What Is The Difference Between College Football's Heisman Trophy And The Maxwell Award?

College football fans are well aware of the two prestigious awards that players can receive; the Heisman Trophy and the Maxwell Award. Per CNN, the first Heisman Trophy was given to Jay Berwanger from the University of Chicago in 1935. Since then, this honor continues to be bestowed annually to an exceptional college football player. John W. Heisman is the Heisman Trophy's namesake. Britannica reports that Heisman, a football coach, is remembered for his revolutionary football tactics, including snap signals. Notable winners of the Heisman Trophy include Tim Tebow and OJ Simpson, while Ohio State's Archie Griffin won two years in a row in 1974 and 1975. 

Like the Heisman Trophy, the Maxwell Award is presented annually to the top college football player. Founded in 1937, the award honors Robert "Tiny" Maxwell, an influential football player from Pennsylvania's Swarthmore College. The National Football Foundation adds that Maxwell later became an assistant coach at Swarthmore. Noteworthy recipients of the Maxwell Award include Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning. Tebow won the award twice in 2007 and 2008, respectively. Having said that, the Bleacher Report explains that the Maxwell Award is incredibly similar to its counterpart, the Heisman Trophy. The most significant difference lies in the formalities of each award.

They have different voters

Fox Sports notes that the Maxwell Award is a good indicator of who will receive the Heisman Trophy. This is because the Maxwell Award ceremony occurs before the Heisman Trophy ceremony. In 2022, the Maxwell Award winner announcement came on December 8 (per WKU Sports). Meanwhile, the Heisman Trophy ceremony transpired on December 10 (via Sports Illustrated). Sports-Reference reports that between 2019 and 2022, the same individuals that received the Maxwell Award also received the Heisman Trophy.

However, for all their commonalities, according to the Bleacher Report, the Heisman Trophy and the Maxwell Award have one big difference; their voters. The Heisman Trophy explains that its voting committee primarily consists of sports journalists from various media outlets around the United States. All in all, there are around 870 media voters. Furthermore, all previous living Heisman winners vote. Since 1999, one lucky fan also gets a vote.

These individuals do not meet up at a designated voting area; the voters use electronic ballots. As for the Maxwell Award, the Pac-12 Conference reports that 131 college football coaches and sports information directors who are involved in the public relations aspect of athletics vote for the winner.

The Heisman Trophy is arguably less significant than the Maxwell Award

Despite their resemblance and prestige within the college football community, the Bleacher Report argued in 2008 that the Maxwell Award more accurately indicates the best college football player. The publication notes that the Heisman Trophy is too connected to ESPN for it to be unbiased. Per the Heisman Trophy, the finalists (usually four) are flown to New York and attend a ceremony. This function airs on ESPN. Likewise, the 2021 Heisman Trophy Trust, which enforces voting procedures, consisted of one representative from ESPN. 

A 2012 article from The Atlantic expresses a similar sentiment as the Bleacher Report. They state that various recipients of the Heisman Trophy have gone on to have only mildly successful careers in football. The Atlantic notes that from 1989 to 2010, Heisman Trophy winners only had five All-Pro nominations and 16 Pro Bowl nominations. However, decades ago, every Heisman Trophy winner received a Pro Bowl nomination between 1976-1988. As USA Today reported in 2021, winning the Heisman is no guarantee of success in the NFL.