Morris: Poll reveals there are too many polls

April 21, 2010 

SOUTH CAROLINA'S baseball team this week is ranked Nos. 10, 10, 5, 14, 9, 8 and 12. Those rankings, respectively, are by Baseball America, USA Today/ESPN, Collegiate Baseball, the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, Rivals.com, PGCrosschecker.com and Boyd's World RPI.

Those are the rankings we know of. Tracking down polls by Teambaseball.com or Collegebaseball360.com is more difficult. There could be more polls out there in Internetland because it comes down to this: If someone has a website and remotely follows college baseball, that site has a poll.

"There are two ways to look at it," says Ray Tanner, USC's coach. "On one hand, you say, there are too many polls, which ones do you recognize and which ones do you put stock in? The other part of it is it's good for college baseball because people are taking the time to create more interest."

In analyzing the polls, it probably is best to break them down into Internet and non-Internet categories. Anything with a '.com" on the end of it probably is not taken too seriously by fans, players and coaches.

Even Allan Simpson, an editor with PGCrosschecker.com, admits his poll is mostly for fun. His poll lets readers know the site is interested in college baseball but really is about scouting and grading prospects.

"It's ridiculous the number of polls out there," says Simpson, the founder of Baseball America. "It's the Internet Age that's allowed this to happen, and they all think they're experts."

There are four non-Internet polls, and at least three of those are recognized as being legitimate. Collegiate Baseball has been ranking teams weekly since 1957, and Baseball America has been doing the same since 1981. The USA Today/ESPN poll is a vote of 31 college coaches, and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association polls its members. Both latter two are relative newcomers.

If all this is not confusing enough, collegebaseballinsider.com takes the aforementioned four polls each week and comes up with a composite poll.

The beauty of it all is every one of these polls is meaningless.

"Is it a bad thing? Maybe it doesn't matter. You know, who cares?" says Aaron Fitt, a college baseball editor for Baseball America. "I think it's probably a little annoying for college baseball fans (having so many polls). But, in the end, the polls are just for fun anyway."

Nevertheless, Baseball America takes its poll seriously. It uses what Fitt calls the "caucus" system, whereby a group of editors gathers every Monday morning in Durham, N.C., to discuss teams, digest information and, ultimately, divulge the poll.

"It's not a pure vote," Fitt says. "It's not a straight up and down vote situation. We just kind of talk it over and arrive at a consensus. There are compromises along the way. We're not always happy all the time. But it's the best way we know how to do it."

That method has made Baseball America the most respected and recognized poll. (The State about 10 years ago decided to use one poll in its stories, and Baseball America was the easy choice).

"Because of the test of time, and the amount of work that's invested, probably Baseball America is the best," Tanner says. "With Baseball America, you've got guys who work the college game full time. They might put the greatest amount of time into it."

Collegiate Baseball's poll is much like the recipe for Coca-Cola. It is a bit of a mystery and employs far too complex a voting system to explain. While the paper has been publishing a poll for more than 50 years, editor Lou Pavlovich took over poll duties in 1971.

He says there are 101 coaches, writers and sports information directors across the country who vote on a regional basis each week. Since no one seems to know who those folks are, we have to take Pavlovich's word. We also have to take his word on the 600-point system he says is used to evaluate teams.

To fully understand the system, you might need to spend a week with Pavlovich in Tucson, Ariz. Or, better yet, have Pavlovich explain why it makes sense for a team to garner as many as 100 "intangible" points because it leads the nation in stolen bases.

Remember, these polls are for fun. That is why The Citadel and Pittsburgh both appeared in one of Collegiate Baseball's recent polls. The paper is known for slipping in a relative unknown team just about every week. This week, Northwestern State is at No. 30.

The other two polls of note operate under a democratic voting system. Unfortunately, coaches' polls (USA Today/ESPN) lose their validity because most coaches do not pay much attention to the games outside their region. As for the writers poll (NCBWA), well, even the coaches might have more credibility.

If there is any group that most benefits from having so many polls, it is sports information directors. More polls mean more recognition for their players and teams.

Schools have taken to listing several rankings in their weekly press releases, with the highest ranking -- regardless of poll -- listed first. So if USC was facing Florida this week, SIDs would report that the No. 5 Gamecocks (Collegiate Baseball) were playing the No. 7 Gators (Baseball America).

The real fun will come when Baseball America's No. 1-ranked team squares off against Collegiate Baseball's No. 1. It would be the first sporting event in which both teams' fans could rightfully shout, "We're No. 1!"

Maybe the real winner would be the polling service whose No. 1 team wins.

Watch commentaries by Morris Mondays at 6 and 11 p.m. on ABC Columbia News (WOLO-TV)

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