SAN MATEO, Calif. (AP) -From the weekly media and coaches polls to the preseason rankings in a bevy of magazines to the annual end-of-season debate about the Bowl Championship Series, no sport is tied to polling as much as college football.
Now there's a Web site that is giving fans a chance to have their say in a virtual futures market for college football teams.
ProTrade.com recently added college football to its roster of sports this season, giving fans a chance to predict how well teams will do this season.
While there predictably are many similarities between the major polls and ProTrade's rankings - Southern California and LSU are the top two teams in all three - there are also some major differences.
ProTrade users are more bullish than the pollsters on teams like Wake Forest and Hawaii and more bearish on UCLA and Nebraska.
The most notable difference for now is that of Michigan. The Wolverines fell out of the major polls after losing its opener to Appalachian State, the first time a ranked team has ever lost to a team from the Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA).
But Michigan fell from only fifth to 13th in ProTrade's rankings as of early Friday - unlike the traditional polls, ProTrade's rankings can change every minute. Many traders apparently believe the Wolverines can recover from that historic loss and still have a successful season.
``The biggest difference is the AP poll is more about how a team has done up until now, while our market predicts how Michigan will be until the end of the year,'' said ProTrade co-founder Jeffrey Ma.
Launched in 2005, San Mateo-based ProTrade treats professional athletes and teams like stocks to be bought and sold in a theoretical currency that can be redeemed for prizes.
After the value of teams or players are set by ProTrade in an IPO of sorts, the price then changes constantly depending on whether the community of traders are looking to buy or sell that stock.
The scoring on ProTrade is simple. Each regular season win, including conference championship games, is worth 15 points. Teams get an additional five points for beating a team in the AP Top 25 and another five if the team is in the Top 10.
A win in a bowl game is worth 20 points and teams that qualify for a BCS bowl get 15 points. Making the BCS title game is worth another 15, and winning it all is worth 30.
The price of a team was set before the season as the company pored over all sorts of data to determine a starting point. After that, it's up to the traders - and how a team performs - to determine which direction the price goes.
``It's like an IPO. We set the price and never touch it again,'' Ma said.
For example, USC opened at $205.02, peaked at more than $260 - which meant the Trojans likely would have had to go undefeated and win the national championship to earn a profit - before falling back to just more than $220 on Friday.
Ma and co-founder Mike Kerns said interest in the college football has been high, with some users trading teams possession by possession as if they were short-selling stocks. One user learned that the price of teams usually falls when they're on defense and rises when they're on offense.
ProTrade also offers markets for the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA, the PGA Tour, NASCAR and college basketball. The site originally relied on new-age statistics inspired by Michael Lewis' best-selling book ``Moneyball'' to determine values of players and teams.
But when that proved to be too confusing to the average fan, the site switched last year to traditional fantasy sports stats. That helped increase traffic to the site fifteenfold and ProTrade now generates more than 20 million page views a month from its more than 100,000 registered users.
Because of regulatory issues, ProTrade can only use virtual dollars instead of real money. But users can redeem those ProTrade dollars for various prizes, including gift cards, signed memorabilia or the opportunity to play a game of H-O-R-S-E with Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash.
Ma became famous while in college at MIT when and his buddies became so proficient at counting cards in blackjack that they carted away millions of dollars from Las Vegas casinos. Their feats inspired the best-selling book ``Bringing Down The House.'' (Ma is Kevin Lewis in the book).
Kerns, who is the CEO of the company, came to ProTrade after working for noted sports agents Leigh Steinberg and Jeff Moorad.
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On The Net:
http://www.protrade.com
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