Heisman memo urges the impossible, ballot secrecy by voters

You want to know the Heisman winner. The earlier, the better. It’s an American tradition. From the Scripps-Howard poll that has predicted the correct winner in 20 of the last 24 years to our Heisman Pundit, Chris Huston, prognosticators have given us what we want in the Heisman race for years.

Up-to-the-date accurate information and analysis.

In this age when we scream over plausibly live same-day tape-delay OIympics, we want it now. Actually, we want it yesterday. It’s the way of the world in this digital world.

That’s not how the Heisman Trophy Trust sees it. The Heisman folks sent out a memo to voters last week asking them to help “insure the future integrity of the selection process.” The Trust was distressed that in 2011 that the disclosure of some votes – “tabulated by independent Internet sites” – seemed to “ordain” the winner.

“Some critics,” the memo went on, “maintain that the unauthorized and inappropriate disclosure of votes prior to the announcement possesses the potential to not only compromise the integrity of the selection process by possibly influencing other voters, but also deprive the public of traditional suspense and debate enjoyed by the public …” (Emphasis added.)

Wow, where do you want me to start? As mentioned, predicting the Heisman winner is almost as old as the trophy itself. It’s what we do … and by “we” I mean media, analysts, bloggers, guys in the corner bar. If you want the process secret, Heisman folks, talk to Donald Trump. He oversees The Apprentice and Miss America.

Better yet, hire the 60 individuals involved with the coaches’ poll. They’re good at hiding their ballots.

The Heisman? It’s fair game. More than that, it is public fair game. We live in a country where we know the result of the New Hampshire primary before a voter pulls a handle. If the damn NBC Olympics Live site wasn’t so clunky we’d have known results in real time there too.

The Heisman is ours, a living, breathing talking point from now until December.

The only thing I can think of is Heisman sponsors (Nissan?) or the rightsholder (ESPN) have leaned on the Trust to try to keep some suspense in the process. We, the voters, should refuse to play a role in selling cars or boosting ratings.

Even if we did, here’s the thing: You can’t keep tabs on more than 1,000 voters. That’s like herding cats. Let’s say 900 buy in and keep their votes secret. That still leaves 100 who will answer Scripps-Howard’s phone calls.

The last line of the memo asks voters to reply “if you feel unable to confirm this commitment to ballot secrecy." The veiled threat is that ballots will be taken away. Guess what? At this point, you can’t unring the bell, put the toothpaste back in the tube. USA Today, the American Football Coaches Association and Lane Kiffin found that out last week.

Revealing Heisman ballots has added value and interest to the Heisman. Because not all the ballots are revealed there is still that hint of mystery. That's why we watch The Bachelor, Survivor and NASCAR. We want to see someone fail. Not the players, the predictors who think they know it all.

If you’re going to ask me not to reveal my ballot – I write about it each year for a column the week of the ceremony – then you’re going to have to sit on the 1,000 other voters.

And, by the way, what qualifies as ballot secrecy? Is the Trust going to hold the previous winners themselves to such secrecy? If I’m Eddie George, now a media figure, I’m upset if I have to worm my way around commentary.

"I’m not revealing my ballot, but if I did, I would have told you I voted for Matt Barkley, first; Montee Ball, second …"

We exist almost totally now in that digital age. The Heisman Trust lives is a small office at 111 Broadway in New York. Hope they get dial-up soon. Ballot secrecy is now of “paramount concern” to the Trust. That’s strange for a group that continues to have vague rules on who exactly who is eligible for the award. 

The memo suggests that Internet sites have sprung from the ground in the last 15 minutes like some evil virus. They are, dear Trust, the way of the world. They are not part of the discussion, they are the discussion. Besides, if the Internet were never invented, we’d find a way to predict the winner. (See prior to 1994.) Oh, and as for suspense? That’s kind of the point of legitimate news-gathering operations – to get past it.

Immediacy is the reason we were willing to fight through NBC’s buffering to watch Michael Phelps live. It’s the reason soccer heads get up in the middle of the night to watch the Premier League on their computers.

Waiting for the Heisman in real time on that second Saturday in December, is like being manipulated into watching that same-day Olympic coverage. No matter what the Heisman Trust wants, we’re pretty much going to know the answer in advance. No memo, urging or veiled threats are going to change that.

Good luck getting the Crest back in the tube.


CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

Show Comments Hide Comments
Our Latest Stories