BCS Ranking System Taints College Football Purity
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On our Wednesday night podcast, we like to look at what we call our Fantasy 8 College Football Playoff Bracket.
Slick name for putting the top eight BCS ranked teams in a tournament bracket. The matchups created make the fantasy part easy to buy into.
When we do this, it always makes me think about the tragedy the current system represents.
People often describe college football as the purest of all sports—though I might make an argument for high school football. In any event, we say this about college football because it’s about the school, the colors, the fans and the bragging rights.
It’s not about the player salaries and egos in most cases.
Enter the BCS rankings, which take this spring of refreshing athletic competition and taint it to the point we feel like treating the sport more like the water on a trip to Mexico.
The BCS ranking system provides lots of examples to make fans wary of its results.
How does an undefeated LSU team drop from the top five to No. 12 after beating the new No. 1 team in the nation?
How does Alabama get to be ranked No. 6, when they lost to a South Carolina team not even in the top 10 anymore?
How does a one-point loss by Oregon State make Boise a No. 3? Yet, later this same season Oregon benefits from playing Oregon State—by being ranked higher due to the strength of schedule factor?
The key problem areas of the BCS lie in three key areas.
The Harris Poll
You know the Harris Poll. Then again you probably do not know much about it. Everyone I talk to about the Harris Poll knows very little about it.
But we do know it constitutes one-third of the total ranking formula.
When critically viewed, there exists some details about the Harris Poll that will make you scratch your head.
The people who actually vote come from a list submitted by the Football Bowl Division conferences and three independent institutions—Army, Navy and Notre Dame.
From this list of over 300 candidates, the Harris Interactive company—thus the name—randomly selects 114 voters. The pool of candidates consists of former coaches, players, former administrators and current and/or media members.
Yes, its just another poll, with the same shortcomings of all other human polls. Except unlike the coaches poll, this one is commissioned by the BCS committee itself.
Conflict of interest issues never hurt anybody I guess.
Preseason polls also inaccurately skew the BCS rankings.
As most critics of preseason polls note, ranking college football teams without ever seeing any of them play seems stupid. Teams most voters thought to be weak, could actually be very strong, and vice-versa.
So for example, Alabama gets credit for beating a No. 6 Florida Gators team, that we all suspected—and now know—had no business even being ranked in the top 25.
Then we have to consider the really good teams who start the season ranked either really low or unranked at all.
With most programs playing sub-par competition early in the season, low-ranked teams suffer from an unfair disadvantage of having to move much further up the polls.
The way polls work, teams rarely move up more than three positions. Meanwhile potentially inferior teams end up benefiting from weak schedules and easy wins. Not because they are necessarily great teams.
In the end, preseason polls let television networks tout a No. 1 versus a No. 6 matchup early in the season.
No. 1 Alabama versus No. 6 Florida sounds better than the actual alternative.
The defending national champions—who still have their Heisman-winning running back—versus a Florida team that lost its best players to the NFL and got beat badly by that Alabama team less than a year ago.
Understand the BCS negotiated a nearly $1 billion television contract. When networks spend that kind of money, they want ratings.
The Computer Formula
This component of the BCS rankings supposedly takes out some of the bias. We’ll have to trust the BCS organization on that one.
The full ins and outs of the formula are kept confidential. We’ve been told it takes into account strength of schedule.
But ultimately, some human holds the responsibility for weighting which teams are stronger than others from the beginning. In essence, traditional big-name programs get the benefit of the doubt.
Oregon gets a bump because they play in the Pac-10. But really look at the teams in the conference this season. Outside of Stanford and Oregon, could we really say the Pac-10 beats out most other competition in terms of the strength of its teams?
In the end, an Oregon win over a USC team on probation will hold a lot more weight than a TCU win over Utah. Utah losing to anybody in the Pac-10 other than Oregon would probably be far from certain.
In the end, we really know what the NCAA hopes to accomplish.
The BCS wants great television rankings—that’s how the BCS and NCAA make their money.
We are talking about a business—not a sport.
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