The recent MVP selection of Lebron James brought back to mind an article I read a while back regarding the weird and immensely flawed nature of sports award voting.

" 'Name another situation where an editor allows a reporter to play judge and jury on a story that he/she then covers.'”

- Ed Sherman

It's the same issue as with Bill Simmons' MVP-betting conflict of interest, but less direct. Namely, that the same people who vote on the sports awards are the ones who end up making money on it. In other words, the journalists are reporting the news they created.

I don't think it's unreasonable to assume that reporters are getting paid on page views, and those page views come from established credibility and their reputation. Therefore, a reporter who predicts that season's MVP, votes for him, and then goes back and talks about him as the "preseason favorite" is artificially bolstering their reputation, and consequently their pay/standing/whatever. It's not quite the same as Bill Simmons' betting on the MVP winner and then voting on it, but it's not that far off, either.

Advertisement

This is the case for nearly all the awards you see in any sport. The Heisman, Hart, Maurice Podoloff (NBA, I had to look that up), Pro-Bowl, All-Conference, first teams, etc. All of those are voted on by journalists, who have little incentive to go and contradict themselves, thus compromising any impartiality they may have had. Journalists also elect baseball's Hall of Fame journalists, which allows them to make overarching political statements as was seen by their refusal to elect suspected steroids users to the most recent Hall of Fame class.

The NFL allows coaches and players to select the players onto its All-Pro teams, which may look like a solution for this issue, until you realize that All-Pro selections are inevitably written into contractual incentives. I don't know how or if players can exert influences on voting, but the conflict of interest still exists.

It's obvious that no single voter can exert a huge influence, but it's the hive mind effect. As the prohibitive favorite for the MVP award before the season started, Lebron automatically drew attention from journalists, who naturally wrote articles that reinforced their preconceived notion (i.e. communal reinforcement). At the end of the season, when they vote him as the MVP, they can go back and say "Hey, look at all these articles and analysis I wrote about how awesome he was!".

Advertisement

I don't know what the best solution is. Dividing the voting between players and journalists doesn't eliminate the conflict of interest, and may only serve to accentuate the divide between merely above-average players who are heavily covered (Kobe, Carmelo) and great players in smaller markets (Tim Duncan, Paul George). I don't believe there is a single impartial source to draw from for the selections, unless computers completely took over that process, but even then, the intricacies and subtleties of the programming can easily be manipulated (see: BCS). I don't think I can propose an elegant or simple solution, but I think this is an issue that needs to be considered whenever you see pundits and journalists impose their very partial influence on the games.