is like an extra opposition player that they can't outrun, stiff-arm, tackle, block, or evade.

There are no correct answers when an unimaginative reporter asks them questions about it or asks them a question they know will likely receive a carefully packaged, diplomatic, cliche-ridden answer, in the hopes that they will finally break the player and get him to make some outlandish response that the reporter can get a headline from.

Where can you go from No. 1? Only down. If you start the year as the No. 1 team in the nation, any slip-up is magnified. You can't let up for a second.

If you also have the "misfortune" of playing in the SEC, BEING number one is easier because of the well-deserved reputation of the conference, but STAYING number one is almost impossible.

How will Georgia run this gauntlet without a scratch? The probability of an undefeated season for Georgia is very low. That said, if they do end up undefeated or even with one loss in a close game against a quality SEC opponent, they might still deserve to be number one.

Whether that happens is in the hands of voters and that is a sad shame. Some things are probably better in the hands of voters, but some things should be decided on the field. Deciding the national champion in major college football deserves to be decided on the field.

The pre-season poll should be taken with a grain of salt, and the post-season poll should just decide how the also-rans end up ranked. The champion should be decided in a playoff, but that is a story for another day.

On behalf of college football players, coaches, staff, and fans everywhere, may I ask: