SALT LAKE CITY — The AP college basketball poll will be released Monday, two weeks before the start of the season. This follows the preseason football poll that was released in August, well before the season started. All of which raises a fundamental question:
Why do we have preseason polls?
We all know that weekly polls during the season are extremely flawed; that’s old news. But preseason polls are even more problematic, nonsensical and unfair.
Who cares, you say? They’re just harmless fun.
Wrong. They’re not harmless. They provide a head start to the teams that are ranked, especially in the top 10. It puts everyone else at a disadvantage. They’re branded as also-rans before they even play a game. It’s analogous to a game of king of the hill in which a certain group is placed on the high ground and everybody else has to dislodge them from below.
Ultimately, preseason polls create a glass floor and a glass ceiling for ranked and unranked teams, respectively. Barring a complete meltdown, teams ranked high in the preseason poll are forgiven more for losses — they can only fall so far with one or even two losses. Conversely those teams at the bottom have to be nearly perfect to move up and sometimes even that isn’t enough.
Look at this year’s football poll. Washington, ranked sixth in the preseason polls, is now 15th, with two losses. Wisconsin ranked fourth in the preseason polls; the Badgers have lost to a mediocre BYU team at home and to Michigan and still haven’t fallen out of the top 25.
Is it possible that Wisconsin is simply not that good and that the poll voters missed that badly in the preseason poll?
Teams that are ranked at the top of the polls before the season begins — and it’s pretty much the same crowd every year — can bank on that head start every season. Alabama can arrange a pathetic non-conference schedule each year because school officials know that the Crimson Tide, which has been ranked No. 1 in preseason polls for three straight seasons, will get a top ranking without even playing a game.
This season their schedule, which includes Louisville, Arkansas State, Louisiana and The Citadel, ranks 58th nationally in difficulty. Last season’s schedule included Fresno State, Colorado State and Mercer. The 2016 schedule included Western Kentucky, Kent State and Chattanooga.
While Alabama was teeing up routs, other schools have undertaken braver schedules. Michigan and Stanford both chose to play road games at Notre Dame (both losses), and USC traveled to a non-conference game at Texas (a loss). Miami played at LSU (a loss) and Washington played Auburn (a loss). Michigan State chose to play Arizona State on the road (a loss).
The AP and coaches polls will never abandon weekly rankings, but why not end the preseason polls. The college football playoff poll wisely doesn’t release its first poll until Week 10, when it has actual results to consider. Preseason polls are based on the strength of recruiting classes, reputation and the previous season. Only four teams in last year’s final top-25 poll did not appear in this year’s preseason poll.
It’s not surprising that preseason polls are inaccurate, and it takes two or three losses to convince pollsters they were wrong. Miami was ranked eighth and is now unranked — with two losses. Stanford (13th), USC (15th), Virginia Tech (20th) and Boise State (22) also have fallen out of the rankings with two losses. Auburn (ninth), TCU (16th) and Florida State (19th) have dropped out with three losses.4 comments on this story
Meanwhile, Oregon (24th in the preseason poll) and Washington State (unranked) had to win five of six games to climb into the rankings, to 12th and 25th, respectively. Where would they be if there hadn’t been a prejudicial preseason poll?
Now preseason basketball polls will soon be released and it will be the same old crowd, based on recruiting, reputation and history. Various preseason polls have been posted online for months — consider them preseason polls for the preseason polls — and Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, North Carolina and Gonzaga — the teams in blue — are all on top again.
Duke, by the way, lost almost its entire starting lineup to the NBA, but the team will be granted its usual head start in the polls anyway.