Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Tale of Two Polls

In most sports, there are multiple polls to tell you about the relative merits of teams in the league. Since I primarily follow college basketball, I am mostly aware of the Coaches poll and the AP poll. As far as I can tell, there is no objective basis for either poll, unlike the flawed BCS ranking system, which we won't discuss here. Instead, the Coaches poll takes the votes of coaches in Division I basketball, and the AP poll takes the votes of sports writers around the nation. I guess that's why the word "poll" is used.

Anyway, I have become very aware of these little numbers this season with my Aggies beginning the season ranked 13th, and proceeding to move around in the polls as high as 6th as the weeks progress. What's interesting to me in all this is that no one seems to be very consistent about which poll they use. If they want to make two teams seem better matched or more separated, they'll use the ranking from one poll and the other poll for the rank of the other team. In the sports sites for each of the teams, they seem to just use whichever one is higher. Last week, A&M's site proudly displayed a number 6 ranking (from the AP poll), and this week, after losing to Tech, we're using the number 8 ranking from the Coaches poll to toot our horn (the AP has us down to 10).

So, I wonder, do people naturally gravitate toward whatever makes themselves sound better, or is there any group out there that keeps measuring themselves against the same stick? Companies reporting a loss in a quarter will try to highlight revenue growth or investment in future technologies. Teams that lose all the time resort to pointing stats they've improved ("Sure we didn't get any touchdowns, but did you see that we had 13 first downs in that game -- isn't that great?!"). Is it just a defense mechanism to not dwell on the bad stuff?

I suppose we do it in our lives, too. I certainly justify my slow running by looking at the improvement I've made rather than the absolute time. I try to look past the gazillion dollars we spent on eating out last year in favor of noting that we cut our movie expenditures from .1 gazillion to .05 gazillion. My car may not get the best gas mileage, but I'll point out the 1-3 mpg improvement right after I've filled up my tires.

Since it's not really that odd a behavior, I guess I'll forgive the sports teams trying to make themselves look better. It's all about getting more butts in the seats to make more money, and that seems a decent way to do it. It's just odd to me that the pollsters give them ample data to pick and choose from, rather than sticking to just one ranking list.

No comments: