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MIDSEASON META: A BRIEF WORD ON POLLING

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The initial BCS standings were out Sunday, as you might know, and though I intend to look at those rankings closely most weeks, it doesn't seem necessary now. South Florida is number two despite having two wins (Auburn and West Virginia) easily more impressive right now than Ohio State's best (Purdue), but number two is still in line for the mythical championship, and there is no narrative now except "what the hell is going on out there?" The Bulls did get 11 first place votes in the AP poll, which is not part of the BCS formula and therefore irrelevant to those who have been conditioned to recognize the manufactured, in-name-only corporate championship, which is everyone who watches the sport - especially LSU fans, whose identity seems to hinge on the legitimacy of the BCS, and so out of a deep abiding sense of intellectual integrity can't take any solace in the lone first place vote in the AP still cast for the Tigers (by Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News, who voted Ohio State seventh) even after Saturday's loss. I suspect voting LSU in the top spot may be more defensible than voting Ohio State there at the moment, as Wilner's ballot advances, but I'll hold off saying so until my rankings for the week come out Wednesday. And I'll hold off gnashing teeth over the specifics of the process until it begins to ossify. Because if there's one tendency we've seen this season, it is a voracious evolution that defies stasis at every turn.


The narrative, 2007.
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For the record, I think this is fine. One of the reasons I've stuck to resumé ranking from the first week of the season, in fact, is a fundamental belief in the "evolutionary process" of the season, for lack of a better term, and the idea that polling is inherently dumb and a completely inadequate way to capture a complex set of facts. The natural state is chaos and opinion is no basis for assessing the often random reality between the lines. Guessing is not good enough.

The goal of a "resumé" ballot, then, is one that reacts fluidly with the spasms of the season, that embraces upsets as part of the merciless selection process rather than a threat to its stability, and that holds no assumptions inviolable; it rejects out of hand the idea that any team is the number one team in the country, or the tenth, or the seventy-third, because there is no inherent rating that could possibly tell the truth about the peaks, valleys, blatant contradictions and occasional dumb luck that eventually determines any team's fate. It's not a video game. There are no numbers to attach to any team's or player's overall ability, not honestly. If you believe in that, you will always be proven wrong by the reality, which is endlessly resourceful in the ways it works to undermine what we think we know. Texas Tech would be harboring an undefeated record and mounting championship chatter right now if not for a single, dropped touchdown pass by possibly the most productive receiver in major college history. This is reality. How good is Texas Tech? How good is Michael Crabtree?

All we really know is what a team's body of work is to the current point, and that it's guaranteed nothing in the future. Certain unavoidable assumptons must be challenged at every opportunity. My media-programmed, pattern-seeking mind says "I still think Southern Cal is better than South Carolina," because the entirety of its experience over the last six years insists this must be true, but my ballot has to have the sturdy spine to ask "based on what?" It has to ask it about every pick every week, and acknowledge every surprise as a new reality, never a fluke. Adapation is the entire point. Otherwise, it's just the same stubborn, complacent guess on the fallacy of inherent strengths that's always defined the mainstream polls, opinions waiting to be made extinct.

Okay. I bring this up for the first time this season because it seems to have taken 50 years - or at least, half a season that included Michigan losing to a I-AA team - for the Detroit News' Jerry Green to own up to voter fraud in his salad days as an AP voter:

A half-century ago, when I might have been presumed innocent, I participated in what could be described only as fraud. Voter fraud!

Back then, as the Ann Arbor correspondent of the Associated Press, I cast my ballot on the morning after the Saturday football games. I never stuffed the ballot box, but each week in October and November, I voted for my Top 10 in the AP's poll. One man, one vote.

And the AP tabulated the votes, perhaps 100, perhaps more, and splashed the results into the public domain. And in the aftermath, each week gullible students and gullible athletes and gullible alumni chanted, "We're No. 1," until the following Saturday when their schools football team was dumped in what was proclaimed "the upset of the season!"

Guilty!

It was an error of callow youth.

Now, 50 years later, I deem myself as a once-naïve victim of overzealousness, but guilty nevertheless of contributing to the defrauding of the football-addicted masses.

What did I know! How could I vote Alabama over Texas when I'd never watched either of them play? Or Southern California over Florida? Or Louisville over Rutgers? Or Notre Dame over LSU? Or Michigan over Oklahoma, a vote by a shameless homer?

Or -- Stanford over Appalachian State?

A half-century later, silent for so long about my guilt, I must confess. Even if I had watched each of these teams, absorbed the comments of the television experts -- Lou Holtz and his ilk -- how could I judge one team above another? And believe that I was accurate?

It has taken the football follies of 2007 to force me into this confession.

And to issue this plea: If I didn't know what the devil I was doing when I cast my vote so long ago, how does any ink-stained wretch of this era know what the devil he, or she, is doing? Or does any sports information director -- told by his coach, "Cast my vote, willya! I'm too busy" -- figure out which team is No. 1 and not No. 20?

From this willy-nilly system there emerge the polls ranking the football teams of academic institutions that feature science within their curriculums.
[...]
New polls are to be announced today. LSU is doomed to vanish from the top. Unanimous No.1 for all of one week, LSU - was upset by Kentucky in three overtimes.
The fraud continues, another fraud every week. On and on, into December.
Guilty!

I was 50 years ago. Dropping a vote in the ballot box every Sunday.

Despite this confession and my turning in this evidence to the college football addicts, I have not been sentenced to purgatory. There has been no jail time for this defrauding of college football fans who actually believe these weekly stuffings of the ballot boxes.

There is one suggestion, however, as proper punishment for the former experts and deep thinkers who participate in the guessing contests. They deserve to be sentenced to watching reruns of Michigan State vs. Indiana. Over and over.
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(via The Wiz)


Matt Ryan, why are you destroying our childhood?
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"Polls are a willy-nilly fraud," admits former voter! In-depth discussion at eleven!

Well, okay, no one cares what Jerry Green says about the modern polls. He hasn't even voted in 50 years, so what does he know about which inviolable behemoths ought to be colliding for indisputable proof of eternal superiority in the [Insert Brand Here] Championship Game? Did you know Matt Leinart had myopia? And still grew up to become quarterback of the Greatest Team of All-Time™? Does anything about this song make you want to shop at Home Depot?

I excerpt Green because I think his point is one that can't be made often or emphatically enough: opinion polls are snapshots at best, and fuzzy, arbitrary ones with little insight at that. They have no business determining who we think of as a champion of a sport with objective rules for very non-arbitrary winning and losing, and the fact that they continue to matter so much despite being so consistently wrong in their conventional form is an ongoing joke on the sport. To the extent that polls are a necessity, they should at least embrace rigor and the constant acknowledgement that perception - however big, fast or strong - is not reality.

And you know what? It's mid-October and eleven anointed writers think South Florida deserves a first place vote by whatever standard they apply. So at least part of the system is adapting.