Few things are as mocked as college basketball polls. Wait. No. Let me rephrase that. Few things are as mocked as preseason college basketball polls. Between media members, fans and coaches all discrediting the importance of them, it is currently trendy to consider polls meaningless. Since being a part of the trendy crowd is the easy thing to do, though, the other side of the argument hasn’t been brought up or even mentioned during 14o character jokes about them on the mean streets of Twitter.
College basketball polls as far as mattering in the scheme of how teams actually do is rather obvious. It doesn’t honestly matter if you are a preseason number one or come in unranked, the result at the end of the season will be based off the play of the team and not what others expected out of them for the year. Even with that being said, though, the polls do have some importance in the realm of college hoops.
The easiest example is how it puts a set of expectations on any given program. An example being the Kentucky Wildcats, who are entering the season as the number one overall ranked team for what seems like the billionth time. What exactly does that mean for Kentucky? Well, John Calipari will now have to battle with Big Blue Nation — who are usually uninhibited by realistic expectations anyway — thinking that the team should go undefeated and/or that anything other than a National Title is a failure. Not to mention how the national media and trolls will do to the Wildcats if they were to lose — because hell have no fury like a team who someone thought was the best in the preseason, but then lost, like the person who originally thought it.
So, the polls are important to programs — and a coach’s job security — because of the weight of expectations that come with being ranked highly. However, the opposite could be said for a program who enters the season unranked and not hyped. For the sake of not getting others’ panties in a bunch, we will use the fictional Club State Pool Cleaners as an example.
You see, Club State is not a perennial power and few people know about the day-to-day goings on within the program. Outside of the once or twice a year game broadcasted on ESPN-Eleventy-Billion at 11:00 pm, not a soul on the planet outside the university can name a thing about the program or a guy who plays for it. Still, there are no expectations for them, by anyone, because Joey McMediamember won’t rank them in the top 25 because being a laughing stock is not fun. Yet, if that team ever pokes its head in the top 25 or even appears in the “other votes” section it is deemed a success for the program as well as giving the head coach name recognition and a chance to use it as leverage when it is time to shop his services around.
The expectations and lack thereof that college basketball polls provide are not the lone reason they have importance. There’s a much more obvious one, one that the sport really needs, and a point that few will admit. Polls are an easy way for the casual audience to follow the 300-plus Division I basketball programs floating around North America.
Trust me. No one will admit this, but following all those teams is extremely hard. I used to cover college basketball for a living, which meant my days were spent reading, watching, writing, covering, etc. college basketball for nearly 18 hours a day (sadly, not an exaggeration). During that time there were plenty of stories, players, teams, programs and coaches that passed right by me without me knowing. Now, how exactly is Billy O’Watchalottahoops going to have enough time to follow all of college hoops? Assuming that Billy has a job (eight hours), barely sleeps (seven hours) and has somewhat of a life (three hours to have a little life), that leaves six hours in the day for him to consume JUST college basketball. We didn’t even factor in him cleaning himself, eating, the stuff that happens after eating, or the possibility that some lady would be stupid enough to date a guy named O’Watchalottahoops.
Any variation of a poll can be used as a guide for normal, sane people. A These Are Teams Worth Watching type of guide for any normal person who can’t sit around and watch programs from the NEC to the AAC to the Big East to the ACC all day. If you tell them, however, that Club State is well worth their time because a number is attached to them, well, now they might make time for the best member of the Fictional University Conference.
Regardless, none of that actually means anything in the grand scheme of programs being good. All it really does is alter expectations for fanbases — which results in the “we are ranked too low” or “we’re number one” fanbased narratives — and provide a platform, based off of others’ expectations, for coaches to get fired or hired into a big contract.
Are college basketball polls truly meaningless? Of course not. Are they super-duper important? Hecks to the no. But ignoring the impact they have with so many people in and around the sport is just not wise. Seriously, just because most of these college basketball polls have very little merit, does not mean they should go away or couldn’t be used for the greater good of college hoops. Instead, it could be argued that the top 25 should be expanded to 30 or larger, since more teams have been added to the Division I ranks since the went to 25 a little over two decades ago.
We just have to give the votes to the polls to the right people. As in, not coaches who do not have enough time to watch games of other teams or media members who might have agenda and also lack the ability to watch 20 games a day because they have a beat to cover. I guess what I am trying to say, in the most roundabout as humanly possible, just let me rank the top 25 every week.
*Section Photo credit to Andy Lyons, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to The Classical