Heisman Campaign Philosophies Revealed

So we see in this piece by Emily Badger of the Orlando Sentinel.

As usual, not only the writer, but the subjects of the article–the Sports Information Directors–would be well served by reading The Heismandments.

One amusing quote is by USC SID Tim Tessalone, who unwittingly proves the Heismandments’ case that a highly-ranked school that is a traditional power has a huge advantage in the Heisman race:

“We always went into a season believing that you had to have a lot of the foundation laid, that you had to change the candidate’s name from Joe Smith to `Joe Smith comma Heisman Trophy candidate,’ ” Tessalone said. “What we found out in Carson (Palmer’s) case was we didn’t do any of that.”

So according to Tessalone, USC doesn’t have to do jack and Heismans can roll right in. Actually, his statement is technically inaccurate, since USC did roll out a campaign for Palmer and later for Leinart. But the point stands that USC is at a distinct advantage because of its status as a traditional power.

But Tessalone is off base when he says:

“The voters out there are smart enough to understand and realize who the best players are, the best player is,” Tessalone said. “I think they got it right the last couple of years.”

Much of the talk last year was that Matt Leinart wasn’t the best player on his team, much less the country. If the Heisman went to the best player, then Jason White probably never would have won in 2003. And it still doesn’t explain how voters decide in situations like last year, when you had four players from the top two teams–both traditional powers–vying for the Trophy.

The story also touches on the Heisman research of Clark Haptonstall, the director of Sports Management at Rice. Haptonstall, a former Marshall SID, surveyed all the Heisman voters anonymously and found that Heisman campaigns had very little impact on their voting.

I would question the real value of this study, since it seems most Heisman voters would be reluctant to admit that a bobblehead influenced their vote in the first place. What people forget is that that purpose of a Heisman campaign is to highlight the name of a candidate in the minds of voters. No one may have voted for Joey Harrington because of his Times Square billboard, but more people were aware of him because of it. And that helps.

It’s like in advertising. No one is going to buy T-Mobile because Catherine Zeta-Jones is the pitch woman. But I’ll be damned if people don’t know that T-Mobile offers cell phone service and its slogan is ‘Get More.’

Joe Dudek of Div. III Plymouth State was among the top vote getters for the 1985 Heisman. It didn’t hurt that he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, as the ‘thinking man’s’ candidate. And who could forget his slogan: ‘What the Heck, Vote Dudek’?

So, that’s a clear-cut case of a Heisman campaign helping a small-school player. Could he win it? No. But, there it is nonetheless.

In the end, it all goes back to the reality of the Heismandments. Nine schools are at a big advantage and everyone else is catching up. But there is competition among those powers and a good, well-thought-out campaign can go a long way towards clarifying things for voters.

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About Heismanpundit

Chris Huston, A.K.A. ‘The Heisman Pundit‘, is a Heisman voter and the creator and publisher of Heismanpundit.com, a site dedicated to analysis of the Heisman Trophy and college football. Dubbed “the foremost authority on the Heisman” by Sports Illustrated, HP is regularly quoted or cited during football season in newspapers across the country. He is also a regular contributor on sports talk radio and television.

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