Monday, November 20, 2006

Play it again


Hey, if Gordon Smith can write about college football, so can I.

Michigan versus Ohio StateBig 10 scheduling gave us something this year that the BCS system rarely if ever delivers: a game between teams that are indisputably the best in the country. And it was a very, very good game. If Michigan recovers the onside kick -- admittedly a low-percentage play under any conditions -- momentum carries the Wolverines past the Buckeyes. Give credit to the voters who kept Michigan #2 in the polls. Rarely does #2 keep its position after losing to #1, even though that is the expected outcome, and the team that is promoted to the second spot might have done nothing besides remaining idle. The voters kept Michael Vick's Virginia Tech squad at #2 after they lost a 42-29 thriller to Florida State in the 2000 Sugar Bowl, but that is the exception and not the rule.

We shouldn't be surprised. The rankings system in college football is frustrating because it combines subjective evaluation, path dependency, and saliency effects (as in: recent losses to good teams hurt worse than earlier losses to abysmal teams) and then throws it all into a BCS system that leaves no more than a single merit-based "at large" bowl bid in those years when Notre Dame has held court against its usual diet of Midwestern patsies and service academies.

I hate Notre DameSpeaking of Notre Dame, the most appalling outcome would be one in which an Irish victory over Southern California vaults Notre Dame into #2 in the BCS rankings. Why would this be appalling? Because Michigan destroyed Notre Dame earlier this season. There is no question which team would make a worthier opponent for Ohio State.

So let's do things right this year. Put Michigan and Ohio State on a neutral field, far away from the Great Lakes, and let #2 and #1 settle things properly.

Some other aspects of Gordon's analysis merit a response:
  1. Gordon dismisses the entire Big East as a bunch of "[p]retenders," on the evident ground that the top teams (West Virginia, Louisville, Rutgers) beat each other to a pulp. Gordon, from one Big 10 employee to another, let me say this: Isn't this exactly what Big 10 teams have done over the years? As the Southeastern Conference has shown, the presence of one-loss teams in a conference demonstrates collective strength, not weakness. Too bad the system can't detect this.

  2. More on Notre Dame: My second-favorite college football team is Notre Dame's opponents. This is true of so many fans that it is worth declaring as an Immutable Law of American Sports Fandom: "When in doubt, cheer against (pick one, more, or all) the Yankees / Notre Dame football / Duke basketball."

  3. We need to do something about the obsession with the undefeated season. As Gordon points out, this year's Wisconsin Badgers squad has coasted to a one-loss season against the likes of Buffalo and Western Illinois. It's all reminiscent of another team I'm sure Gordon remembers: the 1984 BYU Cougars. They won the national championship almost by default, with an uninspired 24-17 victory over a 6-5 Michigan squad in the 1984 Holiday Bowl. (Rest in peace, Bo Schembechler.) An unblemished record looks nice, but actual competition is better.
So. Back to my original point. The game plan going forward is simple. Let Notre Dame, Southern California, Florida, and others jockey for positions in the other BCS games. But the formula for the national championship is simple: Let Michigan and Ohio State play it again.

Update, 1:15 p.m. CSTAn anonymous commenter writes, "I'm confused. At a site devoted to the elimination of confusing emotional biases and to the use of cool econometrics, the post offers us a pure-emotion pitch for UM when knowledgable folks already realize that by winning out USC will pass UM on the metrics and get a shot at [Ohio State]."

No, Mr. or Ms. A. Nonny Mouse, this is not "an ironic post, designed to illustrate the persistent, invidious appeal of blind emotion over rational calculation." You assume that the BCS is rational. It is not. Its single biggest input is the blasted polls. There is a superior solution. It's called a tournament. (Or playoff, if you prefer football's nomenclature to basketball's.) This simply shifts the pressure to a different place -- namely, the tournament selection committee. But the NCAA has managed well enough with a tournament for men's and women's basketball, and an eight-team playoff system for football would make sense. Keep six automatic bids for conference champions if you must, but let everyone else -- and I would insist on equal footing for the likes of the WAC and Conference USA, right alongside Notre Dame -- slug it out for a place in the playoff.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm confused. At a site devoted to the elimination of confusing emotional biases and to the use of cool econometrics, the post offers us a pure-emotion pitch for UM when knowledgable folks already realize that by winning out USC will pass UM on the metrics and get a shot at USC.

Maybe it's an ironic post, designed to illustrate the persistent, invidious appeal of blind emotion over rational calculation.

11/20/2006 1:02 PM  
Anonymous LLoyd Braun said...

WHERE IS THE SERENITY HERE, or the sanity for that matter. It seems that for all the talk in Money-Ball we are returning to the same old position over performance game. Give me Boise State, an SEC team, or any other team that has not already played Ohio State! How about a team that will have played four teams in the top 10 on the road -- guess who that two loss team might be --

Jim -- Are you becoming the Jim Rome of Legal Education? Just don't call us clones! That's far more appropriate for Jurisdynamics.

11/20/2006 3:35 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home