Friday, December 10, 2010

Even in a Seemingly Non-Controversial Year, the BCS Has Plenty of Problems

Many times since Auburn won the SEC Championship Game and Oregon won the Civil War Game (both last Saturday), college football experts and observers have remarked that this year's selection by the BCS of the nation's top two teams is uncontroversial. ESPN's BCS analyst Brad Edwards said that Auburn and Oregon were the most obvious number one and two since USC and Texas in 2005. That's probably true, but lack of controversy surrounding which teams should fill the top two slots has little to do with the BCS itself and doesn't mean that the BCS is a good system or even one that isn't a complete mess. Let's consider a few things:

  • The TCU Issue: Even if every person in the United States with at least a passing interest in college football were in agreement that TCU were, at best, the nation's third best team (behind Auburn and Oregon), the fact remains that no one has beaten the Horned Frogs on the football field. Until someone does, we cannot know for sure whether TCU is or isn't the best team in college football. As far as I'm concerned, any system in which an undefeated team has no opportunity to play for a championship is illegitimate.

    Secondly, are we really sure that Oregon is more deserving than TCU to play in the title game? While Oregon's signature win over Stanford is impressive and unmatched by anything TCU has done, the Ducks have only beaten three FBS teams with winning records, compared to the five that the Horned Frogs have beaten. The two non-Stanford winning teams on Oregon's schedule are both 7-5. You can certainly make a convincing argument that Oregon is better, but the difference between the two teams is hardly obvious.

  • The automatic bid nonsense: Many have complained about an unranked Connecticut team with four losses (including drubbings at the hands of Temple and 6-6 Louisville) getting an opportunity to play in a BCS bowl game, simply because UConn won the lackluster Big East Conference, whose champion gets an automatic bid to a major bowl. And the Huskies are by no means the first mediocre champion of a "major" conference to steal a BCS bid from a more deserving team. The ACC has twice sent a four-loss Florida State team to a BCS game; and in 2004-05 a three-loss Pitt team (representing the Big East) lost by four touchdowns to Utah from the Mountain West (a conference without an automatic bid).

    Meanwhile, the best teams from the non-AQ conferences must go undefeated to have a shot at playing in one of the major bowl games. The WAC has three teams ranked in the final BCS standings (#10 Boise State, #15 Nevada, and #24 Hawaii); the ACC has two (#13 Virginia Tech and #23 Florida State); the Big East has only one (#22 West Virginia). Yet the ACC and Big East have guaranteed slots in BCS bowls; the WAC does not. Why should a single loss on the road to a highly ranked Nevada squad keep Boise State out of the Fiesta Bowl or Orange Bowl? By any measure Boise is more deserving than Connecticut or Virginia Tech.

    None of the six power conferences that control the BCS will agree to the elimination of automatic bids. These bids bring a lot of money to the ACC and Big East (money that perpetuates the inequality in the system). But eliminating the automatic bids would make for much better bowl match-ups. SI's Stewart Mandel has more on this subject.

  • Carelessness in computation: You may have read this story about how a data error in one of the computer polls used in the BCS formula put LSU ahead of Boise in the final BCS standings. Had the data been entered correctly, Boise would have been ranked higher that LSU. An outside observer noticed that a game between Appalachian State and Western Illinois had not been entered in Wes Colley's computer rankings, the only computer ranking used by the BCS that makes its data and formula public. The oversight caused a ripple effect that rippled all the way up to the top ten. The BCS corrected the mistake, and the error had no bearing on bowl matchups. But this glitch points to a larger problem. I'll let SI's Andy Staples explain:

    we don't know if Colley's mistake was the only one. Of the six computer rankings the BCS uses, Colley's is the only one available to the public -- or to the conferences that run the BCS. The other five could be riddled with mistakes, and the entity tasked with creating the No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup would never know it.

    Moreover, the BCS bowl matchups were set nearly one week between the Army-Navy game. This year that game will have little effect on how the computers rank the nation's top teams, but if any of the contenders had played either Army or Navy or if the number two and three teams were so close that a game involving opponents of opponents of opponents could affect the final rankings, this would be a big problem. And what if Navy had been vying for one of the top two slots (very unlikely but not impossible)? How does the BCS get away with slotting teams into the National Championship Game before the regular season has ended?

2 Comments:

Blogger Dr. Tony said...

It always comes down to the revenue and the fact that the big boys don't want to share their allowance with the little boys.

You can't make the argument about not having a playoff because there are playoffs in Division 1A (or whatever it is called), Division II, and Division III.

The only differences are that the other playoff games are played in basic obscurity and the BCS are virtually made-for-TV spectaculars with lots and lots of money coming in.

There is a word for what this is called when sponsors pay big bucks for the thrill of having their name splashed on the television screen but I am too much of a gentleman to use it.

The only good thing that comes out of this year's schedule is that I get to watch Missouri (M. Ed. - '75) play Iowa (Ph. D. - '90). I can wear black and gold and enjoy the game. As to the other games, I will probably be busy helping with the feeding ministry at the church that my wife started so won't watch many other games.

May everyone have a blessed Christmas and a safe and Happy New Year!

7:05 AM  
OpenID ajscom said...

I'm waiting for the analysis of religious schools in bowls.

4:21 PM  

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