It's no secret that college football voting is shadier than, well, actual political voting. Some coaches vote up their own teams and vote down rival teams. Some coaches vote up schools in their own conference and down those in another conference that could take away potential BCS at-large slot, and henceforth, millions of dollars.
Hanging chads have nothing on the USA Today Coaches' Poll.
The process by which two teams are chosen to compete for the BCS National Championship is both convoluted and secretive by design. There's one part computer score, which is based on six different ranking systems involving various algorithms that combine RPI, strength of schedule, wins or losses, home or away, boxers or briefs and, for teams on both coasts, high or low tide at the time of kickoff.
Then there's the Harris Poll, a random collection of media, dignitaries and former players that was hastily put together a few years ago when the AP voters decided they wanted no part of this BCS mess anymore.
Last comes the USA Today Coaches poll, which year after year is where most of the shadiness lies. In the past few seasons, coaches only had to make their final vote public, enabling coaches to finagle with the rankings throughout the season. Starting in 2010, the rule to provide the final ballot from each coach will be repealed by the AFCA, allowing for even more cloak and/or dagger with the poll.
Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples has seen enough. Well, I guess in this case, he hasn't seen enough. Staples wrote a column yesterday indicating SI will be sending Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to every public university with a football coach who is a voter -- 59 in all. And what looked like a ‘hey guess what we're going to do' threat and nothing more in his column, Staples was true to his word, sending out 51 of the 59 requests yesterday, with the rest coming today.
Why are we doing this? Because, as South Carolina coach -- and public school poll voter -- Steve Spurrier so eloquently put it to CBSSports.com after learning the 2010 results would remain cloaked, the looming secrecy allows "a chance for some real hanky-panky." If the AFCA learns through this exercise it can't keep the ballots secret, it might choose instead to embrace transparency rather than risk damaging the integrity of the poll.
Without a doubt, it's a virtuous undertaking by Staples, and whatever gaggle of SI interns he wrangled into compiling all the information and standing next to a fax machine for eight-straight hours.
But the more interesting question, perhaps, is why SI would announce this so publicly. Most FOIA and Open Public Records Acts (OPRA) are done with little fanfare, lest another news organization beat them to the punch. So I asked Staples why he went public with this idea when other news organizations can -- and undoubtedly will -- pilfer it.
"Why announce it publicly? I went back and forth on this. But in the final analysis, I thought that the public should know what we're doing and why we're doing it. We're not trying to pick on any school's coach.
"This isn't a "Gotcha!" project. These well-paid employees of public universities are casting votes that determine how millions of dollars will flow. It's in the public's interest to know who is voting for whom. These schools have no obligation to SI.com or to any media organization, but they do have an obligation to the taxpayers in their states to operate in the open."
As fans of college football, we all want to see the national championship game decided fairly, and since we're not getting a playoff anytime soon, transparency in the process by which the teams are selected is the next best thing. But is the red tape worth it every week? Will teams just give in and supply SI, or whichever local news organization that takes up SI's charge each week, the coaches voting record? Or will some schools make each news outlet jump through hoops, which in some states could take up to 30 days to comply with such requests?
"Am I concerned about the turnaround time? No. The AFCA still plans to make this season's final poll public. This won't really be critical until next season, when the AFCA plans to hide every ballot. I just felt like we might be able to head them off at the pass. The state laws differ quite a bit on how much time these schools have to respond, but all the timetables are really reasonable. When I collect those responses, I'll take them to our in-house attorneys, and they'll decide on the best course of action."
It likely won't get that far, and Staples' plan to head them off at the pass will probably work. In fact, some coaches have already made their votes public. Others have swiftly complied with SI's requests, including USF's Jim Leavitt, who was the only coach to vote for Oklahoma as the nation's top team. Leavitt and Stoops previously coached together, and there was no way the USF coach was putting Florida at the top of the list, right?
See, this kind of gamesmanship happens at every school, every week. Now that news outlets are monitoring it via open, public channels that everyone (not just media) can use, it will be interesting to see if some of the shenanigans cease, or at the very least, some coaches stop letting their graduate assistants handle the balloting.
This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.