It’s September and college football season is beginning… which means we already have a “Heisman Trophy watch” counting down the players who most deserve to win the award. Never mind that not a single down of football has been played. Let’s start handing out awards already!
The Heisman Trophy voting process is deeply flawed, for a number of reasons. Among them: A watch list starts before the season has even started, meaning that any player who is not on said watch list would emerge too late to actually have a shot at winning the award; there are way too many voters, including some who admit they don’t watch much college football outside of their own region; and most of these voters seem to be completely oblivious to the fact that any positions exist beyond quarterback and running back.
The Heisman Trophy voting process needs a massive overhaul. Here’s how.
The problems with Heisman Trophy voting: Pre-season watch lists
Given today’s media environment, I’m not sure much can be done about this. Every publication has its own Heisman race tracker, counting down the players who figure to be in contention for the award.
I just wish they’d actually wait until a few games have been played before they created such lists. You don’t see an NFL MVP watch or a Major League Baseball MVP watch before the season has even begun. Why should college football be an exception?
The problems with Heisman Trophy voting: Only skills-position players are considered
The blame for this problem falls on the shoulders of the media and the voters. It’s insane that only quarterbacks and running backs (with an occasional wide receiver) are given serious consideration for the trophy. Why is it a stretch to think that college football’s top player could be an offensive tackle? Or a defensive end?
It takes a superhuman performance and a lot of luck for a non-skills-position player to win the award. That’s exactly what happened in 1997, when cornerback Charles Woodson won the Heisman after picking off 8 passes for an undefeated Michigan team. But even with such a stellar defensive performance, Woodson wouldn’t have won college football’s top award without his 4 TDs as a punt returner and part-time receiver.
Woodson is the only Heisman winner in the last 50 years who wasn’t a QB, WR or RB.
Let’s start giving some attention to the best college lineman, the best linebackers, the best safeties. Stop giving the award to the best quarterback by default. Look a little harder than that. The candidates and finalists should cover most positions on the football field.
The problems with Heisman Trophy voting: Too many voters
I’ve never understood why it takes 800-plus voters to decide this thing. More is most certainly not better. The NFL’s Hall of Fame committee only has 44 voters. That’s the way to go. Cut the Heisman voting committee membership by 95%, leaving only the 50 most educated voters, as determined by an analysis of previous votes.
Normally I’m not a fan of elitist organizations, but there’s something to be said for having a small voting body made up of people who actually know what they’re doing, versus a massive voting body where everybody and his grandmother gets to have a say. (The same problem affects Major League Baseball’s way-too-large Hall of Fame voting body, where a few sportswriters with massive egos annually taint the selection process.)
Every year there are some Heisman voters who make ridiculous decisions, because they know there are no repercussions. This is always confirmed when they show the breakdown of votes by region. Voters in the East always vote for somebody different than voters in the West. Voters play favorites, rather than voting for the legitimate best player.
If the Heisman voting body was cut to the 50 best football minds, I’d have more faith that the award is actually being given to the player who most deserves it.
The problems with Heisman Trophy voting: Summary
One common problem people have with the Heisman is that it doesn’t predict NFL success. But that’s not what the award is for. It exists to reward the best player in college football. So at least that criticism is off-base.
But the others are real problems that should be addressed. I’m not actually expecting college football to strip 750 of its Heisman voters of their voting privileges. But that would make the voting process a lot more fair.
The problems with Heisman Trophy voting: Sources