Auburn 2004 and the Mumme Poll

Pete Holiday over at AOL FanHouse is an unabashed Alabama fan.  Part of the genetic makeup of the unabashed Alabama fan is filtering the perception of day to day life through an anti-Auburn mindset.  It’s somewhat akin to the attitude of Jews of my grandmother’s vintage who would judge any current event by one overriding standard:  “is it good for the Jews”?

And so it is with Pete, who takes a look at criticism of preseason polling in these two posts.  Pete doesn’t waste any time letting us know where he’s coming from on this, either.

It’s fashionable these days to decry the terribleness of the pre-season poll. After all, it is a travesty that young men like those on Auburn’s 2004 team can best every challenge laid before them, and then be denied the right to play for the national championship because, before they had even stepped on the field, some voters didn’t think they were going to be very good.

I mention this only because I think that, despite his mindset, he goes on to make some interesting points. Some I agree with, others I don’t.

If I had to summarize his criticisms, they would be as follows:

  1. There’s too much data for the voters to absorb credibly.
  2. There’s no fixed standard for the voters to rely on in casting their votes.
  3. Voters do a poor job of calibrating their decisions after games are played.
  4. Putting off the first poll until mid-season would simply exacerbate problems 1-3, above.
  5. Putting off the first poll until mid-season would result in voters resorting to artificial polling methods to create their first set of votes.
  6. Putting off the first poll until mid-season would result in teams gaming the system eventually to take advantage of voters’ short-term memories by loading up with cupcakes over the early part of  the season to create lopsided won-loss records.

From this, Pete draws two conclusions.  First, Auburn fans need to get over 2004.  Second, there has to be a better way to conduct polling.  Now, I don’t disagree with either of his conclusions, but I can’t say that I’d dismiss the elimination of preseason polls as a factor in that.

Look, Pete’s first three charges have nothing to do with when the voting gets underway.  They’re, instead, a factor of asking the voters to evaluate and rank the twenty five best teams in the country.  And his last point, given Hawaii’s ability to crash the top 10 and the BCS last season, is simply irrelevant.

His solution to the problem is to change the psychology of the voting.  And he’s right about that, although he offers no specifics on how it might be accomplished.

In short: more agility in the polls. Getting rid of the notion that it’s taboo for a team to win and drop or lose and move up. Eliminate the infrequency with which teams jump other teams when both have won. Make the polls measure something specific. Set a goal and specific question, since “who are the 25 best teams” is truly unanswerable.

I don’t think we can do much with that last point about goal setting, but I hope the Mumme Poll can address his first suggestion there.

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18 Comments

Filed under Mumme Poll, The Blogosphere

18 responses to “Auburn 2004 and the Mumme Poll

  1. kckd

    Again I ask the question, can anyone show any season where a preseason poll would have very likely made a difference in the final outcome?

    If so, would it have left us with less questions about the authenticity of the final MNC or the participants in the BCS championship game?

    We only know that Auburn should’ve played USC because OU got bushwhacked by USC. And if AU plays USC, then we never know how OU would’ve done.

  2. montgomeryaldawg

    Unless OU got beat in another top bowl…which I believe not much worse than 50-50.

  3. Pete Holiday

    Thanks for the links, I think your summary is pretty spot on, but I want to point out a few things.

    First, while I don’t think starting the polls mid-season would have given Auburn the edge and put them in the BCS Championship game, they deserved a shot to play for the title.

    Second, given what we knew up to the BCS Championship game, Auburn looked like the third best team (to a lot of people) and, in our current system, didn’t earn their spot into the game.

    The offshoot is not that I think Auburn ought to “get over it” because I really don’t hear anyone still complaining about 2004 in any serious way. So this article really wasn’t a shot at Auburn or their fans — I would be ticked if that were my team, too, and while I can’t say I didn’t engage in a little schadenfreude, I still don’t think it should’ve happened.

    The bottom line is that I’m pretty confident that the only way to eliminate problems like Auburn’s 2004 situation is to implement some form of playoff — but that was far beyond the scope of an already lengthy article.

  4. kckd

    Pete, that’s my point too. To eliminate the problem that occurred in 2004. It will take much more than a preseason poll elimination.

    I think the Senator is looking for ways to preserve the current system of no playoffs and ways to make it better.

    But as I’ve said before, where have these preseason polls robbed anyone. Does anyone any proof that it’s happened? Does anyone in their right mind think if OU had been left out in 2004, won their bowl game, that they wouldn’t have just as legitimate an argument as Auburn did?

    The preseason poll didn’t keep Auburn out. What kept Auburn out is that you only have two spots in a game and there were three teams deserving. One team was gonna be left out and it was them.

    Are there any years where we can clearly show the preseason poll made a huge difference in the outcome?

    I think we’re gonna find out that the Mumme Poll looks incredibly similar to the other polls when we start.

    And I think it’s hilarious when people compare the media and coachs’ polls and talk about how they influence each other.

    Then turn right around and criticize individual voters whose polls don’t look anything like the norm. You can’t win I tell ya, you just can’t win.

  5. I think the Senator is looking for ways to preserve the current system of no playoffs and ways to make it better.

    kckd, I enjoy our debate on the subject, but I can’t stress strongly enough how wrong you are on this point.

