Commentary

A tradition that needs to change

Originally Published: July 24, 2009
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The Head Ball Coach has ironically become the Head Gator Hater.

And perhaps he can become an inadvertent agent of needed change, as well.

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
AP Photo/ Butch DillSteve Spurrier admitted on Friday that he didn't actually vote for the preseason SEC team.

The Freaky Friday news at SEC media days was this: Steve Spurrier was the guy who didn't vote for Tim Tebow for all-SEC quarterback. That ended two days of suspense, as the media whittled down the list of suspects in search of the rogue voter who went against the obvious all-league choice.

The revelation had to provoke an et tu brute? response in Gator Nation, which saw its superstar quarterback dissed by a Florida grad, Florida great and legendary Florida coach. But it might also provoke a reconsideration of how coaches vote -- or don't vote -- in college football polls.

A remorseful Spurrier admitted that he didn't fill out his own all-league ballot -- South Carolina director of football operations Jamie Speronis did it. Spurrier said Speronis showed him the ballot for his approval before sending it in to the SEC office, and the HBC somehow overlooked who he had at quarterback -- Mississippi's Jevan Snead, not Tebow.

You might find it hard to believe that a Heisman Trophy-winning former quarterback wouldn't zero in on who he had at the quarterback position on his ballot. You'd be joining me in that disbelief. But that's what Spurrier said.

"I can tell you two guys that were on there, [Georgia wide receiver] A.J. Green and [Florida defensive end] Carlos Dunlap," Spurrier said. "Those were the only two names I saw. I said, 'That's fine.' Anyway, I did a poor job of looking at it."

Thus the most infamous all-league vote in SEC history was in the books. South Carolina's vote has been retroactively changed to Tebow at Spurrier's request, but that's just too-little-too-late window dressing.

What can happen going forward is a committed effort -- by university athletic directors, by conference commissioners and by the American Football Coaches Association -- to get coaches to do their own work. That's less important with all-league ballots than it is with their USA Today Top 25 ballots -- which actually impact the national championship race.

Several coaches at this event admitted they didn't do their own all-conference voting. Spurrier himself said this was his 17th season in the SEC, and the 17th time somebody else did his all-league team.

Spurrier said he looks over his Top 25 votes "a lot more thoroughly," but it's a long-standing college football tradition that those votes are delegated to someone else. Nationwide, a lot of ballots are routinely filled out by ops guys and sports information directors.

Nothing against those hard-working people, but is that really the way we want to decide a national champion?

So this is the current list of flaws with the coaches' poll:

• Fanatical ballot secrecy. The AFCA voted in the spring to keep the coaches' final ballots private, starting in 2010.

• Tunnel vision on their own teams. Coaches watch very little other football beyond their own games on any given Saturday.

• Potential agendas. Votes can be influenced by conference loyalty and personal friendships and rivalries.

• And this one -- coaches who have no idea who they voted for because someone else filled out the ballot.

"I don't know why we vote," Spurrier said. "I guess we vote because college football is still without a playoff system."

That's the bottom-line problem with college football. Unfortunately, that problem isn't changing anytime soon, perhaps not anytime in this lifetime.

With that in mind, it's time to make the system we're stuck with as good as it can be. And part of that should be a renewed push to get coaches to do their own work on any ballots that have their names on them.

Either that, or take the votes away from the coaches and give them to someone who will do the job right.

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

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