Sunday, December 11, 2011

Just what does the Heisman trophy mean?

Robert Griffin III (known as "RG3") is the most recent Heisman trophy winner, and he certainly had quite a year for a 9-3 Baylor team that achieved far more than most Baylor teams of late.  This quarterback clearly was a valuable player on his team and has been for virtually the whole time he's played for Baylor.  How many times has Baylor beaten both OU and the shorthorns of UTx in the same year?  Besides, anyone with III as a suffix to their name has to get my respect!

That said, however, I've struggled of late trying to grasp just what the Heisman trophy means.  Wikipedia says the Heisman trophy is awarded annually to:  the player deemed the most outstanding player in collegiate football.  The entry goes on to discuss some of the controversy regarding the Heisman, including regional biases and so forth.

What I find so puzzling is the clear dominance of quarterbacks and running backs in the history of the award.  Just how is "the most outstanding player" to be defined?  What criteria are used?  How does one compare performance at different positions?  Although players at positions other than quarterback and running back have on very rare occasions been selected, who's to say the most outstanding player in college football that year wasn't a tight end, or a blocking fullback, or (horrors!) a lineman?  Defensive players are not generally given much consideration, either.  Neither are the players limited to special teams.

This very clear bias for quarterback or running back raises the question:  which position is the most valuable?  Evidently, the belief in football is widespread that quarterback and running back are the most important/valuable.  But football is a team game and this bias in awarding a trophy to the putative year's "best" player is simply inexplicable and unjustifiable.  There's no plausible reason to restrict potential Heisman winners to two positions on a team with 22 positions to fill (to say nothing of special teams).  As good as RG3 has been, his team has been mired in mediocrity most of its history.  Why?  Almost surely because the players around even good Baylor quarterbacks (like RG3) haven't been the kind of supporting cast that would permit Baylor to be a dominant team. 

It's also clear that a Heisman winner must come from a school with a winning season that year.  Apparently, the "best" college football player of the year must play with one of the top-ranked teams.  Presumably, this is because if the "best" player is on that team, he elevates it to the top tier that season.  But who's to say the "best" player of the season isn't on a losing team?  Why not some lineman struggling to achieve and doing so on a team otherwise loaded with mediocre players?  From where I sit, however, winning (as well as losing) doesn't depend on just one player!  One reason I enjoy being a fan of college football is that it's the ultimate team sport - every player must perform consistently at a high level for the duration of the game if the team is to perform at a high level.

Landry Jones, this year's OU quarterback, was mentioned in the Heisman discussion for a good part of the season, but the team failed to perform in three dismal losses and Landry Jones had bad "numbers" for the last three games of the season, with zero TD passes and a number of turnovers.  Can we lay the responsibility for that entirely on Landry Jones?  He certainly fell out of consideration for the Heisman trophy after the second loss of the season.  Apparently, the team's losses were entirely his fault, at least insofar as the Heisman debate was concerned.  By the way, OU finished 9-3, just as Baylor did.

In my book, the Heisman trophy is both without a clear and justifiable definition of the terms used to judge its winner and based on a concept that is antithetical to the very game involved.  It's a type of popularity contest that's unjustifiably limited to a few offensive team positions on a winning team.  No player could ever win the Heisman without the consistently good performance of his teammates!  I decline to attach much significance to the Heisman trophy, and it certainly is not a good predictor for football performance in the NFL.  It's a trophy with no meaning.

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