Heisman Research

In this piece by Wendell Barnhouse, we meet former Marshall Sports Information Director Clark Haptonstall, who has some pretty well-thought-out ideas about how the Heisman Trophy is won. In fact, he earned his doctorate with a 96-page dissertation called: “Measuring the Effectiveness of Mediated and Non-Mediated Communication among Heisman Trophy Voters.”

After getting the Heisman Trust to let him send a survey to voters, Haptonstall’s conclusions were pretty much in line with what we’ve been saying all along right here at Heismanpundit.com.

“Television exposure is most important”

“Heisman voters consider themselves the experts. Therefore, they’re not influenced that much.”

“The way it is now, no player who doesn’t play in a BCS conference is going to win the Heisman. The player might get invited to the ceremony, but he’s not going to win it because they’re just not on television enough and there are questions about the competition.

Here are the factors the voters listed as the most important, in order:

1. Personal observations from games watched on television.

2. Player’s performance in marquee games.

—-These first two are fairly self explanatory, but they also mean that voters care very little about performances in games they aren’t watching, as I noted in October. In games they are watching, the player must do well. That’s why Reggie Bush and Vince Young are leading the pack after heavily-viewed games against Notre Dame and Ohio State, respectively. It also explains why voters don’t dock a player for a lesser performance in a non-marquee game.

3. Player’s team competes at the NCAA Division I-A level.

–Obviously, all the candidates play in I-A. To flesh this out a little further, it probably correlates closely with Heismandment No. 7. The more tradition a school has and the longer it has had success, the better its players are perceived. Hence, the schools that have historically done well in I-A are the schools that have the best shots at producing Heisman winners.

4. Player’s statistics.

–Obviously, statistics play a role. The fact that statistics are fourth on this list back up our contention that once a player’s numbers reach a certain level, they are deemd ‘Heisman worthy’ and so become less important in the the overall context of the race.

5. Personal observations from games attended in person.

–This is a curious point. Since Haptonstall only received replies from 462 of the 923 Heisman voters, once can assume that this group was the working-media portion of the electorate. After all, not many people are going to a game in person unless they are covering it. At that, one wonders how many voters actually get to see a candidate in person. I would guess that the percentage is pretty small.

All in all, a good read. But maybe I should be the one with the doctorate.

Update: Though Haptonstall’s survey revealed that Heisman marketing by schools was deemed to be ineffective, Kari Chisolm of stiffarmtrophy.com had this to say on the subject:

I’m a political consultant, and I can tell you that real voters (you know, for political elections) also claim that marketing efforts make no difference. They say they hate the TV ads, they hate the junk mail, they hate it all. And yet, and yet…. the ads work. I’ve personally seen the polls jump when junk mail arrives in mailboxes across a community.

No one likes to think that they’re swayed by marketing – but folks, guess what: there’s a reason McDonald’s, Nike, and Budweiser buys ads.

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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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