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1:14 pm EST 63°F (17°C) in Quincy, MI
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Yesterday, after 11 days at home, I finally returned to the truck. As I type, I am getting loaded with meat products destined for Pennsylvania; after I deliver those, probably tomorrow morning, I am heading for the company shop to get a long-overdue scheduled service job done.
It seems as though I talk about nothing but college football lately, and this update, like it or not, is no exception. Today’s topic can best be described as an explanation of the statement once made by former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka: “The BCS is BS. It’s ridiculous!” My memory fails me as to exactly when he said this, but I’m reasonably sure it was after either the 2003 season (when an undefeated USC team was shut out of the BCS title game, and ultimately split the championship by earning #1 in the final Associated Press poll) or after 2004 (when likewise undefeated Auburn wasn’t given a shot to play for the title, which was eventually contested by USC and Oklahoma). This year’s situation is a little bit different, but to paraphrase Ditka, the BCS is still proving to be BS.
I wonder if, when the BCS formula was being concocted, anybody realized the inherent bias in a poll of about half of the coaches in Division I-A. Isn’t it blatantly obvious that every single coach who participates in the poll is going to be voting his own agenda, rather than making a fair, objective, unbiased assessment of the college football landscape? You can’t tell me (at least with a straight face) that Lloyd Carr, Urban Meyer, Pete Carroll, Jim Tressel, et al., aren’t all voting for their own teams’ best interest. You also can’t tell me that there is absolutely no collusion going on between certain coaches — how do we know that coaches of sucky bowl-ineligible teams aren’t willingly doing the bidding of their friends at the top 10 programs? It must never have occurred to anybody that a coaches’ poll is about the least objective way to determine which teams are the best — yet the coaches’ poll results comprise a full one-third of the overall BCS formula!
What this means is that, in situations where the best two teams in the country are not completely obvious, the selection process to choose the two title-game participants amounts to a popularity contest. The BCS system ultimately can only work in a truly objective way when you have exactly two undefeated major-conference teams, as we did in 2005 (USC and Texas). (Of course, undefeated minor-conference teams like Boise State and Utah get screwed, but that’s another argument for another day.) If you have any other situation — three undefeated teams as in 2003 and 2004, or one undefeated team and a handful of one-loss teams like this year — well, you better hope you’re popular.
Such popularity contests have a historical tendency to screw Michigan, for whatever reason. One need look no further than 1997, when undefeated Nebraska edged undefeated Michigan by one point in the final coaches’ poll largely due to the universal popularity of retiring Cornhusker coach Tom Osborne. Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, whose Volunteers threw the Orange Bowl to Nebraska 49-16, even admitted that he put Michigan #4 on his ballot (behind two one-loss teams!) because he knew that would throw the overall #1 ranking to Nebraska — in other words, he admitted to colluding with other coaches to see to it that Osborne’s Nebraska team won the title! Of course, Fulmer had another motivation for doing this, namely revenge: he wanted to stick it to Michigan, whose Charles Woodson had beaten Fulmer’s quarterback Peyton Manning for the 1997 Heisman Trophy.
There is no reason to believe that a pre-bowl 2006 popularity contest among one-loss teams would end up any different. The coaches will do anything in their power to help their favorite Pete Carroll, especially if it means Lloyd Carr (whose team played a tougher schedule and wasn’t embarrassed by any of the bottom-dwellers in its own conference) gets screwed.
Something really needs to be done to correct the current situation, in which 175 people (63 coaches in that poll, plus 114 voters in the Harris Interactive poll) — a fair number of whom have their own, or their former team’s, agenda in mind — have two-thirds of the say in determining who gets to play for the national championship. That’s less than one-third the number of people who serve in the United States Congress, for Christ’s sake! What the BCS people need to do is commission about six or seven new public polls, each composed of several thousand members of the public distributed evenly across the nation. Polls of 50,000 people are bound to be more objective than polls of 175 people, simply due to the vastly larger sample size.
If a coaches’ poll is to be retained, it must be expanded to include all coaches in Division I-A, not just 63 of the elite ones. It must no longer be given one-third weight by itself; in fact, the whole notion of weighting the coaches’ poll one-third, the Harris poll another third, and an average of several computer rankings the last third, needs to be scrapped. Everything should be given equal weight — the coaches’ poll and the Harris poll should carry no more weight than the six or seven public polls I propose, nor any more weight than each individual computer ranking. Frankly, computer rankings do a better job of looking at teams in terms of record amassed vs. strength of competition, and they also don’t suffer from the “what have you done for me lately?” aspect that plagues human polls. (Most human polls seem to reflect the notion that a November loss to top-ranked Big State U is worse than a September loss to Podunk Valley Community College.)
This way, the system would unquestionably be more fair. No one component of the BCS would count for one-third of the final ranking; rather, with about 10 human polls and at least the six current computer rankings, each component would carry only about 6%-7% weight in the final standings. This helps to balance out any inherent bias in any one individual component, by drowning it out with a whole bunch of more objective views. This idea should also make the big-money interests in college football happy; they are the biggest proponents of the status quo and biggest opponents of a playoff system a la Divisions I-AA, II, and III, and this idea doesn’t completely obliterate the current system that earns them beaucoup bucks.
Well, if these people delay me much longer, they can kiss that delivery appointment tomorrow morning in the Keystone State goodbye.