Early season polls are never a good gauge of where a team is, but when there is an inconsistency in how votes are cast from week-to-week, they become even less reliable.
Inside Lacrosse just released the USILA Division I coaches poll and there are some noticeable changes week-over-week.
One thing that immediately jumped out was that Cornell, which was ranked #7 last week, leap-frogged both Maryland and UMass (previously #5 and #6) and is sitting at #3, even though Maryland and UMass didn’t lose last week and remain undefeated. Why? This is purely speculative, but take a look at the number of first place votes. Last week there were 12 first-place votes, meaning 12 coaches voted. This week? Only 9. My guess isn’t that a bunch of coaches all of a sudden decided to vote Cornell higher, but that the change in who voted in the poll from week-to-week made an impact.
Last week’s poll: http://insidelacrosse.com/rankpoll/d1usila/2012-02-27
This week’s poll: http://insidelacrosse.com/rankpoll/d1usila/2012-03-05
When you have a full 25% of voters voting one week but not voting the following week it can create a wild swing in rankings. If those voters favor certain teams over others, and then they don’t vote one week, those teams rankings can drop (or not rise) for what seems like no reason. Some may say, “Who cares? It’s only a poll.” However, plenty of people care. The players work hard every week and take pride in how they stack up against the other teams. The media pays more attention to highly ranked teams. And, of course, recruits are attracted to schools that are ranked and recognized nationally. As much as we say rankings don’t matter, they do impact a lot of things. The Nike/Inside Lacrosse media poll is a bit better. 24 people voted last week and 20 voted this week. Still, to have a 16-17% variance in WHO votes in the polls can cause swings in how teams are ranked even if individuals didn’t change how they ranked teams.
If there is inconsistency in voters in football or basketball polls it isn’t as big a deal, as those polls have more than 50 coaches voting, but when you have less than 10 people deciding who the top 20 teams in the country are, one person with one rogue vote makes a huge difference.
So what needs to happen? First, those that run the poll need to make sure they have consistency from week to week. If voters can’t commit to vote each week, they shouldn’t be voting in the first place. Second, there needs to be a larger sample size. One voter who has an opinion of a team that is out of the mainstream skews the overall poll ranking with such a small base of voters. There is no way these polls can be a reliable opinion of experts with so few voting.
What do you think? Do you think the difference in who votes makes a difference? What would you do differently?