Ex-ESPN'er Dan Shanoff is a good local boy, and I'm happy to plug his blog, but I think his post on the individual AP ballots from last week got the issue exactly wrong. At least, his conclusion was different from mine. His conclusion was that
Reporters and columnists are entitled to their opinion, but if they are going to insist on flashing regional bias, I think fans should insist that these folks not be given the responsibility - the privilege, actually - of having such sway over a process that is more a national trust of fandom than [the] personal fiefdom of a couple dozen newspaper reporters.
That was the conclusion I wanted to make, too. It's the logical thing to do if you're a wiseacre blogger....find the schmo from Washington who has ranked the Huskies too high, and then go after the voters as know-nothing, provincial louts. But then I went through every ballot and noted where voters placed the in-state teams, and where they placed the conference rivals of the in-state teams (i.e., where an Alabama voter placed all the SEC teams), searching for this regional bias, and I didn't really find it. For every example of a horribly over-rated Pac-10 team by a voter in a Pac-10 town, there was a Big-10 team surprisingly undervalued by a voter in a Big-10 market.
If anything, the natural conclusion was that there wasn't much bias one way or the other. This seemed sort of boring, so I never posted it, and this morning I accidentally left all my notes at home. But when I saw Shanoff's comments today, I figured I would quickly check this week's ballots.
The quick numbers: Of 50 voters who could have plausibly used a top 25 vote for an in-state team this week, 16 had the in-state team ranked below the AP aggregate, 20 had the team ranked above the aggregate, and 14 had the team ranked exactly at the aggregate (i.e., a Texas voter ranking Texas No. 6).
So 60 percent of the voters either had the local teams ranked exactly right or lower than the national consensus. Of the 20 votes for in-state teams that were higher than the aggregate, 13 were too high by either one or two slots, which, to my mind, is hardly the sign of a regional-favoring conspiracy. And none of the way-too-high votes affected a top 10 team; most were votes for teams in the 20s. So there's no plausible way to conclude that this extremely slight (if annoying) bias would affect the few bowl games that matter, if the AP poll actually counted for anything any more.
Like I said, the in-conference votes were much the same, but I left all that stuff at home and I don't have the energy to recreate it right now, not with the Wizards preseason home opener less than four hours away.
Trust me, I love to blast lazy, homeristic, pep-rally attending, chest-tattoo-sporting, Local-Johnny-Running-Back-Stud-For-Heisman-t-shirt-wearing mainstream media members as much as the next blogger, but I think in this case we'd have to say that, by and large, these folks are taking this meaningless voting thing relatively seriously. How's that for a conclusion?