Second ESPN Writer Criticizes Choice of Florida Over Michigan

Another writer at ESPN has criticized the manner in which voters chose Florida to go to the national championship game to avoid a Michigan v. Ohio State rematch. Pat Forde wrote:
The voters have spoken. Between Gator chomps, here’s what they said:

Never mind.Never mind what we did the last couple of weeks, voting Michigan ahead of Florida. We’ve changed our minds because, hey, we can.

Because the rematch thing suddenly became too real. Because when Urban Meyer politicks, we listen. Because we thought it was time to throw the embittered SEC a bone after stonewalling Auburn’s national title bid two years ago.

We thought the Wolverines were better than Florida back in November — and even though Michigan hasn’t played a down of football since Nov. 18, we’ve decided that we don’t think so anymore. We were dazzled by the Gators’ work since that date: a seven-point victory over Florida State and a 10-point win over Arkansas. And we decided that Ohio State-Michigan was not in need of a sequel.

That’s our story and we’re sticking to it. Now if you’ll excuse us, we’d like to put our fake nose and glasses back on and return to anonymity. These publicized ballots make us more accountable than we’d prefer. Goodbye.

Once again, Florida and the ballot box have made for a wildly controversial combination. Six years ago it was hanging chads. This year the voters are hanging Chad (Henne) out to dry outside the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game.

Some system, huh? You’ve got to love a sport that reduces its championship to a politicized popularity contest/guessing game.

I really don’t have a problem with a Florida-Ohio State title game. In fact, I prefer it to Ohio State-Michigan — prefer to see a battle of conference champs, and prefer not to put the Buckeyes in double jeopardy against a team they’ve already beaten.

But I don’t like the way it came about.

On Nov. 26, the Wolverines led the Gators by 86 points in the Harris Poll and 30 points in the USA Today poll. By Sunday morning there had been a 154-point reversal in the Harris poll and a 56-point swing in the USA Today poll.

That was shocking. If you were already predisposed to voting Michigan ahead of Florida, I didn’t see enough in that game to merit that kind of turnaround. We certainly didn’t see anything from Michigan to merit a demotion, given the fact that the Wolverines weren’t playing.

Which makes me suspect that habitual slot voters massaged their ballots simply to block a rematch — something they should have considered the previous two weeks, it seems.

Or perhaps they simply liked the sound of Meyer’s insistent voice, as he lobbied like nobody since Mack Brown groveled Texas into the Rose Bowl two years ago. If we’ve learned one lesson from recent BCS history, it’s this: Whiners win. And that will only breed more whining in the future.

(Harris Poll voter Jim Walden was apparently so smitten by Meyer’s pitch that he became the only voter on the planet to put Florida No. 1, ahead of Ohio State. Walden also voted Oklahoma fourth, Boise State fifth, Wake Forest seventh and LSU 11th. Makes me wonder whether we were watching the same sport all fall.)

Here’s something else we learned this weekend: When the going gets tough, voting is optional. Buckeyes boss Jim Tressel flat refused to vote in the final USA Today coaches’ poll and got away with it.

Tress was OK with voting every other week of the year. But now it’s time to cast the final ballot — which, coincidentally, will be made public — he suddenly bails out?

Nice precedent there. How many coaches made a mental note of that maneuver and will try to employ it next year? What if 10 coaches decide that propriety demands an abstention on the critical (and public) final ballot?

Tressel will say he didn’t want to influence the outcome of a vote that decided who his team will face for the title. But if he voted in August, September, October and November, he damn well ought to vote in December, too.

Of course, in a rational world the polls would be little more than curiosities, and the championship would be decided on the field. As Meyer himself said on ESPN Sunday night, the voters are “asked to do a job you can’t do.”

Divining the difference between 11-1 Michigan and 12-1 Florida is truly an impossible task — though at least the voters were spared from splitting hairs in triplicate when USC spit the bit against UCLA.

The only way to know for sure is, of course, a playoff. But if you call a Division I-A university president today, you’ll probably get the following ramble: “academic concerns … length of season … maintain integrity of the regular season … Meineke Car Care … MPC Computers … once-in-a-lifetime experience … this is a recording. …”

“Next year’s going to be the same thing,” Meyer said Sunday night.

Please, Urban, don’t go ruining 2007 already.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.

Related Stories:

ESPN Columnist: Michigan was Robbed
Election Day in College Football

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2 Comments

  1. 1
    ignorance is bliss says:

    Harris Poll voter Jim Walden was apparently so smitten by Meyer’s pitch that he became the only voter on the planet to put Florida No. 1, ahead of Ohio State.
    It’s a dumb planet . . . . . . . .

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    The rankings are a very strange system. They tremendously emphasize having least number of losses and (with exceptions such as Boise State) it is usual for undefeated teams to be ranked above teams with a loss. At the time of the final poll it was normal to have Ohio State ranked ahead of Florida. That doesn’t necessarily mean universal agreement that the higher ranked team will beat a lower ranked team (although there was a strong consensus in predicting Ohio State over Florida in this case.) NOt only are there numerous cases historically of lower ranked teams beating higher ranked teams, there have also been many cases of lower ranked teams being favored over higher ranked teams, which shows a flaw in the system.

    The previous polls have little relevance now with Florida having proven itself on the field, but Walden’s vote still raises a question. If Walden really thought that Florida was a better team than Ohio State regardless of their records at the time, then his vote made sense, and is quite wise in retrospect. However, the suspicion is that he might have moved Florida up to number one to game the system to get Florida into the national championship game to avoid the rematch. If that was the case I would still disagree with his vote. The fact that he was lucky in the end and Florida won, justifying the vote, still does not justify gaming the system in this manner.

    Ironically Florida itself has shown that rematches sometimes make sense, and that one victory doesn’t prove that a team will always beat the same team. Looking back at Florida’s previoius national championship, they won in a rematch in 1997 after losing to Florida State in the regular season.

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