Former coaches, players to join media in BCS poll

NEW YORK -- The Bowl Championship Series has created a new college football poll with a unique twist -- games will be played before ballots are cast.

Called the Harris Interactive College Football Poll, it will rank the top 25 teams on a weekly basis, starting Sept. 25 -- four weeks into the season. Plans call for 114 voters. The panel will be comprised of former coaches, players and administrators, plus media

The BCS has said it would like to see the elimination of preseason polls, which some believe give highly touted teams an unfair headstart in the rankings.

"This allows for some games to be played in the current season rather than allow teams to be ranked purely on preseason expectations," BCS coordinator and Big 12 commissioner Kevin Weiberg said Monday during a conference call.

The season's first BCS standings will be released Oct. 17.

The new poll replaces The Associated Press poll, which the BCS had used in its formula for ranking teams since 1998. Last season, however, the AP told the BCS it could no longer use its media poll.

In addition to the new poll, the BCS will continue to use the USA Today coaches' poll and a compilation of six computer rankings -- each counting for one-third of a team's grade. The coaches will continue with a preseason ballot.

Recently, ESPN pulled out of participating in the coaches' poll.

The coaches agreed to have their final ballots made public for the first time this season. The new Harris poll will take the same approach, releasing only the final ballots.

When Texas made up late ground on California in the BCS standings last season and grabbed a spot in the Rose Bowl, Cal and Pac-10 officials called for the coaches' votes to be made public.

The AP poll never provided a secret ballot for its voters.

"We thought it was important for there to be consistency with the two human polls," Weiberg said. "To make the ballots public on a weekly basis during the season, we feel the focus would be on who voted for whom and detract from the games being playing."

Last season, the BCS standings emphasized the polls more than ever and AP voters' ballots were scrutinized as three unbeaten teams competed for the top two spots.

Weiberg said voters in the new poll will be allowed to make their votes public at any point in the season if they choose.

"We've made very good progress in terms of people responding affirmatively to wanting to be part of the poll," he said.

The AP preseason poll will be released Aug. 20, with the first regular-season poll Sept. 6. The AP national champion will be crowned after the Rose Bowl on Jan. 4.

Last season, Southern California and Oklahoma held the top two spots in both the AP and coaches' polls in the preseason and kept those positions throughout undefeated regular seasons.

Auburn, which began the season ranked in the teens in the polls, went unbeaten but could never pass the Trojans or Sooners in the polls. USC finished No. 1 in the final BCS standings and Oklahoma was No. 2, mostly on the strength of their top-ranked computer score.

All three teams finished the regular season unbeaten and USC and Oklahoma played for the national title in the Orange Bowl. Auburn went to the Sugar Bowl, finished the season 13-0 and had to settle for a final ranking of No. 2 in the polls behind national champion USC.

Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said the preseason rankings put his team at a disadvantage because it had too much ground to make up in the BCS standings before games were even played.

Harris Interactive Inc., a marketing company hired by the BCS last month to coordinate the new poll, is in the process of compiling a panel from 300 possible participants. Voters' names will be made public and all 11 Division I-A conferences and independent teams will be represented in the panel.

Each conference nominated 27 people to be placed into a pool of possible poll voters, and each conference will have 10 of its nominees in the panel.