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Monday, December 27, 2004

Where Is The Mainstream Sports Media On This Story?

When the news broke, I blogged about this, and I gave my (strong) opinion the topic. Plain and simple, I thought that the Cal Bears got the shaft, that they should have gone to a BCS Bowl as the fourth-ranked team in the country. They won out, as the vernacular goes, they held their place, and they should be playing Michigan in what would have been a classic Rose Bowl on New Year's Day. (And Cal-Michigan in the Rose Bowl sounds a whole lot better than Texas-Michigan).

But what happened was awful. Several voters lowered their rankings of Cal after they beat a good if not great Southern Miss team on the road by only 10 points, and those votes were enough to elevate Texas to a BCS Bowl game and to relegate Cal to a much lower payday (by about $10 million) in Thursday night's Holiday Bowl game against Texas Tech.

It says here that this really stinks to high heaven, and I haven't been able to locate any mainstream sports writers who have looked hard, in an investigative fashion, into what happened with this voting. For example, which BCS voters voted to lower Cal after the Southern Miss game? Which coaches? From which conferences? IWhich writers? What beats do they cover? I think that the football fans really have a right to know which coaches dropped Cal in the rankings.

Stewart Mandel of touched upon this topic, ranted on it, but didn't go further. He pointed out the changes in votes, but so far neither Sports Illustrated or The Sporting News has pursued this issue (and while I like TSN, it's not the type of publication that is known for doing investigative pieces). ESPN or USA Today you suggest? Well, they have a huge conflict of interest, so much so that it's almost impossible to call them journalists on this particular topic. Why? Well, it's hard to cover something objectively if you're a part of it, and the last time I checked the coaches' poll is entitled the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll. So don't look for them to create a scandal, where that scandal would bear their names.

That just will not happen. (And as for ESPN, at times it's difficult to tell whether they're part of the entertainment mix or whether they're journalists in the way that SI or your daily newspapers are journalists -- how many "investigative" stories do they break?).

There are some instances in which bloggers need to call the mainstream media (or MSM, as bloggers are wont to call them) to task, and this is one of them. Why don't the MSM sportswriters and other media go hard after this topic? My guess is either the BCS voters (or, more precisely, those who vote in the coaches' poll) are a tough group to crack or that precious access could be denied if writers go hard after the money machine that is the BCS. Or, perhaps there's another reason -- that we've become complacent about a flawed system, intellectual dishonesty or abject corruption, agree that it's become a part of life, and therefore give it a pass.

Cal and the Pac-10 asked that the votes be opened and that the voters who changed their votes be revealed. AFCA (presumably the American Football Coaches Association) head honcho Grant Teaff refused on the grounds that this isn't the way the DI-A football coaches do things. He also said that the coaches do their best to run a credible poll. As for how the BCS got to Texas instead of California for the Rose Bowl, click here and read this post, where you'll see the comments of BCS Chairman Kevin Weiberg.

By way of full disclosure, Teaff is a former Baylor coach (Baylor is in the Big 12), and Weiberg is the Commissioner of the Big 12. Texas, of course, is in the Big 12. Cal is in the Pac-10. It goes without saying that the Pac-10 dramatis personae should get more involved in various trade association posts to, in the least, increase the visibility and networking of their conference. I am not suggesting that Teaff or Weiberg have done anything wrong; I just hope that they're embarrassed at what happened to Cal, especially in light of the positions of trust that they hold. Because they should be.

I am not a believer in conspiracy theories, so the purpose of this post is not to suggest that the Big 12 rallied its troops -- its beat writers and its coaches who vote in the coaches' poll -- to change their votes in a way to cause Texas to slip past Cal in the BCS rankings. I have no evidence of that, and to do so would not be fair.

But in the absence of the coaches' poll's opening up of its voting records (and the Associated Press's doing the same), the questions remain. Who changed their votes? And why? And what, if any, pressure, was put upon the voters in the coaches' poll and even in the writers' poll?

There is a story waiting to be told here.

Or is there?

Without an opening of the books, many college football fans will believe that something untoward went on. And that impression could be dead wrong. It could well be that upon detached reflection of a complete season at the end of the regular season, coaches and writers from all over the country decided that Texas really was better than Cal. That story would reflect an interesting change in the behavior of BCS voters, that they really are reflecting on the season in the last vote before the BCS determines who gets slots in the BCS bowls. That could well be the more likely explanation. Or it could be that the chance of a conference losing its share of a $10-$14 million payday caused certain people to change their votes. If that's what happened, well, that story needs to be told too.

Grant Teaff wants a credible poll, and that's all well and good. But the only way his poll will regain its credibility -- which is sorely lacking because of what happened to Cal -- is to open its books and let the fans know which coaches changed their rankings of Texas and Cal in that fateful poll.

Here's one vote in favor of the coaches' poll doing just that.

Meanwhile, Cal plays Texas Tech on Thursday night, and here's to hoping that the Cal players come out mobile, agile and hostile. The writer John McPhee once wrote a book called "The Headmaster," about the one-time headmaster of the elite New England private school, Deerfield Academy, Frank Broydon, who would preach to his kids all of the virtues of fair play before a big game, and then say, "Now let's go out there and try to beat them by 40 points."

I don't want to see Cal run up the score, and I don't want to see them keep the first string in until three minutes to go, but in the spirit of the venerated headmaster, I hope that in as classy a fashion as possible, Cal goes out and beats the Red Raiders by, what the heck, let's add a few, 66 points -- or one for each point Cal lost in the fateful polls that lifted Texas into a BCS Bowl Game.

And then let the hue and cry begin again for the BCS and the coaches' poll to come clean.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Frank Boyden, not Broydon. Headmaster at Deerfield for over 60 years as well as coach.

It was apparently a one-time exhortation to his boys, and one of my all-time favorite quotes. In fact, you can read the extended quote in your college yearbook under the name of the only Deerfield alumnus in your class.


11:07 AM  

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