    If the Mumme Poll turns out to be functional, it would translate into any postseason format that has an element of subjectivity in how the participants are chosen. It’s not meant as a substitute for a playoff and I hope nobody casts a vote thinking that it is.

  6. kckd

    Senator, the polls would be used in a playoff format. Absolutely. But I’ve seen it argued over and over again, and you’ve at least hinted at it, that Auburn got jobbed by the preseason poll. Do you really think it’s conclusive that had we had a mid season poll Auburn would’ve been ranked ahead of OU?

    I guess again, my question is, where can we see that the preseason poll has really cost a team big time? I’ve heard it said over and over again, but it has never been even remotely close to proven.

    Do the preseason polls have team ranked too high much of the time and too low much of the time? Sure, but that’s what the season is for, to sort all of that out.

  7. Do you really think it’s conclusive that had we had a mid season poll Auburn would’ve been ranked ahead of OU?

    Conclusive? No. I don’t think you can argue that either way.

    The point is, though, that by doing this you can eliminate another point of contention. I don’t see any downside to starting in midseason.

  8. kckd

    But where is this point of contention? Is there any basis for it based on actual evidence? Again I ask, where have the polls cheated someone because they started too early? I would think as much as many people are making of this, we’d have a few if not many places where it’s at least reasonably clear that the preseason poll effected the final outcome.

  9. I think you could make a good case that Auburn would have finished ahead of Oklahoma in ’04 if the polls had started later. You don’t.

    That’s a point of contention in my book.

    And don’t you think that going to a four team or eight team playoff format would exacerbate this?

  10. kckd

    So one year, and it’s not even that assured that it would’ve changed anything had their been no preseason poll.

    Yet so many seem to be so sure this is partly responsible for the problems in college football.

  11. I didn’t realize you were expecting an exhaustive study on the subject. I confess that I haven’t done one.

    To the extent that there’s a perception that the polls are biased in some form or fashion, yeah, I think preseason rankings contribute to a problem. As I pointed out in this post, recent history suggests that the deck is stacked pretty heavily in favor of the preseason #1s and #2s.

    Could you explain to me what the downside is to waiting to issue the first polls until the season is well underway?

  12. kckd

    JMO, but why change something that hasn’t been proven to be a problem? Why not look at other things? I want you understand, most of this isn’t just this blog, although obviously you have complained many times in the past about the preseason polls. I’ve been hearing this over and over again this offseason on sports radio (interesting that it seems to be ramped up a bit once we’re the preseason no. 1). Again, everyone talks as if this has been a HUGE problem. But no one gives clear examples where the preseasons polls have mucked up the system.

    You know, that little thing you have where the no. 1 and no. 2 teams almost always end up in the final top ten might have something to do with them being pretty damn good teams. Did you take a look at what their final records were? I’m guessing not a lot of BCS teams finished outside the top ten if they had one or two losses. And if they did, wouldn’t that seem to say that the preseason polls were at least right about those teams being pretty damn good?

  13. One more time: you’re sitting there acknowledging that there’s a wide spread perception that there’s something wrong with preseason polls. In my book, that’s a problem.

    If there’s no downside to starting the polls later – you don’t seem to argue differently – and it boosts the perception that the polls are less biased as a result, why shouldn’t they be moved?

    I suspect you’re worried this might interfere with your goal for D-1 to move to a four team playoff, but I don’t see where one has anything to do with the other. As long as any postseason format relies on elements of subjectivity to determine its participants, it’s beneficial to all to limit the doubts about the validity of the process. If for no other reason, that’s why I think eliminating preseason polls are helpful.

  14. kckd

    Midseason polls are not gonna effect it at all. Are you seriously saying just because people think it’s a bad thing, change it. Even if there isn’t one shred of proof.

    Generally Senator you cover your bases, but I’m really surprised at you throwing out that stat about the top 2 consistenly finishing in the top 10 without taking into account the final record. That’s something that politicians do and that’s what this boils down to IMO. The politics of football right now. The talking heads need something to go after and kill a few minutes of time on their shows, so let’s talk about the preseason polls.

    Do I think the preseason polls are necessary? No. Do I think we waste an awful lot of time trying to get rid of them when there is little to no proof they are a problem? Absolutely. That’s what kills me.

  15. Midseason polls are not gonna effect it at all.

    Where’s your proof of that?

  16. kckd

    I’m not the one asking for change. I would think that the proof should be on those who want to change things, not the other way around.

  17. How can you prove something that never had the opportunity to occur?

  18. kckd

    I can’t prove to you that communism wouldn’t work in the US. It never has had the opportunity to, but I’d just as soon stay with what we got unless it is obvious it doesn’t put food on the table for most anymore.

    But again, my point is that this is smoke and mirrors type stuff. It’s a few folks with a microphone creating a problem that really doesn’t exist. Again, a lot like politics. And that of course takes attention away from the real problem.

    The team that I have consistently hear did not get fair shake this time is Missouri. Well guess what, Missouri had a lot farther to go last year than this year and they had the MNC in their hands going into their conference championship game. So, what team is getting screwed this year? What team got screwed last year? As much hub bub is made of this, you’d think it happens all the time.