- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
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College football coaches who vote in the USA Today Top 25 coaches' poll will no longer have to reveal their final regular-season ballots beginning in 2010.
Allowing coaches to keep their final ballots confidential is one of several changes being implemented by the American Football Coaches Association, which administers the coaches' poll, one of the key components in the Bowl Championship Series formula.
The changes come after Gallup World Poll conducted an evaluation of the AFCA's voting process.
Prior to the 2005 season, coaches' ballots remained confidential. But the BCS urged coaches to remove the secrecy of their ballots after the 2004 season, when Texas made a late surge in the polls to earn a Rose Bowl bid over California.
At the time, the coaches voted to release only their final regular-season ballots, which were printed in USA Today.
Revealing the ballots has caused some awkward situations for the coaches' poll. 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 as No. 1 over Ohio State, which is in the Big Ten with Illinois.
Zook said whether the poll is confidential or not, his method remains the same.
"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."
Even Spurrier has no problem with revealing his vote.
"I thought that we would stay public on that last vote," he said. "I sort of think we ought to stay public, you know. It keeps everybody pretty honest."
Others agreed. Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said that the vote "maybe has a little more validity if it's not protected, if it's open."
Georgia's Mark Richt supports oversight but not necessarily in the public domain.
"As long as somebody can look at it and make sure there aren't any wild discrepancies to manipulate that final vote, I can live with it being hidden," he said.
Bobby Johnson of Vanderbilt made his vote public, the one he made on the AFCA board to conceal voting results.
"The AFCA hired the Gallup Poll people to review our procedures," he said. "They reviewed them and made the suggestions. To me, they're the foremost authority on taking polls. They've been doing it for I don't know how many years. It just made sense to go with the experts. The goal is to do the very best job you can on the poll, and that's why I voted for it."
But some remain on the fence.
"The one thing I wouldn't want and the one thing none of the coaches want is to be criticized for voting honestly," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "So I don't know what the answer is."
The Harris Interactive poll, which replaced The Associated Press Top 25 poll in the BCS formula in 2005, will apparently continue to release its voters' final ballots. Harris voters include former college football players, coaches, administrators and media members.
Among the other changes adopted by the AFCA:
• Continuation of voters being selected on a random basis each season.
• The elimination of a "bonus voter" system, which was based on the ranking success of a conference's teams in the previous season's poll.
• Adoption of a "round to even" methodology for conferences with an odd number of teams. For instance, the Big Ten -- which has 11 teams -- will be represented by six coaches voting in the poll.
• Continuation of the option of coaches being allowed to vote for their own teams.
As a result of the Gallup World Poll study, the AFCA said it will also consider reducing the number of ranked teams to 10 or 15.
Mark Schlabach covers college football for ESPN.com. Information from ESPN.com's Chris Low and The Associated Press was used in this report.
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