CBSSports.com Senior College Football Columnist

Whether it's football or basketball, college coaches polls need to go

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Alabama's Nick Saban is the only SEC coach not to vote Oklahoma State No. 3 in the final poll. (US Presswire)  
Alabama's Nick Saban is the only SEC coach not to vote Oklahoma State No. 3 in the final poll. (US Presswire)  

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Missouri's Frank Haith was the third-best coach in the Big 12 this season. At best.

We don't know for sure because the coaches' votes weren't released for Big 12 coach of the year announced on Sunday. All we know is that he wasn't among the top two, which was a bit of a joke. Secrecy in the voting is common practice in these sorts of things -- a despicable one you will see -- but still common. And accepted.

It points to a larger problem -- a potentially huge one with college football.

That Missouri's coach didn't get proper consideration from his peers for coach of the year was actually a mild controversy in these parts, one that will be forgotten by the time the conference tournament tips here on Wednesday. The coaches' coach-of-the-year vote was split between Kansas' Bill Self and Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg. (Haith was named Big 12 AP coach of the year by the media on Monday.)

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I, like a lot of others, was more than surprised and took to Twitter Sunday night to discuss the coaches' vote. It was easy to make a case for Haith, who lost his best player (arguably), inherited a dysfunctional team and has the NCAA hanging over his head. Oh, and he coached up his team to its best start in 20 years.

Take Thomas Robinson away from Kansas or Royce White away from Iowa State. That's what happened to Haith when he lost Laurence Bowers to a knee injury before the season.

When making the case for Haith, the argument comes dangerously close to disparaging Self and Hoiberg. That should never happen. Bill Self as Big 12 coach of the year makes total sense. I wrote about the possibility last week.

It wouldn't be surprising if Haith goes on to win some national coach of the year honors. It happened in Big 12 football where Kansas State's Bill Snyder was Big 12 coach of the year while Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy won the Eddie Robinson award as national COY.

But to assert that Haith was the third-best coach -- maybe -- was an open-handed slap to Missouri as it leaves for the SEC. That's obvious. That's petty. Also sad. In an age when college athletics needs a shot of credibility, it just lost a little. Call it conference realignment collateral damage.

You can see what's happening here: Why should we award a coach whose school is leaving the conference? Missouri has felt similar, subtle slights since it announced its intentions to leave for the SEC in early November.

The Big 12 coaches' ballots are secret but coaches are not prohibited from speaking about their choices. That doesn't mean there is clarity. Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said Monday, "I don't even remember," when asked who he voted for. Baylor's Scott Drew said he voted for, "the one that won." That, at least, narrows it down to two.

"I'm not even going to get into that," Haith said when asked about his ballot. "The guys that won were deserving."

Remove Self from any conspiracy. He said he voted for Haith.

But if there was a slap, it needed to be in public. There was an agenda in the voting that made Sunday's announcement suddenly more than a press release. It made the argument about the system.

If the coaches can screw your guy, they can screw your team. They may have already done it. Is anyone paying attention to the BCS? This secret vote for a conference coach of the year is no different than the 60 coaches who vote in the BCS. After years of hiding behind secrecy, they had to be dragged over hot coals just to release their final ballots.

Their weekly ballots in the coaches' poll continue to be secret. That practice doesn't reveal voting pattern. It begins to reveal possible prejudice. Nick Saban voted Oklahoma State fourth on his final ballot. That may be where he had the Cowboys previously but how do we really know? We don't.

You may have also noticed that Alabama qualified for the BCS title game by the slimmest margin since the formula was refigured in 2004. Saban was the only voting SEC coach who didn't pick the Cowboys No. 3. He may have voted with his heart, but let's be honest, Saban's heart beats crimson and white -- Alabama's colors.

We are told that Saban's vote alone -- Oklahoma State at No. 4, instead of higher -- wouldn't have made a difference. To be fair, he would have been flagged by USA Today if he had voted Oklahoma State, say, 17th. It's not that Saban manipulated the process, it's the appearance that he did.

With college football's postseason about to be changed to a plus-one, how are those top four teams going to be decided? Right now, I sense no urgency on the part of the commissioners to depart from the BCS standings. That would be the all-but-secret coaches' poll, combined with the equally-human Harris Poll and the six computers. That means half the FBS coaches will have a direct influence on a system that I've already priced at $500 million per year on the high end. If you thought there was the possibility for funny business last year, wait until the financial desperation gets cranks up for a plus-one.

There is a fundamental difference in the human voting component regarding college football and basketball. Fans readily accept secret ballots by the NCAA basketball committee. There are nine people who vote on which teams get in, where they're seeded and where they play. If the largest controversy is over whether VCU should be in the bracket or not, it's not really a controversy.

Certainly not compared to football. There are more teams, more games in basketball. It's a larger sample size. Any football playoff suffers from having to decide in 12 regular-season games which teams deserve to play for a championship. While a four-team plus-one gets us closer to "fairness", it is not the solution. Not even close.

Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas became the latest BCS leader to support conference champions only in the plus-one. Had that been the case last year, Saban's team would have been excluded.

By the way, they're going to vote on that little matter soon. Don't expect final totals to be released, only that commissioners agreed "unanimously."

If a human component stays a part of the BCS standings, the coaches' poll should not be a part of it. I don't know if I have an alternative, but I know the solution. Get rid of the voting coaches. A school and a basketball coach were punished in the Big 12 coaches' vote this week. But wait until real money is available, involving more teams, in a reconfigured football postseason.

Forget a slap. We're talking full-on street brawl.


Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
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