So we all agree that preseason polls in college football, while a lot of fun, are also basically pointless and irrelevant, right? It's not where you start, it's where you finish, and all of that? Championships have to be earned, not given, etc.? Most coaches love reciting that stuff.
Now that he's entered the "maturing" phase of his career, USC coach Lane Kiffin does, too, which is why he assured reporters earlier this week that he had not even considered putting his own team at the top of his ballot in the annual coaches' poll administered by USA Today. A standard position in training camp – except that, according to USA Today, Kiffin actually did put his team at the top of his ballot a few days earlier:
Southern California football coach Lane Kiffin was asked this week about voting in the USA TODAY Sports Coaches' Poll.
"I would not vote USC No. 1, I can tell you that," he told reporters.
But he did.
In his first-ever ballot as a voter in the poll, Kiffin voted his Trojans as the preseason No. 1 team in the nation.
Yes, the older, wiser Kiffin was one of the 19 coaches who cast their first-place votes for USC, helping the Trojans finish just 15 points behind No. 1 LSU in the poll at large. (Despite landing at No. 3, USC actually finished with one more first-place vote than LSU, 19 to 18, but one less than No. 2 Alabama, which took the top spot on 20 ballots. No other team picked up a single first-place vote.) And why not? Kiffin sees his team every day, and he likes what he sees. As he explained to a USAT reporter who asked him about the apparent contradiction between his vote and his words, he just meant he wouldn't vote the Trojans No. 1 if he was somebody elsewho didn't get to see them every day.
"We have less players than everybody else," Kiffin said, referring to NCAA sanctions that cut the Trojans' maximum scholarship limit from 85 players to seventy-five. "So looking at it from the outside, I wouldn't (vote USC No. 1). Did I? Yeah, I did. That's not based off of 75 vs. 85. That's based off of (quarterback) Matt Barkley, (safety) T.J. McDonald and (wide receivers) Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. When everybody has the same record, I can't go into a meeting with our players and have them say, 'You put that team and that team ahead of us.' That's why I did that."
Okay, fine, fair enough. It's just a dumb preseason poll. At least Kiffin owned up to the vote instead of passing the buck to the staffer who likely filled out the remainder of his ballot. Who's going to get worked up over vagaries of a preseason poll?
Cue USC spokesman getting worked up over the vagaries of a preseason poll in 3… 2…
Here's a statement from USC spokesperson Tim Tessalone regarding USA Today's decision to make Lane Kiffin's ballot public.
"USA TODAY sent a June 4, 2012, letter to coaches who agreed to vote in its college football poll stating that, except for the final poll of the regular season, 'votes for all other polls will be kept confidential by USA TODAY.'
"The fact that the leadership of the American Football Coaches Association, which tasks USA TODAY to administer its poll, joined with the poll administrators from USA TODAY to decide to breach that confidentiality by providing to a reporter a coach's vote in its pre-season poll is disappointing and attacks the integrity of the poll. Further, that the reporter who was given this information represents the very organization that conducts the poll is a conflict of journalistic interest."
That's right: The integrity of a secret poll in which self-interested coaches not only routinely allow surrogates to cast votes in their place, but have also been consistently, empirically proven to return biased results that favor their own teams, is threatened by a conflict of interest… in journalism. If only pesky reporters would keep their mouths shut, this enterprise would be restored to its traditional status as a paragon of selfless, informed, clear-eyed objectivity.