Players hate to talk about them and coaches try to downplay their meaning. Unfortunately, the success – or at least the feeling of achievement: of an entire season can hinge upon them.
Preseason rankings: They are a curse rather than a blessing.
Preseason rankings don’t serve any purpose whatsoever. Ranking teams based on nothing but pure potential seems ridiculous. Not only that, but the rankings will always favor many of the same schools year in and year out. If each season is supposed to be a new beginning, then preseason rankings don’t seem like the best way to make that dream a statement of fact.
One glaring example of the way preseason rankings can be a curse to a team is to look no further than the South Florida baseball team.
The Bulls were projected to finish third in the Big East Conference this season, with the Louisville Cardinals in second and defending conference champions Rutgers in fourth. Coach Lelo Prado did not want to talk about his team’s projection during the preseason.
“Last year we were projected to finish eighth, so we’ve made some major strides,” Prado said. “We’re not satisfied. It doesn’t matter where they pick us to finish.”
Now – at the halfway point of the 2008 season – the Bulls are 13-13 with a 4-5 record in the Big East. If the season ended today, the Bulls would be clinging to the final playoff spot. Louisville is 3-3 in the Big East and in seventh place. Rutgers is 8-14 with a 2-4 Big East record, leaving the Scarlet Knights one game out of last place in the Big East.
Winning in the Big East is always tough, as it is traditionally one of the better conferences – in terms of achievement in athletics – every season. The added pressure of feeling like a team that has to finish No. 3 in a tough conference could make a team feel like anything less is a failure.
Another sport with preseason rankings is football. With spring practices across the country in process, it won’t be long before the Southern California, Ohio State and Florida begin their seasons at the top of the polls.
Each year the same teams seem to start the season near the top of the polls. Parity – different teams contending for titles each season – is not usually found in the NCAA. Last season, most writers who contributed to the Associated Press poll had Louisiana State playing for a national championship. Despite Virginia Tech, Oklahoma and Georgia being ranked ahead of it, LSU still played in the national championship game. This is just another example of preseason rankings being a curse.
Some teams, however, do perform to the level of hype that they are given before a season starts. The USF softball team is one example.
The softball team was predicted to finish second in the in the Big East in the preseason polls. Right now, USF is 29-12 and a perfect 4-0 in the Big East.
There will always be teams that are overly talented, and therefore, live up to any hype – whether it be in the preseason, postseason or otherwise.
Most teams, however, don’t.
These rankings are unfair. Not only do they put more pressure on student athletes who have to struggle with competition, but also the raised expectations of anybody who believes in the preseason polls.