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The BCS: Asleep at the switch

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The BCS: Asleep at the switch

The BCS: Asleep at the switch
By Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports
Sep 29, 8:29 am EDT

If you paid any attention to college football last weekend then you’re aware that Iowa won at Penn State and Oregon humiliated Cal, 42-3.

These weren’t obscure events.

The voters who participate in the Harris Interactive and USA Today Coaches polls apparently did not pay any attention. Hey, why would they? These are only the people whom the empty suits of the Bowl Championship Series have empowered to determine how the sport’s champion is crowned.

So it made perfect sense that in the polls that make up two-thirds of the BCS formula Penn State is still ahead of Iowa and Cal is still ahead of Oregon. These are among a half-dozen rankings based more on reputation and preseason hype than results. There will be more as the year goes on.

This is the BCS. It’s not a one-time mistake. It’s the all-the-time plan. Ridiculous votes happen when you conduct ridiculous elections.

The suits want something that provides convenient cover for them (hey, don’t blame us, it’s the voters!) while being so flawed it draws attention away from what’s really going on – the operation of a system designed to protect their power and allow their cronies who run bowl games to fleece the sport for tens of millions a year.

Forget what they say. Forget the supposed excuses. That’s all there is here. Protect their power and the bowl games’ money.

If the people who ran the BCS wanted to implement a good way to determine the best teams at the end of the year – even if they stuck with the archaic bowl system – they would have done so years ago.

Instead they continue to prop up a formula where two-thirds is determined by a popularity vote from people who, in many cases, are either incapable or unmotivated to take the job seriously.

There’s decades of evidence and testimony from the 59 head coaches that they 1) don’t have the time to research their ballots and 2) often hand over the duties to administrative staffers, who also have no time.

There’s half a decade of evidence that the commitment of the 114 Harris Poll voters fluctuates wildly. Most of these guys are retired administrators, coaches or players. Some are media.

They’ve proven good for two things, voting based on marketing and reputation, and subscribing to a groupthink mentality that assures their ballot doesn’t stand out and they get criticized for thinking for themselves.

Some voters take their responsibility seriously and in their defense, the two polls purposefully offer no criteria for them to consider. Should they slot teams based on overall record, strength of schedule, who they beat, who they lost to, how they won, how they lost, where the games took place, conference strength or so on?

Last year a number of Harris Poll voters admitted to Yahoo! Sports that they have never bothered to watch Utah play before deciding the postseason fate of 12-0 Utes. This isn’t to say Utah should’ve been ranked No. 1 or No. 25, only that any reputable system would, at the very least, require the voters to at least watch an unbeaten team before dismissing them.

It’s moronic enough to use a beauty contest system to determine athletic competition. It’s even worse when the voters don’t have to watch all the contestants. No one disqualifies Miss Mississippi because she isn’t from California.

They do in the BCS.

What happened to the voters who admitted they didn’t think it was necessary to watch Utah play? Naturally, most of them are back again this year.

The folks who run Harris Interactive were concerned enough about this abomination they recommended that a protective mechanism be established to root out “instability, error or bias associated with unusual ranking patterns.”

Naturally the BCS suits rejected it. They love instability, error and bias.

Of course the suits also employ the final one-third of the system as a safety check – the computers. Six mathematical formulas crank out rankings to supposedly make up for human prejudice.

The problem with the computer formulas is twofold. One, the lack of comparative data makes this exercise impossible, which is why actual mathematicians operate a movement that denounces the BCS and any of their peers who participate.

Second, as baseball numbers whiz Bill James points out, the three times the computers have disagreed with the final human vote, the BCS suits immediately re-rigged the formulas in an effort to prevent it from happening again.

The computers aren’t there to counter the polls. They exist to offer credibility through pre-calculated agreement.

“Computers, like automobiles and airplanes, do only what people tell them to do,” James wrote for Slate.

Absent blowing this atrocity up and going with a 16-team playoff, if the BCS wanted a better system to choose the teams for their antiquated bowl games, they would go with a NCAA men’s basketball tournament-style committee.

That’s a group of about 10 people who spend the season scouting teams, meeting to discuss various scenarios and then eventually getting together to go through a vast checklist of predetermined criteria to select the field.

While not devoid of controversy, it’s orderly and transparent.

That would require courage and accountability though, actual faces to answer for the decision to select team X over team Y. The current system allows the blame to be spread out, even to faceless machines.

While a couple dozen conference commissioners and bowl executives sure do love to count the money, they don’t want to claim ownership of the BCS. In fact, Mountain West Conference attorneys claim that there’s no proof the BCS exists as a legal entity. Six conference commissioners take turns serving as “BCS coordinator” for a two-year term. Then they eagerly pass it off, like it’s a disease.

In the meantime, a nonsense system rolls on. Don’t be shocked by the controversy, the foolishness or the corruption.

That isn’t a flaw in the system. It is the system.

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Re: The BCS: Asleep at the switch

"It’s moronic enough to use a beauty contest system to determine athletic competition. It’s even worse when the voters don’t have to watch all the contestants. No one disqualifies Miss Mississippi because she isn’t from California."

;D  Good point!
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Re: The BCS: Asleep at the switch

Almost a continuation:

Will Boise blow up BCS?
By Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports
4 hours, 29 minutes ago

Considering its questionable strength of schedule, Boise State’s case for playing in January’s Bowl Championship Series title game has issues.

