sports (2005-36)

Applause for Harris Poll

The newest addition to the BCS formula is a million laughs

by Tony Basilio

There has always been plenty of comedy in the entertaining world of college football. And at no time have the laughs been more plentiful than when the powers-that-be try to find a new way to pick a champion. Wanna hear a great one-liner? “B-C-S.”

At the end of last season’s debacle, for instance, a deplorable incident which saw both Auburn and Cal denied the BCS games they deserved, the national media pulled the plug on college football. The Associated Press, which has been crowning college football champions since before World War II, seceded from the BCS formula. The AP will still have a champion, but it won’t be officially recognized by college football. Compounding the laughs, ESPN pulled its name from the coaches’ poll.

Which brings us to the latest effort to pick up the pieces, in the guise of a funny man named Harris. Harris represents the latest attempt by college football to “get it right,” and he is world-class funny.

The Harris Poll is supposed to resemble college football’s version of the Electoral College. Whereas the AP Poll was a flat-out popularity contest, the Harris Poll is a confusing mass of panelists, equally distributed across the country, designed to one-up the AP writers poll in ‘05.

In toto, it comprises 114 members, all of them former players, coaches and administrators, plus some media members. That’s what they told us anyway.

Like all great comedians before him, Harris had people walking out on him in the early days. As soon as he was introduced to us back in August as the brainchild of the Harris Interactive research group, four voters—John Congemi, Gerry DiNardo, Lou Holtz and Sam Smith—were divorced from the poll because they work for ESPN. The self-inflicted expulsion of four panelists embarrassingly occurred only days after the poll’s list of constituents was promulgated.

Then there was the case of Jason Rash. Rash, if you’ll pardon the pun, became a sore spot for Harris. It seems that Rash’s qualification for being included in the initial list of panelists lies solely in his choice of spouses—he is the son-in-law of Troy coach Larry Blakeney. When asked why he would nominate his son-in-law who never played, coached, administrated, wrote about, or broadcasted college football, Blakeney answered that, “Jason loves college football. He’s always watching it and talking about it with friends and family. He seemed perfect for the panel.” Actually, he seems perfectly qualified to call a talk show.

Speaking of talk radio, some of the media members representing Harris are pretty amusing themselves. First there is Memphis radio personality George Lapidas. The veteran broadcaster has been around the game for eons. His affiliation with the poll makes sense, until you realize that Lapidas has links promoting gambling services on his personal website. The unspoken link between major college football and gambling is as taboo as toe sucking in public places.  Another winning Harris choice from my medium is Cleveland radio personality Kenny Roda. A shock-radio type in the Midwest, Roda has pick-up lines on his site on how to “bag a babe.” Sounds like a real expert. If you’re trying to get lucky on Friday night, that is.

Gene Bartow, the former UAB basketball coach who is on the Harris panel, told me he was surprised to be chosen: “A friend in this business told me they wanted me because I’m the guy who launched our football program here at UAB. That makes sense, I guess.”

While he feels honored, Bartow says he would rather see a college football playoff.

And former University of Texas head coach John Makovic was recently quoted by the Fort Worth Star Telegram that he is “surprised” to see that so many of his fellow former coaching colleagues selected for the Harris Poll are still alive. How about you? When was the last time you heard someone mention Foge Fazio, Dick Harmon, Earl Bruce, Don Maynard, Darrell Moody, Homer Rice, or Bill Yoeman?

Then there is the camp of Harris voters I like to call the UT Contingency. These are the folks who are better known for their pro football exploits, a distinction that would matter if they were seeking to have a jersey retired at Tennessee. Yet, tell me how these guys are qualified to vote in a major college football poll: Terry Bradshaw (yes, that Terry Bradshaw!); Steve Largent (wasn’t he in Congress?); Boomer Esiason (NFL broadcaster); Craig Morton (Orange Crush).

Then there are the “where are they now?” voters in Harris:

Yep, the BCS is turning into a comedy of legendary proportions. What’s next? Shirley MacLaine channeling in the votes of Bear Bryant each week?

 Tune in and talk sports with Tony Basilio weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on ESPN Radio WVLZ 1180 AM.

© 2005 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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