Monday, August 24, 2009

Why the AP Poll Still Matters

The Associated Press top 25 was released over the weekend. And it didn't make much of a splash aside from that Florida got an unprecedented 58 of 60 first-place votes.

But don't be fooled. Even in the BCS Era, the AP Poll still matters. A lot.

Ever since the AP asked (or more accurately, demanded) out of the BCS standings after the 2004 season, the most venerable and prestigious college football poll seemed to have taken a backseat. To the coaches poll, for sure. But also to the Harris Poll, which was founded for no other reason than to replace AP in the BCS standings.

On so many levels, however, the AP Poll is still very influential:

1. It has more credibility than any other poll: The AP poll began in 1936, long before the coaches poll (1950) and never mind the Harris poll (2005). It has released a weekly ranking with a final poll without interruption, through war and peace. Its voters' identities are disclosed to the public, as are their ballots. Contrast that with the decidedly non-transparent process of the Coaches Poll.

The Associated Press continues to crown its champions, regardless of other polls or arrangements. It's been around long before the BCS and it might outlast the BCS. There's always a possibility that the BCS may disband after the next contract runs out - even if it's a slim one. But the AP Poll? It'll always be there.

2. It's still used by most of the media: Don't forget, the AP is the media poll. All print publications and most of the electronic media use the AP poll as a reference. The purpose of the BCS standings is to produce two teams for the BCS national title game and other BCS bowl games, as evidenced by its lack of a season-ending standings. Case-in-point: Utah finished No. 2 in the AP Poll and No. 3 in the Coaches Poll last season. Guess which one was always cited in this spring's BCS discussions?

3. The Harris Poll is basically an AP Poll surrogate: Never mind that the Harris Poll doesn't come out until late September and its voters are supposedly keeping an open mind by watching a few weeks' worth of games before they vote.

Make no mistake, Harris voters are greatly influenced by the AP poll. They can't help it. They have to start somewhere.

AP Poll Archive
(one of the Guru's most favored go-to sources) did the research. And as you can see, there's not much of a difference between Harris Poll rankings and the AP ones. In fact, in its four seasons of existence, there has been just three minor variations in its final regular-season top 10, and none among the top four. In 2008, the two polls had identical top 10s at the end of the regular season.

4. AP still crowns a champion: Who was the national champion in 2003? The majority of the country would acknowlege a split, with many siding with USC over LSU (to the eternal consternation of Tigers fans). Last year, had Oklahoma defeated Florida in the BCS title game, the AP might've crowned Utah as the champion over OU, who would've been the BCS champion.

For as long as AP crowns its own champion, there is always a possibility of a split title. And the AP champion would be every bit as legitimate as the BCS champion. Look at it another way - The BCS merely produces a champion for the Coaches Poll, one that by all counts an inferior one to the AP Poll.

This list of national champions will always be the one that shows up in your hometown newspaper (unless you're in Louisiana) - for as long as newspapers exist. That's why the AP Poll still matters.

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