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Transparency, not secrecy needed for college football

Wednesday, May 27, 2009 | 8:16 p.m. CDT

It's not enough that Congress is investigating the legality of the Bowl Championship Series and that the public already thinks the BCS is a sham.

Wednesday, the American Football Coaches Association announced that, starting in 2010, it is going to make the USA Today college football poll a secret again.

That's right — the AFCA has opted for reverse transparency.

Told by a reporter this might be a mistake, AFCA Executive Director Grant Teaff said, "that's your opinion."

Told to expect a lot of blowback, Teaff responded "let 'er rip."

How we got from there to here, and back to there: After years of voting anonymously, and sometimes hilariously, the coaches agreed in 2005 to reveal their final votes in conjunction with the release of the final BCS standings.

If you're going to use a controversial system to decide which teams play in your national title game, you ought to do your business in the town square.

How could coaches tell their players to be accountable for their actions when they weren't?

The coaches were pressured into disclosure after 2004, when Texas and California lobbied for votes in an unseemly points battle for a guaranteed bid to the Rose Bowl. Texas edged Cal, but the coaches never had to show their cards.

It didn't pass the stink test.

The Associated Press, embarrassed even though its pollsters did vote publicly, pulled out of the BCS. It was replaced by the Harris poll, and all agreed transparency was best for a system beset with image problems.

Then came Wednesday. Why did the AFCA reverse course?

It recently commissioned Gallup World Poll to evaluate ways to make the USA Today poll more efficient and credible.

Gallup told the AFCA that anonymity was better. Which was like an ice cream company telling kids to eat more banana splits.

"This is the judgment of experts," Teaff said of the Gallup survey. " ... Why do you think they have voting booths when you vote?"

Except, the coaches' poll should be more like the Senate, where you do have to reveal how you voted for legislation.

It's obvious, even understandable, why coaches want secrecy. They're control freaks who are hard-wired to protect. Voting exposes them to hard decisions and ridicule. Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel refused to vote in 2006 when his team was No. 1 and arch-rival Michigan and Florida were fighting it out for No. 2.

Two years ago, Hal Mumme of New Mexico State voted Hawaii No. 1, the same year the highest vote Tommy Bowden-coached Clemson received was from his dad, Florida Coach Bobby Bowden.

Funny stuff, but at least we knew where to direct our laughter.

BCS officials aren't laughing, though; they're seething. John Swofford, Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner and current BCS coordinator, issued a statement that diplomatically underscored the organization's position.

"The AFCA has been an important and respected element for all 11 years of the BCS arrangement," the statement read. "Obviously we appreciate the AFCA's support. In the past, the commissioners have favored transparency in voting by the people who participate in the two polls that are used to compile the BCS standings.

"The commissioners review all aspects of the BCS arrangement — including the BCS standings — at the conclusion of each season, and I know the AFCA's decision will be on the agenda for that review after the January 2010 games."

Transparency, at this important juncture of college football's present, is paramount to its future. It trumps anything Gallup has been commissioned to evaluate.

If the coaches insist on privacy, fine, let them move their convention to Tiananmen Square.

Just don't allow their poll to remain one-third of the BCS formula.

The coaches have been crowning champions since 1950; let them crown on alone.

Place a call to AP in New York and see if the people who have been crowning champions since 1936 would be willing to rejoin the BCS.

Let bygones be bylines.

Or, go out and find another poll that doesn't mind having its tires kicked.

The coaches have a year to huddle up and change the play.

 


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