Do Preseason Polls Really Matter?

At the start of any sports season there are the inevitable preseason polls. To some, these polls are anticipated and often glorified. But to others, they’re dreaded and even brushed aside as meaningless. My opinion falls somewhere in the middle, but leans more toward the “pointless” side of things.

Sure the polls help gauge the direction of a season. And yes, they’re often based on results of the previous season. But how accurate and dependable are they?

If you’re going to have a preseason poll for any sport, I think football would be the most logical. First of all, there aren’t nearly as many teams participating in FBS-Division I football as there are in other sports. Therefore creating a poll is a bit easier and more concise.

There are also significantly fewer games played in football than other sports. Coming up with a projection on how a team will compete during a 12-game is much easier than looking a 30+ game schedule. Yes, there are still going to be changes in the polls, but nothing as drastic as what you may see in another sport.

For sports like baseball and basketball, there are plenty of games throughout the season which impact how schools move up, down, in or out of the polls. The many preseason polls for these sports seem almost laughable.

How many times do we hear about a new team moving into the top 25, top ten or even that coveted number one spot? There’s plenty of excitement during the season as teams play musical chairs in the polls. But not very often do we see a top 25 poll at the end of the season that matches that of the beginning.

Take, for instance, the Razorbacks preseason ranking in football for the 2012 season. No. 8 in those polls! The hype and anticipation for what could be expected last season was through the roof. Then the season came…and, well, we know how that story ends. No need to pour salt in the wound.

I understand there is some reason and importance behind these preseason polls. But do we really need them? I think some pollsters get a kick out of coming up with a top 25 poll just days after a season ends. It’s a way to sensationalize the sport and maintain interest once the season is over. These polls are thrown together based mostly on the previous season and loosely on the upcoming year.

So much can happen to a team during the offseason. Think of how many players make the decision to go pro weeks, or months, after a season ends. Think about the off-season injuries. Think about the high school athletes that make last minute decisions about which school to attend, which could ultimately affect a team’s potential.

There are so many what-if’s that factor into a team during that transition period from one season to the next. It seems pointless, I’d go so far as to say it’s ludicrous, to create a preseason poll too far from the start of a new season.

Let’s be realistic. Preseason polls are a launching pad going into the season. It’s a starting point for pollsters to figure out how to describe certain matchups. It’s a way for those number crunchers to figure the spread. The benefits go beyond these two examples, obviously.

What’s the solution? How about timing. Here’s where realism comes into play again. Instead of a preseason poll four to six months in advance, let’s go with one to two months. By this point, teams have begun preseason practices of their own. That means there’s a better of idea of how a team is shaping up: injuries, cohesiveness, position changes, etc.

Will the hype still be there without a preseason poll six months before the season starts? I think so. As an avid sports fan, I don’t put all my expectations and hopes for the upcoming year based on where a poll ranks my team half a year before the season. And to be honest, I’d be silly to do so. What about you?

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