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Heisman Trust has right to enforce non-disclosure or else mandate on voters

My latest column for the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana is on the mandate from the Heisman Trust that voters don’t reveal their choices prior to Saturday’s announcement. While I’m all for transparency, voting for the Heisman isn’t a right. It is a privilege.

Here’s some excerpts:

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Journalists really don’t like to be told what to do. Tell us to go left, and we’ll go right.

In retrospect, the Heisman Trust should have sent a letter to voters demanding that they reveal their choices prior to the award announcement Saturday.

I could see the reaction. “No way. Nobody’s making me write a column disclosing my vote.”

Who knows? It might have worked.

Instead, the Heisman Trust took the opposite approach. It sent out letters to voters who revealed their selections last year in advance of the announcement. Last spring, Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com wrote (insert link: http://www.cbssports.com/collegefootball/story/22030795/giving-up-my-heisman-vote-before-getting-stiffarmed) about what showed up in his mailbox:

“Your letter arrived with the names “Johnny Manziel,” “Manti Teo” and “Collin Klein” highlighted from my column with a yellow marker like I had cheated in class.

“We had until April 8 to atone for our sins — aka promise “in writing” we would hide our ballots from public consumption after the voting deadline (early December). Even then, you stated regional and state representatives “will take your explanation into consideration when determining the 2013 electorate.”

In other words, vote and then shut up. Or lose your vote forever.

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I’m all for transparency as a journalist, and I should know better than to disagree with Dodd, a long-time friend and one of the best in the business. But you know what? I think the Heisman Trust is justified in making this request.

Now we can write forever on the flaws in the voting set-up and the ridiculous number of voters (more than 900), many of whom have little idea what’s happening in college football. But that’s a story, or book, for another day.

However, voting for the Heisman Trophy isn’t a right; it is a privilege. This isn’t marking a ballot for president of the United States. This is selecting the top college football player of the year. Big difference.

It’s the Heisman’s proverbial ball here. If you don’t want to play by the rules, then don’t vote.

Here’s a simple solution: Write about your vote after the winner is announced. In fact, you could have the column ready to go immediately after the envelope is opened. Just click a button.

(Note: Since writing the column, I wrote today the challenge too stay mum is harder for sports talk radio host and TV analysts who have a vote.)

Chisholm argues that more transparency is required in the voting process. I agree. Fans should know who voted for who.

Now would it hurt to wait until Saturday night? Both Dodd and Chisholm contend that all the pre-announcement disclosures of votes helps build the audience for the Heisman announcement. Chisholm writes:

“After all, what I do is part of the hype machine.  In 2009, the closest Heisman race ever (Ingram/Gerhart/McCoy/Suh/Tebow) led to the biggest ratings ever.  The Heisman Trust even bragged about it in a press release.  There’s just one problem:  If it were up to the Heisman folks, no one would have had ANY idea that it was going to be a close race.  It was MY site that told the world that it would be close.  I led SportsCenter on Friday night that year.  3.78 million people watched the show — and I had 1.3 million page views during the two weeks prior to the show.  I helped create that huge level of hype for them.”

It’s a valid argument. Perhaps the Heisman Trust will discover the pre-announcement polls and vote disclosures are beneficial. But that’s a decision it has to make.

For now, the Heisman Trust wants voters to keep their ballots to themselves prior to the announcement. Like it or not, it’s their trophy.

 

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