Sunday, January 04, 2009

HOCKEY: Bashing Ballot-Box Stuffing

I'm a hockey fan, which is a generic term for being a Montreal Canadians' fan. Despite that, I know an injustice when I see it. And Alexei Kovalev starting ahead of Alexander Ovechkin in the all-star game, home site of Kovalev or not, is the poster child for voting injustice.

Last century, I wrote a piece for TV Guide that took on the long-time stupidity that fan voting for all-stars had become. This was in the 80's for gawd sakes. And the solution proposed then would still work today and would get around the kind of stuffing we've seen the good burghers of Montreal pull off this year. The computing power to do it was available then. Today, writing the program to handle the plan would be a weekend's work. If that.

Simply put, I'd let ballot stuffers stuff to their heart's delight. But what I WOULD do is to identify the source for all ballots. Then I (and my bank of computers) would apportion the percentage of each source's ballots according to the amount each player received. Sure Kovalev would get the maximum 100 votes (or, apparently close to it) from Montreal. However, he might not get a single vote from any other locale anywhere else in the league. So, he might total 101 votes in all (getting fractional votes elsewhere). Ovechkin would probably get the 100 Washington votes, as well as 125 or so total from the rest of the league. Instant starter on merit.

And you know, in a gate-driven league, it sure wouldn't hurt to have some of those empty Islander seats filled by Ranger fans, anxious to exercise their voting rights in 'enemy' territory. The same cross-pollination might occur in southern California or even southern Florida, although there's no guarantee that both areas will continue to have multiple teams in the future. The fun one would be Calgary and Edmonton engaging in a voting war between die-hards who see the trip to the other town during voting season suddenly having lots of allure.

Each team would get one ballot for each of a sold-out total for the time they are at home during the voting season. If the team has 10 dates and a sell-out total of 19,928, they'd get 199,280 ballots to distribute. Naturally, not all ballots would go out and I'm sure some staffer would spend his or her weekend punching six times for local lads on any that didn't go out the door to paying customers. So what? The effect on the overall voting totals in my 'electoral college' would be minimal. There'd be similar efforts elsewhere too, off-setting even the most diligent stuffers. This process would get around what I dubbed "The California Effect" in my old TV Guide article.

The California Effect came about because major league baseball had a LOT of early season games in California in those days. The Split Double-Header was still a thing of the future then. In those days, a rain-out resulted in a true double-header, which cut profits immensely. So, to avoid creating double-headers, many more games were played in California and points south during prime voting season. More games, more votes. For local players. Resulting in Steve Sax starting an all-star game in a year where he might have been the worst second-baseman in the game. MY system would even off-set the games played at home discrepancy between teams.

It's the same discrepancy that has hurt Chris Bosh in the NBA ballotting for that sport's all-star game.

There would be one extra locale, the REST OF THE WORLD, to allow for anybody, anywhere, to make their voices heard (or more accurately, their votes counted). Again, the votes would be apportioned according to percentage of vote.

In all, any player would be able to get a maximum of 3100 votes. In the BEST of years, even a Gretzky might top out at 3000 or so. Setting a record there would be a TRUE measure of the player's worth/popularity. And there would STILL be a total vote record to keep track of. In basketball, it would let the billion or so Chinese who vote for Yao Ming to feel vindicated, while stopping him from starting when he doesn't deserve it. Yao could win the overall total vote and not come near being voted a starter, as he did in a year where he didn't play much due to injury.

Let's face it, the all-star game has ALWAYS been a popularity contest. Fans WANT to see old-time faves, even if they no longer deserve the privilege (a privilege they often don't want, prefering some off time with the family instead). Okay, that's fair. What isn't fair is one town, Montreal, determining that Kovalev should start ahead of Ovechkin. That's not a preference anybody with any sense should have.

Certainly not a REAL Montreal, errr, hockey fan.

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