A Heisman split for '81?

Just what the firm responsible for counting the Heisman Trophy ballots will do with my vote, I'm not sure. Theoretically you're only allowed one first choice for the nation's outstanding college football player, but maybe others will do what I did: split the vote between a pair of running backs, Southern California's Marcus Allen and Georgia's Herschel Walker.

If ever the Heisman deserved to be shared, this is the year. Unfortunately, it probably won't be. There are just too many ballots (1,050) distributed by New York's Downtown Athletic Club to expect sports writers and sportscasters to divide themselves right down the middle. Most will probably vote in the prescribed manner, listing in order their first, second, and third selections.

In the award's 46-year history, this scheme has never failed to tip the balance in one player's favor. The closest finish was probably 1971, when Auburn quarterback Pat Sullivan edged out Cornell halfback Ed Marinaro. Unfortunately, the club's records are sadly deficient and no details are available on actual vote totals.

Solely on the basis of statistics, Allen may take home the famous statue this year. In becoming the game's first 2,000-yard rusher, he has averaged 212.9 yards per game compared with Walker's 166.6. Considering that each carries the ball about 35 times a Saturday, such a margin is hard to ignore.

It's no secret that electors often keep the official football statistics handy when they vote. Not surprisingly, therefore, the national rushing champion and Heisman winner have been one and the same the last five years. Tony Dorsett began the string in 1976, with Earl Campbell, Billy Sims, Charles White, and George Rogers following suit.

Being a senior also might work in Allen's favor. Forty-one seniors and five juniors have won the award, but never a sophomore or freshman, and Walker is a sophomore. ''Herschel's got two more years,'' many voters will reason.

So how can Walker expect to get any votes? Easy. Just look at last year, when he finished third behind Rogers and runner-up Hugh Green. Despite being the nation's second-leading ballcarrier, Allen did not even appear among the top 12 finishers.

Many pro scouts believe Walker could have bypassed college altogether and stepped right into the National Football League.

Georgia, of course, is glad he didn't. Without him, the Bulldogs never would have been national champions last season, nor would they be seeking to retain that title this year.

In this regard, his impact at Georgia has been easier to gauge than Allen's at Southern Cal. Herschel put an entire program into high gear; Marcus joined one locked there by cruise control. Furthermore, Allen stepped into a position - USC's tailback slot - that has a tradition of high-mileage occupants and Heisman winners (Mike Garrett, O. J. Simpson, and Charles White).

Herschel hasn't exactly been resting on his laurels. Although he has been running behind a rebuilt offensive line, his 1981 rushing output has actually increased by nearly 20 yards a game. He plays for the nation's third-ranked team, Allen for the seventh- or eighth-ranked team, depending on the poll.

On Saturday, Dec. 5, only one of these players will step forward to accept football's most coveted honor. The announcement will come at the conclusion of an hour-long TV special, profiling such past winners as Tom Harmon, Gary Beban, and Jay Berwanger.

The tastefully done production should bear no resemblence to the TV fiasco of four years ago. That presentation was turned into a hokey Academy Awards-style show, with all sorts of categories and ''envelope, please'' business on the rostrum.

The club learned its lesson from that failure, and has been closely guarding the prestige and integrity of the Heisman since.

Knowing how uninformed some Heisman voters can be, a case could be made for delegating the selection process to a panel of experts, a procedure followed with many other awards in sports and elsewhere.

That notion hasn't gone over with the award's organizers, who still believe strength and fairness lie in numbers. ''When you think about it,'' says Heisman committee member Rudy Riska, ''you can see that today's voters have a tremendous advantage over those of even 10 years ago, because so many games are televised, either on the major networks or cable.'' The result, one assumes, is more enlightened voting.

Maybe so, but I'd still love to see the Heisman shared some year - this year, for starters - and can't fathom that happening using the present format.

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