Monday, November 26, 2007

The big issue

In sports right now we face several important issues (as "important" as sports ever are): Steroids in baseball, college basketball players going pro after one season, the lack of any non-retired tennis players who can beat Federer, the Patriots (for many reasons), etc.. But one keeps coming back and it's big right now:

The problems with determining a national champion in college football.

If you don't know, here is the story. College Football used to determine their champion by a couple of polls deciding. One was a bunch of sportswriters, who usually were assigned to a specific game each week and therefore missed ever seeing most of the teams in the country. The other was a bunch of head coaches, who usually passed the buck on the responsibility of voting to their assistants - who were preparing for their own game and also missed seeing most of the teams in the country. Some shockingly bad trends developed - including a possibly real bias towards East Coast teams and Southern California area teams, penalizing teams more for losses late in the season than early, rewarding teams for them supposedly being good based on pre-season rankings, etc.. Needless to say, it was awful.

So ten years ago the brains in the biz came up with the BCS - a mathematical system that would still use those human polls, but also the team's records, the team's strength of schedule, and several computer ranking systems. It would also pave the way to allow the two top teams to play for the championship instead of being locked in to conference ties with certain bowl games. This has not made things better. In fact, there have been major controversies in almost every season of the BCS. And they have been tweaking the system every year to try to make it better - and never with any real success.

On Sunday they will announce the bowl match-ups as determined by the BCS again this year. And once again it will be filled with controversy. The biggest issues always do seem to stem around the same points though. Strength of conference, overall record, strength of non-conference games, when you lost. Right now it looks like the title game will be between West Virginia and Missouri. