Beginning in 2010, ballots in the final regular-season USA Today coaches' college football poll will be confidential — one of a handful of changes on tap for the poll that helps decide who plays in the BCS national championship game.
The American Football Coaches Association asked Gallup to study its poll and recommend how to make it more accurate and credible. The AFCA's board heard the results in early May and announced them Wednesday in Waco, Texas.
"Gallup said, 'Look, why do you think they have curtains and booths for voting?'" AFCA executive director Grant Teaff said. "They said it's because you get the truest vote from an anonymous vote."
Teaff said Gallup recommended that the organization go back to a policy from decades ago when the coaches themselves weren't identified. But the changes stopped short of that.
"The coaches' poll is just that, it's the coaches' poll," said Monte Lorell, USA Today's managing editor for sports. "They make determinations. Our job is to monitor it, make sure it maintains its integrity. We're pleased that the voting panel is public. We think that's important."
The Associated Press has made all votes in its weekly media poll public since 1990. For the past three seasons, ballots have also been posted online.
Other Gallup recommendations being considered for the future include reducing the number of teams ranked from 25 to 10 or 15, and evaluating the merit of a preseason poll.
Starting this year, the poll will also eliminate bonus voters given to some conferences based on how their teams did the previous year.
The most radical change, however, will be the return to the policy in place before 2005, when coaches didn't have to reveal their final ballots. Coaches will be allowed to release their own ballots if they choose.
"When I was a voter, I liked every coach putting it out there to see where it stands," Mississippi coach Houston Nutt said. "I liked being accountable."
But revealing the ballots has made for some awkward situations. Former Florida coaches Steve Spurrier (now at South Carolina) and Ron Zook (Illinois), for instance, took some heat last year when they ranked the Gators second behind Oklahoma in last year's final regular-season poll.
Zook, meanwhile, was criticized two years previously when he picked the Gators No. 1 over Ohio State, which is in the Big Ten with Illinois.
Confidential or not, Zook said his method remains the same for voting.
"To me, I was always going to vote how I felt," he said. "I think that's why you have a poll. That's why more than one person is involved. So what I try to do is rank the teams where I really feel they should be. I'm not real into the political stuff."
The AFCA also decided to continue allowing coaches to vote for their own teams and to select voters on a random basis beginning this year.
The coaches' poll counts for one-third of the BCS rankings. The Harris Interactive poll — a survey of media, former coaches, players and administrators — is another third and a compilation of six computer rankings, which take into account factors like strength of schedule, makes up the rest.
"By keeping things confidential, I think there will be less hidden agendas," said Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, who is on the AFCA's board.
Georgia coach Mark Richt and LSU coach Les Miles said they were never afraid of their ballots going public.
"But some coaches who I respect chose not to vote," Miles said. "They felt it was a competitive disadvantage to their team when they voted against a team, and then they had to line up and play that team. If this allows responsible members of the coaches association to vote, it's great."