The Heisman Trophy Purpose Debate Verdict

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Babe Ruthless.

Excellent articles from two polarized perspectives. Is the Heisman Trophy a hollow statue or a prestigious award worth the hype? I think my conclusion may surprise you.

Babe Ruthless had a typically entertaining argument, but for the purposes of this debate topic he spent far too much time spelling out the original intent behind the Heisman Trophy, and very little time presenting a case for why it should still be valued for its substance.

He also asserted that the award is comparable to the MVP awards we seen given out in professional sports. While that may be the intent behind the award, I am not convinced that the Heisman is truly on the same level any longer. Just look at the difference in who votes for the award.

Complaints abound about the ancient voters for the Heisman (including ESPNs Beano Cook, who is the Mid Atlantic representative for the award’s voters). It is an award steeped – and stuck – in tradition. Voters for the award include gentlemen who used to write about college football, but no longer do – and haven’t for years.

At least in professional sports, MVP awards are voted on by contemporaries who are still actively involved in the sport. It is true that some bias seeps in when beat writers for regional teams are allowed to vote, but that bias usually balances by the time the last vote is tallied.

Babe Ruthless is correct that the voting is heavily biased toward large states with legacy voters in the system. The legacy voters – the ones who have voted for the last 50 years and are not as tuned into current events as they should be – are the ones that necessitate the campaigning. Frankly, they are a big part of the problematic system.

Babe’s argument is based on the foundation that talent leads to popularity, therefore campaigning for the Heisman is a good thing. I think this disproves the point talent is a popularity’s precursor:

Popularity is created for any number of reasons. For college football, it is created and controlled, in large part, by ESPN. A primetime game broadcast and a helmet sticker on College Football Tonight go a long way toward enhancing one’s Heisman Trophy prospects. An accompanying marketing campaign – such as Washington Huskies quarterback Jake Locker had launched on his behalf – is another ingredient. Folks need to recognize you to vote for you. Darn right universities understand the importance of the award. They spend a great deal of money promoting players as proof. But that does not mean the award is a bastion of talent, or that campaigning is a good thing. In fact, Heisman campaigns undermine the value and importance of the award by taking the focus off of performance and placing it on how marketable a player is.

Babe Ruthless is arguing to preserve the perceived importance of the award, rather than sustain its quality. The debate question calls its quality into question, and Loyal Homer wins this debate for rightly hammering the contemporary qualities of the award.

Loyal Homer hits the nail on the head in pointing out how players who are currently being campaigned for have not really done ANYTHING to warrant the type of hype and attention they are getting. Their universities are drumming up hype based on what they hope will happen, not anything that has already been proven, another blow to the value of Heisman campaigns.

Let’s quickly examine the stats of the three players Loyal Homer brings up in his argument.

Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder is a senior who has scored 29 total touchdowns in his career.

Washington quarterback Jake Locker has amassed 36 total career touchdowns.

Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallet is just a hair better with 37 total career touchdowns.

Now let’s put those numbers in perspective. Former Texas Longhorn’s quarterback Colt McCoy scored 34 touchdowns in 2008 alone – AND LOST THE HEISMAN TROPHY. His low-key profile and laid back demeanor undermined his campaign. He did not have enough star power to win over Heisman voters, and was shut out. Talent alone is no longer the primary criteria in recent Heisman voting. Subjectivity reigns, and is also highly influenced by a player’s popularity, and the characteristics that contribute to it.

The candidates in the hyped jerseys that are still empty of accomplishments prove Loyal Homer’s point that the award is quickly devolving into a challenge of making mediocre players popular, not necessarily about awarding talent.

I do agree with Babe Ruthless on one point. The award is often used by institutions to enhance their appeal to recruits. There is no question about that based on both of these arguments. But the award’s hype and institutional obsession has created an environment where award prestige far outpaces its substance. It is only a matter of time before the prestige nose-dives.

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