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The Heisman: It's All About Perception

I ain't even mad.

Mike Stobe

I'm not mad at the Heisman trust. At all.

For the past week we've had some internal discussions among our writers venting and discussing the Heisman and Te'o likely not winning the award---and then Te'o didn't win it.

I understand the anger and frustration a lot of people have for the award but I never got close to those feelings in regards to Manti's candidacy.

In fact, I sympathize with the whole process of how the Heisman is chosen every year.


That's because the Heisman has such a long history of not making a lot of sense. That's the context through which I believe we need to view the award---it's been one of the most imperfect and controversial in all of sports.

This fact didn't change because Manti Te'o didn't win the award.

I am fully aware that I'm apathetic towards the Heisman but let's take a look at some of the issues a lot of Irish fans are dealing with right now.

The Award Has Been Tarnished

I think there's been a good deal of passive aggressiveness this season with Irish fans and the Heisman. Here's something I wrote in an e-mail about what a joke the Heisman has become:

It's a valid point that the Heisman lost a lot of prestige over the past 20 years, but if that's true (which I think most people agree with, right?) then Manziel winning over Te'o really doesn't tarnish the award. That's the part that doesn't add up to me. Everyone keeps saying what a joke the Heisman has been, but then they act like the impending Te'o loss is the first (or maybe worst) black mark for the award.

Here's an analogy: Think of Te'o as a music pop star and that he's getting a review in Rolling Stone magazine. The vast majority of people would agree that Rolling Stone has become a piece of garbage for music review. Yet when Te'o inevitably gets a negative review all the ND fans want to be like, "OH WELL THIS MAGAZINE IS FOREVER TARNISHED" but the rest of the world is surely thinking, "Oh, come off it. Stop being so self-important the magazine was tarnished years ago."

You can't tarnish an award that was already messed up in the first place and specifically because a middle linebacker didn't beat out a quarterback. This has been standard operating procedure since before World War II, and there have been dozens of black marks (much worse than this year, even if one admits that this was a black mark) on the award since then.

It's an Award for Quarterbacks & Running Backs Only

Yes, save a few receivers, a couple two-way ends, and Charles Woodson this is the way it's always been.

This is nothing new and we were fully aware of this long before Manti Te'o got involved with possibly winning the Heisman. I know what the Heisman mission statement says and I know that we'd really like for this award to truly be given to the most outstanding player in the country and not the best quarterback and running back.

But how many of us really care? Who among us would be calling the Heisman "tarnished" if Manziel beat out Michigan State's William Gholston?

How will we feel if next year another linebacker from a different school gets beat by a running back and that 'backer's fans are crying about how the Heisman is now tarnished?

"2013 didn't tarnish the Heisman because it was forever tarnished in 2012," we may scream!

People have been having these arguments for years, decades even, and although that doesn't mean that the award needs to re-think its priorities, I just don't like how we feel as if this particular year's result is the final nail in the coffin or most egregiousness mistake.

It's Just About Stats Now

Stats are really important, but I don't think they are really as important as most make them out to be.

If they were the be all end all, Geno Smith would have been close to a winner this year and Montee Ball, Toby Gerhart, and Jimmy Clausen all would have won the Heisman in recent years.

The Heisman has never been as simple as voters staring at statistics and choosing the player with this shiniest box scores---although in some years they do become the determining factor---but that's hardly a knock on the Heisman when nearly every other award of its type in every other sport is the same way.

The thing with stats is that in most cases they do help us understand who the best players are. Until there is a revolution in statistics for defenders in the game of football everyone will always gravitate towards the offenses. It's just human nature and I don't really blame people for not being able to articulate what a defender means to a team because it's really freaking hard.

I'm not happy about it nor are many others, but what should the voters do about it?

Sit down and watch every snap and try and tally how many times a quarterback didn't throw over the middle because Te'o was in coverage? Should they try and tally how many times a corner prevents a quarterback from throwing the ball in his direction?

How can we measure these things and how do they compare to other stats? And even if voters were able to do all this grunt work for defenders does it make the award any less controversial?

I'm sure it'd be great if defenders could actually win it, but I'd bet we'd be dealing with way more controversy and an increase of the "tarnished Heisman" articles if that happened.

The Power of Perception

Jim tackled this issue a little bit in his article, but to me this is by far the most important aspect to how the Heisman is awarded.

Pure stats matter. Your team's record matters. Who you beat matters. When you beat them matters. The big plays you've made matters. The talent on your team matters. Your character does matter.

Every year it's a mix and match of these things. It's never perfect and it never will be whether voters take defenders seriously or not.

We're talking about the game of football with two distinctly different sides of the ball in a sport with over 12,000 players. Just think about that...we have to pick the Heisman out of a pool of 12,000 athletes!

And we're surprised that there's controversy nearly every single year going on nearly 80 years?

That's why I sympathize with the voters quite a bit. It's not easy, and as much as we want to include defensive players it is still really difficult to quantify what those players brings to the game.

For example, what did Te'o do in the Purdue, Miami, and Wake Forest games this year? Can you remember a single play from these games from him? Was there a "big play" in any of these games?

That's not to say that Te'o didn't play well or even play at a high level but the stats and memories from these games don't leave voters with much to go on. That's why it's hard for them to vote for defenders when they can look at a quarterback and see his productivity and skills much easier.

Can We Fix the Heisman?

What's really the issue here?

Perhaps my issue is that I'm just so apathetic about the Heisman, and that I was just happy to see Te'o be recognized as a great player instead of wanting to melt the award down after Manziel's name was called.

Folks want to knock the trophy because they don't believe it's the most prestigious trophy anymore. Well we may wish it so but it still is the most prestigious award. The award survived Detmer over Rocket (talk about black marks this is 10x worse than what happened this weekend) and will continue to move forward with its rich history.

So we should just make it an offensive award then? But that would have denied Te'o being nominated and going to New York City---we want to do that just because he didn't win?

I agree with a lot of the problems surrounding the Heisman (too many voters, too much reliance on offensive players, etc.) but I'm just not ready to heap all this scorn upon the award and try to kick it in to the dust bin of history.

In fact, I think some luster was added to the award when Te'o did better than any defender has ever done in history. I think this is why I'm not really completely comprehending the pot-shots at the Heisman this year. If we do that then it belittles what Te'o just accomplished---something no defender on the history of planet earth has ever done.

For the first time in a long time a true defender got a ton of respect. So he didn't win it, but Te'o broke down a barrier nonetheless and may have opened the door for a defender to possibly win it in the future. In my book that doesn't tarnish the award no matter how much we wanted Manti to win.

If Te'o wasn't invited to New York City, or finished outside the Top 10 then I think we have a lot to complain about---but that didn't happen.

We have much to celebrate because of what Manti Te'o was able to achieve both on the field and with his voting for the Heisman Trophy. While I agree that the Heisman is a flawed award that hasn't exactly earned our respect over the years, I don't think that needs to be the narrative right now in the face of Manti's great season and super high finish in New York City.