In 1926, an economics professor sold out to a clothing manufacturer, who wound up selling out to Knute Rockne, thereby creating the first semi-authoritative poll in college football history, a loose and wholly unreliable mathematical formula known as the Dickinson System. I mention this now because, almost ninety years later, we are supposedly on the cusp of the "post-poll era" in college football, and yet this sport is so wonderfully stubborn and contentious that it could never simply discard the most prominent tenet of its old system quite so easily. And so: THE POLLS ARE ALIVE! It's absurd, but I may be one of the few people who is willing to admit that he is kind of thrilled about the notion of prolonging this absurdity.
Here's what I'm talking about, in case you missed it: Last week, the College Football Playoff selection committee announced that it would release a weekly Top 25 poll, beginning on Oct. 28 and continuing every Tuesday through the remainder of the regular season. These polls will be revealed on a televised program on ESPN, and these polls will be "explained" by the selection committee's chairman, Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long. This decision appears to have stirred up the first controversy of the playoff era: It led to much kvelling that the committee was now going to get caught up in its own self-imposed bureaucracy, that too many meetings would convolute the process, and that the whole thing would become a three-ring circus driven by politics and confirmation bias and over-analysis. At some point, Michael Scott was evoked. It would, people said, be a public-relations disaster.
As if this might be a bad thing.
"Now we're basically turning this whole thing into reality show," wrote the Omaha World-Herald's Dirk Chatelain.
"This is monumentally dumb," wrote Yahoo!'s Dan Wetzel. "Why subject yourself to that possible pratfall?"
"…we'll be…sweating a weekly poll that is in no way a traditional poll but will look exactly like one," wrote Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel.
I understand why this feels inherently ridiculous to intelligent people like the ones I've just cited. I understand, as Mandel wrote, that if a 9-1 Oklahoma team suddenly drops from third to fifth in the weekly CFB Playoff rankings because their strength of schedule nosedives after beating Kansas, it will cause all sorts of fury and angst, even if, say, Oklahoma jumps back to number four in the final week, and this poll essentially means nothing in the grand scheme of things. I understand that a playoff poll six or seven weeks into the season is essentially a vestigial relic of a bygone era, but that's part of what makes it great: For people like me, who have long-favored a playoff but also relish the inherent chaos of college football, this is an ideal compromise.
From college football's perspective, it also makes sense: Why would they not want fans to lose their collective minds from week to week? Why would they not want all of us to be constantly tinkering with the four-team playoff possibilities in our head, even six weeks out? Why should they let decades of contentiousness just go to waste?
In the past, I've referred to it as The Argument: Because schedules are inherently uneven, because college football is still subject to regionalism and factionalism, because perception is everything, the whole thing is more fluid and flexible and driven by agendas than any sport. The selection committee's role is to sort through all of these politics, but I want this selection committee's job to be as fraught as possible. I want them to constantly be forced to justify their thought-process, and then justify it again; I want them to constantly be thinking about what they might be screwing up. (I mean, really, can you explain to me what in the hell this tweet really means? Can anyone? I want more of this! Aren't the possible pratfalls the best part?) I want their job to be ultimately driven by logic, but to be shrouded on all sides by emotion. I want The Argument to live, even as the sport evolves. It may seem monumentally dumb, but sometimes the dumbest ideas are also the most enjoyable ones.