Forget about removing disinterested voters or eliminating those who cast their Heisman ballot well before the regular season actually concludes. The Heisman Trust has instead decided to crack down on the diligent participants who explain their logic before the results go public.
I suppose the actual glaring issues negatively impacting this peculiar process will have to wait.
According to Dennis Dodd of CBSsports.com, the Heisman Trophy Trust has made an ultimatum of sorts: follow our rules or you will no longer have a say—or specifically a ballot—to help decide college football’s most “outstanding” player:
The Heisman Trophy Trust has given voters who it says violated a “nondisclosure requirement” in 2012 until April 8 to commit to hiding their ballots in the future.
In a letter dated March 4, Heisman president William Dockery wrote: “We are distressed to have been made aware that your 2012 vote was revealed publicly prior to the December 8th announcement.” Dockery said it's “against our policy” to release ballot selections prior to the official announcement on ESPN.
“In the event you are unable to assure non-disclosure of your vote in the future, we will be required to reassign your vote to another member of the college football media,” Dockery wrote.
As an exclamation point, the Trust included copies of stories that were posted this past year for each individual voter. Greetings, Big Brother.
This stance stems from a trend that has picked up steam in recent years. Many voters with writing outlets produce a column identifying who they voted for and why. It makes for good, easy content, and it also adds some solid context to the thought process before a winner is announced.
Other outlets such as the website Stiffarmtrophy.com obtain balloting results and project the winner based off these findings with straw polls. They’ve now correctly projected the victor for 11 consecutive years.
The concern from the Heisman Trophy Trust is obvious: don’t spoil the surprise and prevent the masses from tuning in. Translation: Ratings, ratings, ratings.
With social media growing at a ridiculous clip, obtaining this sort of information is becoming easier by the day. Pieces, columns and other Heisman tidbits are circulating more quickly than ever before.
The assumption—although perhaps not specifically outlined in the cease and desist-like letter—is that these revelations are hurting ratings for the climactic one-hour program on ESPN. The problem, however, is that recent evidence says otherwise.
ESPN's 2012 Heisman broadcast was the telecast’s second-most watched show since 1994, drawing a 3.1 overnight rating. Despite the fact that everyone in the building (and those of us seated comfortably on our couch) was well aware that Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel was podium-bound, we tuned in.
History was made and a freshman won the award. Now, is this why ratings were up? Or did the general, non-football obsessed public simply have nothing better to do on a Saturday night? It’s hard to pinpoint the origin of the bump, although I’m not sure the literature and discussions beforehand had any impact or will have any impact on this in the future.
It’s a Saturday night in December highlighting a telecast that is 52 minutes too long. Perhaps this is part of the ratings “problem,” although at this point there really is no problem. If anything, the marketing that comes along with these columns and discussions adds another element of coverage heading into the evening.
If people want to watch, they’ll watch. And if the Heisman race is incredibly close or a landslide win like last year, no lockdown on information will prevent this from becoming completely and utterly apparent. Straw polls will still exist—and will likely get more attention with this change—and many without a Heisman vote (such as myself) will continue to relay the pulse of the award without fear of losing a voice we don’t already have.
Since the Heisman Trophy Trust is clearly in the mood, why stop here? In fact, perhaps these threats could be used in a more useful ways to actually make a meaningful difference. And no, this is not an elaborate ploy to secure a vote, although clearly the exclusivity of this club has lost something over time.
There are currently 870 media members and 57 past winners that are eligible to vote for the award. I have no issue with Heisman winners having a vote—after all, it is their fraternity—but 870 media members? Really? That’s far too many “experts” having a say when it comes to college football’s best player.
And if there was such a thing as a sarcasm font (and we need this), I would have scripted the word “experts” in it. The pool is entirely too large, and the Trust could easily sharpen up the requirements for being a voter. If we went through this name by name, we probably wouldn’t like what we found.
Two instances regarding the size of this pool surfaced in the last year alone. In this time we learned that the father of Miami Herald columnist and ESPN personality Dan Le Batard has a vote. Gonzalo co-hosts a show with his son on ESPN, although his college football credentials are, well, lacking. This is nothing personal against Gonzalo, of course, but he is just one of many who should not have a Heisman say. He also highlights how wide this area of "expertise" has gotten.
Again, sarcasm font.
We also saw well-known WFAN radio host Mike Francesa miss the Heisman voting deadline altogether. He forgot, mixed up his days, whatever. Regardless, this can’t happen.
If you can’t remember when you need to have your ballot in for the most important award and you miss, you shouldn’t be voting. It’s really that simple.
And on the topic of deadlines—and this drives me absolutely crazy each and every year—are the many, many voters who submit their votes well before the final game is played.
Forget about getting one last glimpse of the finalists or giving each player their respected look. Nope, they’ll send in their ballots before the final weekend is over because they’ve already made up their mind.
This shouldn’t happen, and it’s on both the Trust and the voters to ensure that it doesn’t. It’s not fair to the players, and it’s certainly not fair to the process to make a decision before each contender has completed their résumé regardless of how convinced one might be.
But I doubt we’ll see these potentially meaningful changes go through anytime soon. The Heisman “policy” will be followed going forward by those who want to keep a vote, but not necessarily by those deserving.