California or Texas?
Texas or California?
Harmless material for heated debates in sports bars or serious conflict of interest?
Obviously, it depends on your point of view. Ours is constantly being questioned.
The Bowl Championship Series has unwittingly -- does the BCS ever do anything wittingly? -- invited serious inspection and introspection of the voting process. In so doing, that lovable BCS has put 65 writers' and broadcasters' opinions, votes, rationalization -- even their motives -- under a microscope.
Even if this was an unintended result of the BCS, which has degenerated into the Enron of all sports follies, the fact that it has put voters in position to be mocked, cajoled, ridiculed, pressured and tormented is a disturbing consequence.
In fact, if you were privy to my e-mail, you wouldn't be wondering how a riot could take place at an NBA arena. My e-mail this week has encouraged me to leave town, change jobs, question my lineage, do something to parts of my body that I thought was physically impossible, even co-habitate with Satan. And that was just from my relatives.
No one is offering me money to switch my vote yet -- unfortunately.
Besides, as Associated Press sports editor Terry Taylor said, "I don't think you can do that. We draw the line there."
The entire process has sparked so much consternation, handwringing and internal debate that at least two major Texas newspapers are seriously considering relinquishing their writers' votes, starting next college football season, because of conflicts of interest. One even contemplated not voting this weekend before deciding otherwise.
If any voting outlet bailed out, it wouldn't mark a first. Several years ago, the Dallas Morning News gave up its vote, changed its mind a day later, but was told the vote was given to a San Antonio Express-News writer. The Morning News has a vote now, but may give it up.
"That's happened before," said Taylor, AP sports editor since 1992. "Other people have dropped out and then come back. If it's uncomfortable, they shouldn't do it. If someone is conflicted with voting, they have to remove themselves."
And it would take less than a day to find replacements, mainly because it is such a prestigious poll.
Personally, voting in the AP poll as I have every year but one since 1989 doesn't represent a blatant conflict of interest unless voters adhere only to the wishes of the team they cover and fill out their ballots accordingly along provincial lines.
If that line is crossed, that voter will quickly be disqualified from future participation. And should be.
In truth, we voters should not be determining which college football teams play for the national championship. A playoff should. We are not assigned to decide who gets to play in one of the four marquee bowl games and who does not.
That was never the intention when the AP poll was created in 1936. Actually, AP sports editor Alan J. Gould started it the year before, but it was a poll of one. Even then, Gould couldn't agree with himself. When he scribbled out his best teams at the end of 1935, he had a three-way tie among Minnesota, Princeton and Southern Methodist. And they expect 65 of us to come to a consensus?
When a number of newspaper sports editors decided to vote for the top 20 teams in the nation the following year, there weren't millions of dollars at stake. Coaches didn't have big money at stake. There were no networks to bid for excessive broadcasting rights.
We voters shouldn't be deciding if Mack Brown gets an extra $50,000 if his Longhorns play in a BCS bowl and another $75,000 if they finish No. 2 or No. 3 nationally.
But we weren't supposed to. The poll was originated to foster interest in and exposure of college football. That's it.
The BCS folks are the ones who chose to give the AP poll and the coaches' USA Today/ESPN poll the amount of clout they carry. AP didn't lobby for such power.
"Once our poll becomes part of the public domain," Taylor said, "we can't control what (the BCS) does with it."
If anything, the AP has tried to distance itself from the BCS. Any time the BCS powers have requested a heads-up from the AP on the shape its weekly ballot is taking or on the possibility of an incomplete ballot with not all the voters casting ballots, AP has steadfastly declined.
"It's never been billed as an end-all, be-all of who's No. 1 in college football," Taylor said. "But absent a playoff, it's a pretty darn good measuring stick. We feel we have a terrific panel of voters. It's probably the highest fixture we have at the AP, and I think it'd be a shame not to be proud of it. I'm not going to apologize for it."
She shouldn't have to. Nor should voters apologize for their ballots, so long as they fill them out with a clear conscience and in a reasoned, objective way.
But even when the AP poll officially began in 1936, those editors voted 7-1 Minnesota No. 1 even though the Golden Gophers lost to 7-1 Northwestern in the regular season. Go figure. Some things never change.