Premature Polls: Why College Basketball Should Avoid CFP’s Bad Example

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If we had our way, there would be no weekly poll from the College Football Playoff committee. We wouldn’t ever see a hypothetical bracket featuring the top four teams, let alone one every week from late October until the gridiron’s version of Selection Sunday. We think it’s pointless to get a dozen-person committee together every week to rank teams just to satisfy the curiosity of players, coaches, fans, and the media. All that a premature Top 25 really does is get more attention for the College Football Playoff and give talking heads a bunch of extra numbers and “who’s in/who’s out” scenarios to discuss ad nauseam for more than a month.

The argument from those who support such a system is that it adds “transparency” to the process, so a team doesn’t have to be shocked and disappointed in December when it’s on the outside of the playoff looking in — only disappointed. The college football world gets to see how the sausage is made, so to speak, because (in theory) that will help things go smoother on December 7, when the final bracket is revealed.

That’s not sausage. That’s baloney. Do you really think the No. 5 team in the country is going to feel any better about being No. 5 on December 7 because it knew where it stood a week or two weeks or three weeks earlier? How did that work out for Auburn as the third-best team in 2004? Exactly. All the too-early polls do is cause the committee to arbitrarily judge teams on half-completed seasons and risk creating what some, such as CBS Sports expert Jerry Palm, have called “poll mentality,” where teams move up or down in a certain week because they’re getting ranked every seven days, as opposed to waiting until December to judge a program’s entire body of work without any misguided preconceptions.

We don’t hold any illusions that we’re going to change the College Football Playoff committee’s mind about putting out these weekly polls, because that Pandora’s box has already been opened. The CFP is getting attention every Tuesday night for releasing a new set of rankings that, in the scheme of things, mean absolutely nothing. (Sorry, Mississippi State, but there’s no trophy for being No. 1 in poll No. 1 — in October — when you haven’t played Alabama yet.) However, it might not be too late to keep college basketball, which has, in our humble opinion, the greatest postseason format known to man, from mimicking the CFP’s approach.

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In an interview with USA Today this week, Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s vice president of men’s basketball championships, went on the record as being open to the idea of releasing the current No. 1 seeds or current Nos. 1 to 4 seeds sometime late in the college basketball season. Gavitt, who acknowledged the committee has considered such a plan in the past, had this to say:

We did talk about it and certainly have been monitoring what the football committee has been doing. Even going back to last year … we had some ideas of possibly taking more steps with what I think has been a real good effort over the years in transparency in the process — additional things we could do in that regard, but also possibly take advantage, as the football committee has, of the promotional/marketing value of that as well.

Don’t do it. Please don’t do it. March Madness is great just the way it is (well, once we get back to calling the first round the “first round” again.) The suspense of Selection Sunday is what makes Selection Sunday great. The eyes of the sports universe are on college basketball because of its gloriously symmetrical bracket, its propensity for creating lovable Cinderellas/underdogs/upsets, and its crazy unpredictability. Don’t risk messing any of that up because of the promotional/marketing value of a pointless February poll. There are enough questions in mid-March about how a team got seeded so high or so low that we can’t bear the thought of having that discussion on a semi-regular — or, heaven forbid, weekly basis — during the latter portion of the season.

The idea you’re considering emulating, Mr. Gavitt and company, is a poor one. We wish it didn’t exist. Don’t compound things and take the midseason ranking/seeding to basketball, too. Please — just don’t.