Even at 13-0, the Broncos will have just one impressive victory, 19-8 over Oregon. The weakness of the Western Athletic Conference means that teams from top conferences could lose one or even two games and potentially make a stronger argument. So could fellow non-traditional teams such as TCU, Cincinnati and Houston, should any of them finish unbeaten.

Of course, the BCS formula was designed to ignore things such as “stronger arguments.” Through the years it has proven true to its mission: a lockstep ascent of teams based more on record, reputation and preseason ranking than silly things such as quality victories.

The BCS was created, in part, to marginalize upstarts such as Boise State. Now, in a bizarre switch, it could deliver the Broncos to the title game, whether they really deserve it or not.

Having any undeserving team in the title game would be unfortunate for the short-term competitiveness of the sport.

It sure would provide some high comedy, though, as we all get to watch the best-laid exclusionary plans of the self-important Lords of the Game (major conference commissioners) blow up in their faces. It also might spur meaningful, forward-thinking change (or so you can dream).

Boise (4-0) is ranked No. 5 in both the Harris Interactive and USA Today Coaches’ polls, which make up two-thirds of the BCS formula. Never before has a team outside of college football’s six controlling conferences (ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-10 and SEC) been anywhere near such a lofty spot this early in the season.

And that’s the key.

In other years, unbeaten gate-crashers began the season so far back in the pack that they couldn’t leapfrog enough teams to reach the top two in the standings.

In this week’s coaches’ poll, unbeatens TCU (No. 10), Cincinnati (No. 11) and Houston (No. 15) are where teams of their ilk usually are.

They can win and win but will find it almost impossible to climb ahead of so many name powers above them. Even two-loss teams could prove impossible to pass.

Last year Utah put together a 12-0 regular season that included four victories over teams that were ranked nationally. It won the championship of a Mountain West Conference that had three teams ranked in the top 16 nationally and went 6-1 against the Pac-10. Its resume was far stronger than Boise’s would be this year.

Yet Utah was ranked No. 7 in the final week of both polls.

That’s how the BCS was designed to work. If Cincinnati and Boise State were to ever play on the sacred Rose Bowl field for the BCS title, you’d find someone like Jim Delany alone in a darkened room, mumbling to himself.

Using opinion polls to determine a champion is patently absurd, of course. The system, at its core, is meritless. Yet this is what they wanted.

Employing 173 human voters (114 in the Harris Poll, 59 in the coaches’) provides institutional protection against the non-politically connected clubs. Many have proven they are either incapable or unmotivated to cast intelligent ballots, A number admitted to never even bothering to watch Utah play last year before dismissing them.

This all but assures the money stays with the ruling class. Only the threat of an anti-trust lawsuit allowed limited access to BCS bowls earlier this decade. A title game appearance seemed impossible.

Boise, however, has apparently built its own name up to an unexpected level. Combine that with winning a high-profile opener to a season with an historic number of top-five upsets and the Broncos are in front of the logjam of one-loss contenders, not behind it.

Three of the four teams ahead of Boise – No. 1 Florida, No. 3 Alabama and No. 4 LSU – play each other, potentially more than once. At best only one can emerge unbeaten. The other two, based on traditional voting patterns, would drop behind Boise after a loss.

The No. 2 team, Texas, still has games against as many as five ranked teams, including No. 8 Oklahoma (at a neutral site with quarterback Sam Bradford back). Then there’s the Big 12 title game.

The likelihood of two of the current top four finishing 13-0 is fairly small. In the past three seasons, only one big six conference team (Ohio State, 2006) has entered the bowl season unbeaten. The SEC has produced the last three BCS champions yet no one has made it through league play unscathed since 2004.

If history holds, Boise just needs to maintain its place and watch the top two come to them. To keep the Broncos out someone would have to jump them. Traditionally this doesn’t occur, no matter how unimpressive the schedule.

In 2007, Kansas climbed all the way to No. 2 in the BCS standings despite playing a schedule that, at that point, was weaker than Boise will play this year.

At the time of its Thanksgiving weekend matchup against then-No. 1 Missouri, KU had defeated 11 teams that would post a combined record of 52-83 (.385). Only three (8-6 Central Michigan, 7-6 Oklahoma State and 7-6 Texas A&M) would finish with winning records. The voters didn’t care (or realize it). They just kept pushing KU higher.

Kansas eventually had to play a strong team to prove itself. If it hadn’t lost to Missouri, Oklahoma was waiting in the Big 12 title game.

Boise won’t have such a hurdle.

So to stop Boise the voters will have to reverse course. Either that or the BCS will need the mathematically unsound computer formulas to save it from blue turf invaders (next year’s computer formula “tweak” – drop 10 spots in the rankings if you’re from the WAC).

It may turn out that an unbeaten Boise is worthy. First, just because the schedule doesn’t offer the opportunity doesn’t mean the Broncos aren’t capable of beating anyone, including in the title game. That Oregon victory looks better by the week.

What if this season is like 2007, when so many teams stumbled, two-loss LSU climbed five spots in the final week to earn a title-game slot?

Would 173 people agree to take a two-loss team over perfect Boise?

You can count on one thing if it comes to it – an overwhelming backlash by the establishment. The media it controls (mostly television) will denounce a Boise candidacy with a talking-point campaign straight out of Washington politics. You won’t go three plays during broadcasts in November without commentators lecturing that sending Boise to the title game would be the worst idea since the Geico cavemen got their own sitcom.

In this particular case, the BCS defenders might have a point.

It would be fun to watch them sweat it out, though.


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