Thursday, January 11, 2007

Boise State, the George Mason of the gridiron, got a first-place vote in one of the final college football polls, but it didn’t come from coach Chris Petersen. Petersen was levelheaded enough to rank his Broncos fourth in USA Today’s beauty contest — behind three teams that didn’t play Utah State.

No, the vote was cast by an AP balloter, one Greg Archuleta of the Albuquerque Journal, who offered this argument: “If they played 100 times, Florida might win 95, but we’ll never know because there’s no playoff system.”

Sooooo … because Boise might beat the national champion Gators once in 20 tries, Archuleta felt justified in putting the Broncos No. 1.

Hope you enjoyed your 15 minutes, Greg.

A day later, eight members of Seamheads Anonymous, otherwise known as the Baseball Writers Association of America, failed to place a check next to Cal Ripken’s name on their Hall of Fame ballot. That, to me, is as big an outrage as the 128 members who voted for Muscles McGwire. (Wonder whether anybody voted for McGwire but against the Iron Oriole. If so, there’s a guy — or gal — who should be drug tested.)

But this, as they say, is the price of democracy. Everyone’s entitled to his opinion, no matter how revolting it might be. If a writer thinks Terry Puhl belongs in Cooperstown, as one did in 1997, well, knock yourself out, fella. Maybe, in an Ice Age or two, you can (a.) talk the geezers on the Veterans Committee into letting him in, or (b.) get them to sign over their power of attorney.

Fact is, we — and by “we,” I mean you, me and David DuPree — have become a nation of voters. In the sports world, every day, it seems, is Election Day. This week, we’ve gone from the football polls to the Baseball Hall of Fame balloting to the finalists for Canton — and that’s just for starters. There’s also the constant temperature-taking done by (” ‘Cold Pizza’ wants to know: Which of this weekend’s [NFL] favorites is most likely to lose?”) and news outlets like the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (“Marquette and Syracuse shot a combined 27-for-50 [54%] from the free throw line Sunday night. Could you do better?”)

We’re the most canvassed generation in history. We’re asked to choose American Idols, recommend answers on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” and rate our stay at the Marriott last weekend. And that goes double for sports fans, who when they aren’t giving “Cold Pizza” something to chew on are punching out baseball All-Star ballots or going online to make their Pro Bowl selections.

This relentless opinion soliciting, however, has produced a very mixed bag of results. Each of the voting blocs — media, coaches, players, fans — likes to think it knows best, but all have major skeletons in their closets, if not entire graveyards. For the media, it’s Heisman choices like Chris Weinke and Jason White. For the coaches, it’s those nepotistic roster decisions in baseball’s All-Star Game. For the players, it’s picking first-year starter Philip Rivers over Tom Brady for the Pro Bowl. And for the fans, well, they never met a ballot box they couldn’t stuff.

That said, it’s better now than it used to be. In 1984, when a 13-0 BYU team was voted college football national champion, sentiment won out over sanity. Not one of the Cougars’ opponents, after all, was ranked in the top 20 at season’s end. This year, though, a 13-0 Boise State team had to settle for fifth in the writers’ poll and sixth in the coaches’ — and its coach didn’t utter a peep. That’s progress.

In baseball, meanwhile, Joe DiMaggio would be elected to the Hall at the first opportunity these days; he wouldn’t have to cool his cleats in the waiting room for a couple of years, “paying his dues” (like he did in ‘53 and ‘54). Mark McGwire’s enshrinement, on the other hand, is placed on indefinite hold while the steroid scandal plays itself out. There’s justice in that, too.

Through it all, amazingly, there hasn’t been a single controversy involving hanging chads, a single election that had to be sorted out by the Supreme Court — not even when Yao edged Shaq for a starting spot in the 2003 NBA All-Star Game. But that day is surely coming — because, as we’ve seen, anything is possible. Just ask Terry Puhl.

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