Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Press Not Offside in Picking Top 25

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Press Not Offside in Picking Top 25

Article excerpt

IS IT A CONFLICT of interest for newspaper reporters, supposedly impartial observers, to serve on panels that make judgments about activities they cover?

Case in point: Should sportswriters make up the voting panel in the annual Associated Press poll to determine the Top 25 college football teams?

The question comes up because of complaints about Notre Dame's not being chosen the nation's No. 1 team. The issue has now been posed for us newspaper readers' advocates to ponder as possibly an ethical problem.

Here's the background:

After the New Year's Day bowl games, sportswriters voted Florida State No. 1 over Notre Dame. The two teams each had only one loss for the season, but Florida State's came at the hands of Notre Dame.

Coach Lou Holtz of the Fighting Irish and others have complained of bias on the part of the sportswriters, alleging anti-Notre Dame sentiments.

The AP voting each year casts sportswriters in the role of newsmakers, ordinarily a journalistic no-no. Columnists can give personal opinions, but reporters are expected to be on the sidelines (pun intentional).

In truth, however, the halls of sports immortals would be empty without sportswriters' input.

It's baseball writers who decide who gets into the Baseball Hall of Fame, who wins the Most Valuable Player title, the Cy Young award, Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year.

Football writers are among those who choose the winner of the Heisman Trophy, which college teams are the Top 25 and who gets into the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In a most unscientific poll, one Texas radio station found that 78 percent of the listeners thought that Notre Dame should have been No. 1. The New York Times does not permit its sports columnist, George Vescey, to take part in the voting "for good reasons," as he put it.

I see the potential for partiality and conflict of interest. However, circumstances extenuate, in my view.

One, journalists are presumed to be impartial professionals (rightly or wrongly), and the voting panel is large and disparate.

Two, the panel is spread geographically, probably offsetting regional favoritisms.

Three, the panel's membership changes, so it isn't always the same group of writers.

Four, sportswriters are generally knowledgeable about other teams and players, since they get to see many of them firsthand.

Who else does? The coaches and players? Yes, but they have more reason to be biased, since their teams have a big stake in the outcome.

The public? Sports fans usually support the hometown team, so their votes might be a popularity poll, with voting heaviest in contending areas.

I don't see a problem with the present setup, imperfect as it may be. Maybe my readers do.

What's your opinion? If you like, you can call my office (314-340-8250) between 9 a. …

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