Dr. John F Murray in ESPN The Magazine

ESPN The Magazine – November 3, 2008 – Answer Guy – Why do college sports have polls?

J.B. Morris, college football editor, ESPN The Magazine: They do rankings so people will watch the early-season games. It’s marketing, Guy.

In football? What’s next?

Dave Brown, VP of college football programming, ESPN: It’s true. Polls really help us sell games and build a market. Wouldn’t playoffs sell even better? No way. Each week of the season is like a single-elimination tournament. Look what happened to USC.

Do I have to?

Kent Stephens, curator and historian, College Football Hall of Fame: Sportswriters in the 1880s and ’90s—guys like Casper Whitney and Walter Camp—often included season-ending rankings with their All-America picks. But they didn’t count for anything. They were strictly one person’s opinion.


Oh, we’ve got plenty of those.

Terry Taylor, sports editor, Associated Press: Alan Gould started the football poll in 1936 to give readers something to talk about between games. The basketball poll was added in 1949. Both were intended purely for entertainment purposes.

Nothing like a good fight.

Bill Hancock, BCS Administrator: The only poll we care about is the last one, on Dec. 7; two-thirds of the BCS formula is based on human assessment. But humans need to be leavened, and computers can do that. Yipe! The only reason the BCS started was to get the No. 1 and No. 2 teams to play for a championship.

But isn’t that the problem? Polls and computers can’t take the place of playoffs. Without them, how can we know who the true champion really is?
Marc Mathews, controller, collegeplayoffs.com: We can’t.

So what’s the point?

John F. Murray, sports psychologist: It’s human nature to want to feel successful, and competition is one of the biggest drives in human nature. So it’s all about ego? In a way. Plus it sells. So I’ve heard.

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.