Sports Rankings

Hannah White, Op/Ed Editor

Preseason rankings in sports are alarmingly inaccurate.  Seniors graduate and freshmen come in, and each team proves different than the previous year.  Every year provides this cycle of rankings that change remarkably by the end of the season. The staff of Lost Letterman, a college sports news website, wrote, “Preseason AP rankings are not gospel. In fact, they’re often wildly inaccurate. . . . [U]naccounted-for circumstances can change the tide of a game and a season in an instant.”  With this being the case, it seems rather odd that teams are ranked before they’ve even begun playing.

In 2013, nine ranked NCAA football teams in the preseason AP Top 25 dropped out of the final rankings completely, including Georgia (5) and Florida (10).  In the nine teams that replaced these schools in the top 25, four finished the season in the top ten: Auburn (2), Michigan State (3), Missouri (5), and UCF (10).  In 2014, nine ranked football teams dropped out of the rankings, including Oklahoma (4) and South Carolina (9), and two unranked teams in the preseason ended up in the top ten: TCU (3) and Georgia Tech (8).  In 2015, ten of the preseason ranked teams dropped out by Week 14, including Auburn (6) and Georgia (9).  Iowa (4) and North Carolina (8) were ranked in the top ten in Week 14, despite not being ranked in the preseason.
This trend exists in basketball as well.  In the 2012-13 NCAA men’s basketball season, nine preseason AP Top 25 teams dropped from the rankings by the end.  In 2013-14, six teams dropped from the rankings by the end, including Kentucky (1).  In 2014-15, nine teams fell out of the top 25. In these statistics, on average, 37.3% of NCAA ranked football teams ended the season unranked, and 32% of NCAA ranked men’s basketball teams dropped from the rankings.  These aren’t random people ranking teams, either–they are the supposed “experts.”  This is certainly concerning.  If preseason rankings are this incorrect, should we have them at all? Sam Frandsen, senior linebacker for Bingham, said, “Preseason sports rankings are irrelevant.  They are based on the previous team’s performance, but each year, a team changes and gains a new identity.  Because of this, preseason rankings are rarely, if ever, accurate at all.” This isn’t the only problem, however.  Rankings for the next several weeks are all based on what teams beat teams with high rankings.  But if the highly ranked teams should not have such a high ranking, it screws up the system.  If teams were not ranked until several weeks into the season based on how well they played, rankings would probably be more accurate. Warren Sharp, writer for Fox Sports, wrote, “College Football implemented a Playoff Selection Committee, and their first rankings of the year don’t emerge until week 10. . . . In fact, the bylaws of the selection committee actually preclude them from even caring what the initial AP Top 25 poll said. Specifically: ‘Committee members will be required to discredit polls wherein initial rankings are established before competition has occurred.’”  If even the Playoff Selection Committee has to “discredit” preseason rankings, it doesn’t make sense to have them at all. People cannot continue to rank teams in the preseason and expect different results.  While everything evens out in the end, it may be better to throw out preseason rankings completely and wait for several weeks to rank teams.