The role of conference realignment in Heisman voting

Last year, Heisman Pundit wrote about how conference realignment gave West Virginia’s Geno Smith a unique advantage in the Heisman race.

While Smith failed to finish in the top 10 of Heisman voting due in large part to a poor showing in a week 8 matchup against fellow Heisman hopeful Colin Klein and Kansas State, one player did end up as the beneficiary of conference realignment in last year’s Heisman voting: Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M.

Heisman balloting is divided into 6 geographic regions: Far West, Mid Atlantic, Mid West, North East, South and Southwest. When the BCS was introduced in 1998, the 6 BCS automatic-qualifying conferences were each mostly contained within a single region: the Pac-10 (now Pac-12) was in the Far West, the ACC mostly was in the Mid Atlantic, the Big 10 was mostly in the Mid West, the SEC was mostly in the South and the Big 12 was mostly in the Southwest. The Big East was more spread out across the east coast.

BallotingRegions

As discussed before, voters have a tendency to vote for players from their region. Looking at voting from 1998 through 2012, with the exception of the North East region, which has had only two finalists in that span, every region on average gives the highest vote totals to players from within that region.

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Examining a conference breakdown of regional votes over the same period, we see a similar pattern of conference preference by region.

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Conference realignment has adjusted the relationship between region and conference. More schools are playing in conferences that are concentrated in regions different from where the school is located.  So, in addition to writers and reporters in their school’s region, players now receive more media exposure in their conference’s region.

1998Regions

2013Regions

Texas A&M’s move to the SEC put it in the unique position of being located in Texas, the major media outlet center of the Southwest region, while playing in the SEC, concentrated in the South region.

The Aggies’ conference schedule set up some high profile games played in the South region, namely a marquee match-up with Alabama in Tuscaloosa, which earned Manziel major support in the South region, and nationwide. With no offensive Heisman candidates from the South region and no other candidates from schools in Texas, Manziel was the clear standout candidate in two regions. Manziel went on to receive the highest vote total in every balloting region except the Mid West, where Manti Te’o of Notre Dame (located in the Mid West region) received the highest total. With all of these schools changing conferences, which ones are in the best position to benefit?

Missouri and Texas A&M moving to the SEC, West Virginia moving to the Big 12 and Colorado moving to the Pac-12 provide the most exposure for these schools in a new region. With the structure of the ACC and American Athletic Conference, moves to these conferences does less to help players’ exposure within a region outside of their own. Of course, regardless of realignment, players have to perform well enough to garner Heisman consideration.

Let’s see if anyone steps up to take advantage of the changing landscape.

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The author of this post, Daniel Heard, is a PhD candidate in Statistical Science at Duke University. He has dedicated a significant portion of his research to examining trends in Heisman Trophy voting and developing a model to forecast the voting each year.

You can contact Daniel at danielpheard@gmail.com.

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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