In the Idaho Code, the law appears in sections 9-337 to 9-350. In the Florida Statutes, the law appears in sections 119.01 through 119.15. In the United States Code, the law is outlined in section 552, but most know that statute better as the Freedom of Information Act.
No matter the jurisdiction, laws exist to help us get a look at the information the American Football Coaches Association doesn't want us to see. When it decided to make the post-conference championship game USA Today Coaches Poll ballots secret beginning in the 2010 season, the AFCA ignored one glaring fact: Most of the coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision work for public universities. That means everything those coaches do is subject to the open records law in their particular state. That includes each week's coaches poll ballot.
So beginning Tuesday, SI.com will file records requests with the employer of each of the 51 public school coaches who vote in the 2009 poll. If the schools comply with the law, we should get a look at every ballot. Legal action may be required if schools refuse to comply, but if a recent case involving Florida State and the NCAA is any indication, judges likely will support the people asking that highly paid public employees be held accountable for their actions. Every ballot we receive will be published.
Why are we doing this? Because, as South Carolina coach -- and public school poll voter --
Remember, the coaches poll accounts for one-third of the BCS formula. It helps determine which two teams will play for the national title, and it also helps determine which teams will earn spots in BCS bowls that pay millions more to BCS schools and conferences than their non-BCS counterparts. Also, most coaches' jobs depend on how they fare in the polls, so each has a financial incentive to be biased.
Fortunately, most coaches poll voters are no more biased than their Associated Press Poll and Harris Interactive Poll counterparts. If the past few years of public December ballots are any indication, most coaches simply voted their conscience.
There were some exceptions, though. Ohio State coach
Imagine what kind of chicanery coaches would pull if they knew they couldn't get caught.
Of course, a fishy event prompted the AFCA's current level of transparency in the first place. In 2004, Texas went to the Rose Bowl instead of Cal after the Bears took a mystifying drop in the poll. Going into the season's final week, no coaches poll voter ranked Cal lower than sixth. Yet after a season-ending win at Southern Miss, four voters dropped Cal to No. 7 and two dropped the Bears to No. 8. A goal-line stand by eventual national champ USC was the only thing that kept Cal from going undefeated that season, but the Bears still wound up playing in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 30. Cal coach
Tedford will now receive a records request. So will Georgia coach
Last week in Tallahassee, Leon County Circuit Judge
Florida State president
Florida isn't the only state with a broad law. In May, the
Fortunately, Cinncinnati coach
The 51 requests will go to schools in 30 states, but two schools adhere to a different set of laws. The ballots of Air Force coach
We're expecting to hear excuses as to why the ballots can't be released. Some coaches may claim they file their ballot by phone, leaving no written record. Those who make that claim could be asked to recite their ballots, No. 1 through No. 25. If they can, they might be off the hook. But since we all know some coaches have sports information directors or operations directors fill out their ballots, chances are a written record exists for every ballot submission.
As the consumers who make college football the multibillion dollar business it is, you deserve to know how the sausage gets made. And since most of the coaches in the poll work for athletic departments at schools subsidized by your tax dollars, you have a right to know how they voted.