Lane Kiffin is humble when it comes to ranking his team, or at least that’s how he presents himself. The third year USC coach spoke recently how he wouldn’t rank the Trojans No. 1 in his poll due to the scholarship restrictions levied on the team this year, a sentiment he first had at Media Day. On Thursday however, the USA Today released Kiffin’s poll, with the Trojans sitting in the top spot.
Despite the noise surrounding Kiffin for the No. 1 ranking, the heat is really aimed in the wrong direction, due to the system created by the Coaches’ Poll. Gone are the days when coaches actually sit down and make their selections on their weekly poll. These days, the polls are predominantly filled out by staffers other than the head coach, and mostly sports information directors. For USC, that would be Tim Tessalone.
So the discrepancy between Kiffin’s words and actions, can easily be penned to the idea that a staffer, possibly Tessalone, filled out the poll in Kiffin’s name well before his quotes were publicized earlier this week. The USA Today, acting in what they deemed was the best interest of the poll, decided to make the variance known, creating an awkward situation of sorts, as Lane Kiffin must now defend his vote, even if he didn’t cast it.
The situation isn’t necessarily a blunder by Kiffin, but more so a byproduct of the Coaches’ Poll itself, considering its name is widely known to be false. With SIDs filling out polls it’s actually surprising that more instances like this don’t arise, as it’s hard to believe that coaches go over the poll submitted in their name, creating a sticky situation if it plays out as it did for USC this week.
In order for the awkward calling-out to be avoided in the future, one of two things can see light. Either the poll needs to be re-branded with a new name, sans coaches, or the USA Today itself needs to decide to force coaches to vote themselves or be willing to live to mysterious outcomes.
The publication should have never come out with Kiffin’s rankings, if what Tessalone told Pedro Moura of ESPN, is correct.
USA TODAY sent a June 4, 2012, letter to coaches who agreed to vote in its college football poll stating that, except for the final poll of the regular season, ‘votes for all other polls will be kept confidential by USA Today,’” Tessalone said in a statement. “The fact that the leadership of the American Football Coaches Association, which tasks USA TODAY to administer its poll, joined with the poll administrators from USA TODAY to decide to breach that confidentiality by providing to a reporter a coach’s vote in its pre-season poll is disappointing and attacks the integrity of the poll.
If that’s the case, Kiffin’s votes should have been forever sealed, according to the poll’s own bylaws. Tessalone also pointed out to ESPN that the publication that ran the story on Kiffin not deeming the Trojans No. 1, was USA Today, thereby creating a conflict of interest.
Obviously, Tessalone and Kiffin are in a position where they have to deflect and hope this passes over quickly, since Kiffin’s been put out to dry.
In any case, Kiffin’s sentiments about not being the top ranked team is believable. Though, even if he did vote himself, it’s hard to see him voting anyone but the Trojans first. Alabama, an arch rival of Tennessee, isn’t exactly Kiffin’s favorite school, and well, voting LSU first in the poll has yet to be proven to be a stout idea.