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The Read-Option: The purpose of polls in the playoff committee era

Unlike the BCS, the College Football Playoff has no required polling component. Unlike the BCS, the College Football Playoff does not require a polling component. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)

The Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation announced on Tuesday that the organizations will conduct a new college football poll in 2014. The announcement of the “FWAA-NFF Grantland Rice Super 16″ has many people scratching their heads, as it will be just one more poll on the college football landscape.

So how important (or unimportant) will this poll be? Will this have any effect on the upcoming College Football Playoff selection process? Zac Ellis and Martin Rickman discuss the topic in The Read-Option:

Martin Rickman: So it looks like there's a new poll joining the fold. It maybe doesn't have the catchiest name, but what do you make of the FWAA-NFF Grantland Rice Super 16 on first glance?

Zac Ellis: I guess my first question is, Why? Why do we suddenly need a new poll? The FWAA's release said that this particular poll had been in discussion for a couple of months, but I'm curious why all of a sudden folks felt we needed another poll in the first place. Right now the AP and the Coaches' polls seem to dominate the college landscape, but early returns suggest that this could be considered the next "major" poll as the 2014 season unfolds. What's your take?

MR: It's just funny in general that there can be the idea of "major polls" anymore with the college football playoff committee doing their own thing. What makes a poll "major" in the first place? Like is Kanye on board? I get the fascination with polls. We rank everything on the internet anyway. And it doesn't bother me. If there is enough variation between the various entities, it could show some kind of real data about perception bias. What are your thoughts? Will you be anxiously awaiting the drop of each week's FWAANFFGRS16?

ZE: I guess I'd like to watch and see how the Grantland poll (not to be confused with Grantland.com, of course) will be different from other polls. Media members are still voting on this, much like the AP. But you touched on the more intriguing aspect of this new poll: Does it even matter, given that there's a new playoff selection committee? One of the primary policies for those committee members is that they reserve the right to use any and all criteria when narrowing down their list of proposed playoff teams. That's one of the more criticized aspects of the committee, but it's so ambiguous that committee members can ignore polls altogether if they so choose. That differs starkly from the BCS, which used polls as a key part of its formula. Why put a new poll out there when polls are set to have less influence than they've had at any point in the last 15 years?

MR: Yeah we don't have the formula we had with the BCS, for better or worse. That's the thing though; if polls have no influence, what's there to be upset about? Let's make more polls. Let's have like 50 of them. Give them all sponsors, like with stadium naming rights. Strength in numbers. AP Poll, Amway USA Today Coaches Poll, this New Guy (I'm not typing that all out a bunch of times, and I'm certainly not calling it "the Grantland") presented by Mavis Beacon, the Jiffy Lube Southeast Ohio Kiwanis Club College Football Poll, Polls by Tom, computer models, Angelfire websites, this thing could get great. Own it. Don't just act like there's a new player in town and it can immediately be important because there's a press release. We all get press releases all the time -- you don't see us running out to buy the hottest new garage door technology or scrambling to write a newser because a former NFL player attached his name to a "groundbreaking" dog shampoo.

ZE: I think what you said earlier makes a lot of sense: We just like to rank things. Think of all those dumb BuzzFeed posts you see on the internet. That kind of goes back to the whole debate over whether or not there should be a preseason college football poll. Some folks think we should just wait until October to rank teams, so we at least have some sample size. It's hard to blame people on that side when you see how laughably wrong some preseason polls are. Didn't Florida State start the season between No. 10 and No. 15 in most rankings last year? And the Seminoles became the most dominant team in the country. Auburn wasn't even ranked. My point is, polls now more than ever are meant more for fans than for anything else. They aren't likely to have a tangible effect on the playoff selection process, so it's just a way for fans to keep tabs of what's going on, and it's a way to cultivate sports talk radio fodder.

MR: But we have to talk about something. The offseason is maddeningly boring, and it's basically just "guy gets arrested," "guy takes job with another team," "guy posts photo of himself eating 100 wings," "guy tweets at recruits," "guy self-reports chewing tobacco secondary violation." I'm not saying polls or preseason rankings are worth anything; they probably aren't. At the same time, they're not hurting anything either. They're a way to make something out of nothing. And it's fun to look back and see how laughably wrong you are sometimes. It's humbling; it's human. It gives us one more outlet rather than another argument about whether Space Jam is a good movie or not. Yeah, I don't think the committee is going to be tearing through all three (or more!) polls hoping to gain some sort of insight. If they are, now that's a story.

ZE: We do have to talk about stuff, and for all we know, this new poll could gain some respect this year. But it would very much surprise me if that were the case. That said, perhaps some members of the committee would like one extra poll to help solidify their decision-making process? The thing is, we just don't know. I feel like this move is, if nothing else, an attempt to add to the debate surrounding college football. That's what fans enjoy. We'll have to wait and see if there's any effect.

MR: And in the meantime we'll just have to rejoin the snacking debate already in progress. #TeamTriscuit4Lyfe.

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