Thirteen years ago I wrote a sports column titled “Of Preseason Polls and Prejudicial Christians.” The column was published nationally through BP Sports (a division of Baptist Press) and was featured in several newspapers across the country. While it remained archived online for several years, Baptist Press eventually closed BP Sports. As a result, that column, along with several others of mine that they had published, is no longer available online.
As a sports fan who loves college football, one of my pet peeves is preseason polls. Each year it seems that as the season progresses we are reminded that ranking teams before the season even starts is an exercise in both arrogance (to think they are smart enough to know how good a team is before they have even played a game) and futility (every year we see how badly the “experts” judge teams before the season begins.
So, in light of the so-called “stunning” upsets across the college football landscape this past weekend, I thought I would dig up the column and republish it here on my blog. While some of the examples are dated, and the BCS Bowl system is no longer a reality (replaced by the playoff system) I think you will find that the basic thesis remains as relevant as ever….
“Of Preseason Polls and Prejudicial Christians” by Brett Maragni (originally published by BP Sports in October of 2009)
I strongly dislike preseason polls. They are meaningless and end up causing more damage than they are worth. Early season polls are not worth much either. Until a team has played four or five games, it is arrogant to assume where a team deserves to be ranked.
Early this season top five teams are losing at a record pace. Last year, the preseason favorite, Georgia, ended up #13 in the final AP poll while the Utah Utes went from unranked to #2. In 2007, twelve top five teams had lost to unranked opponents by the end of November. In 2006…well, three words: Boise State Broncos.
The problem is that a team that starts the season unranked has a lot more to overcome to get into a BCS bowl game than a team that was ranked in the top five in the preseason. If polls were not taken until five, or even better, six weeks into the season, the bowl assignments would be more fair because the polls would be based more upon performance on the field than preseason prognostications. Even the BCS rankings, which do not begin until later in the season, are impacted because they utilize the polls that started in the preseason, thus making them skewed by the prejudgment of the polls.
But before I get too sanctimonious in my denunciation of the current ranking system, the reality is that we Christians can be even worse about prejudging people. We sometimes prejudge new people coming into our churches by the version of the Bible that they use or the kind of church they came from. If someone is not in our theological “camp” we assume that they are either naïve or close-minded to the truth.
Sometimes our prejudice works the other way as well. Sometimes we are too quick to favor those who dress the way we do and look the way we look. Leaders say to one another, “They seem like a sharp couple,” meaning, “They look like us.” So sharp-looking couple starts the season off in our church ranked higher than the single lady who is currently without a job. The reality is that Miss Unemployed might be more spiritually mature and ready to lead a ministry than Mr. or Mrs. Sharp.
God’s Word addresses our tendency toward prejudicial favoritism:
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4)
Bottom line for sports: wait until later in the season to start up the polls. Bottom line for us: get to know a person for who they are instead of making early assumptions.