Sportswriter gives up vote in AP poll p.

By: Robert Bell Says harassment, threats, self-doubt placed an undue burden on him sp.

AFTER WEEKS OF harassing phone calls and threatening letters and countless hours of self-doubt, Loren Tate decided he wasn't going to take it anymore.
What many sportswriters view as a prestigious privilege, Tate came to view as a burden. So last month Tate relinquished his vote in the Associated Press' weekly college football poll.
"I just didn't want any part of it," said Tate, executive sports editor of the Champaign, Ill., News-Gazette. "A lot of sportswriters say they would love to have a vote. Fine ? let them have mine."
This time next year, there may be more voting vacancies to fight for as members of the media feel the increasing heat of picking a national football champion. And the pressure, usually generated by high-spirited fans, is coming from an unusual source: fellow reporters.
Division I-A football is the only National Collegiate Athletic Association sport without a playoff to determine a national champion, relying instead on the results of media and coaches' polls. It was a cozy relationship that lasted decades, and few in the Fourth Estate protested.
But last year, in a major revamping of the sport, most major bowls formed a coalition designed to produce a New Year's Day showdown between the top two teams based on the media and coaches' polls.
That, critics argue, is the problem. Should reporters be casting votes that can have a significant impact on the financial gains and post-season exposure that schools receive, particularly when a media voter actually covers a contending team?
"It's amazing newspapers allow reporters to have so much control," said Robert Cole, a journalism ethics teach-er at Trenton (N.J.) State College. "If I knew my vote might help a team I cover get to a bowl game and it meant either going to a warm, sunny game or no game at all, my bias would be obvious."
Many newspapers agree with Cole and are distancing themselves from charges of conflicts of interest.
The New York Times and Washington Post do not allow their reporters to vote in any polls or for any awards.
"We're in the business of covering the news, not making it," said Anthony Cotton, assistant sports editor at the Post.
Others don't agree. In fact, when Tate relinquished his vote last month, editors at the Chicago Sun-Times lobbied AP officials for Tate's vote ? and got it.
If that seems odd, consider that the Chicago Tribune, the Sun-Times' cross-town competitor, promotes its voter, Ed Sherman, by publishing his ballot every Monday.
"We didn't look at it as trying to keep pace with [the Tribune]," Sun-Times sports editor Bill Adee said. "One of our managing editors saw the rinky-dink papers and radio stations that get to vote and thought we should be represented too. We talked about all the negatives involved, but they didn't outnumber the benefits."
The AP poll is made up of 53 newspaper, television and radio reporters throughout the country. Members are selected by AP bureau chiefs in each state.
The wire service isn't about to change the system, AP sports editor Terry Taylor said. "We really don't see it as a problem," she added.
Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer-Times sportswriter Brett Friedlander has voted the past four years but now has second thoughts.
"They changed all the rules on us," Friedlander said. "Now I feel really uncomfortable about it. I don't think we need to put ourselves in that situation where we decide which teams go where. Can you imagine the city side of a newspaper determining a mayoral election? What's the difference?"
The difference, Cole said, might be found in many newspaper staffers' opinions of their sports departments.
Labeled as the "toy department," only half-jokingly, by co-workers in the newsroom, many sports departments don't have to meet ethical guidelines established for other sections of the paper.
"They got that label simply because they used to write about games and nothing but games," said Cole, a former sportswriter. "It used to be the department was tucked in the back of the newsroom and wasn't taken too seriously. But now we're talking about reporters making million-dollar decisions for the teams they cover or the cities they live in, and that's not right."


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