Earlier this month, the results of the first Coaches' Poll were released. No surprises—LSU first, Alabama second, USC third. In the preseason, the poll is useless except as a talking point, and anonymous unless a coach wants to volunteer that information. Arizona's Rich Rodriguez didn't mind, admitting that he had USC first. Reports told Lane Kiffin about RichRod's vote, and Kiffin offered this:
"I would not vote USC No. 1, I can tell you that."
It was a lie. Just a bald-faced lie, for no reason whatsoever beyond the fact that Kiffin might be a pathological liar and can't help himself. No one could have blamed him for copping to putting his own team atop the poll, but he demurred. And got called out for it.
USA Today took the unusual step of publishing an article refuting Kiffin's claim, and revealing that he did vote USC No. 1. Why bother? Oh, just a little thing called integrity. You probably haven't heard of it.
Each coach's vote normally is kept confidential until the final vote of the regular season under an agreement between USA Today Sports and the American Football Coaches Association. However, when a voter volunteers false or misleading information about his vote in public, then USA Today Sports, in its oversight role as administrator of the poll, will set the record straight to protect the poll's integrity.
USC released an angry statement, calling the USA Today reveal a "conflict of journalistic interest" that "attacks the integrity (there's that word again) of the poll." And yesterday, Kiffin officially withdrew from voting for this year's Coaches' Poll altogether.
Kiffin has semantically backtracked from his initial statement, maintaining that he was only speaking in theoreticals: he "would not" have voted USC No. 1 if he weren't USC coach, but he is, so he did. But he might have been better off with guns blazing, taking the opportunity to point out the inherent lack of integrity in a poll that actively determines the postseason, yet is voted upon by the very same coaches affected.
Was the poll's integrity damaged when Jim Tressel lied about having Texas at No. 1 in 2006? Was it dealt a blow when Nick Saban voted Oklahoma State fourth last season, to give his own team a better chance at playing in the title game? Only if you can discredit a system that's already flawed to its essence. The Coaches' Poll was a media stunt, dreamt up by UPI in 1950 to compete with the AP's own poll. It was, like the common legal disclaimer goes, "for entertainment purposes only." Who cared if a coach pumped up his own team, or voted down a rival, when it was all in good fun? Except somewhere along the line the BCS decided the Coaches' Poll ought to count for a full third of the BCS formula, the "objective" way to decide the top two teams in the nation.
The Coaches' Poll somehow managed to be too shady for ESPN, no mean feat. In 2005 ESPN dropped its sponsorship of the poll, after a season in which Texas leapfrogged California in the last week of the regular season, despite Cal having won and UT not having played. That cost the Golden Bears a trip to the Rose Bowl, and ESPN decided they no longer wanted their name associated with something so arbitrary, so easy to manipulate, so poor at giving impartial results. USA Today seems to have no such qualms, perhaps because poll rankings translate so well to infographics.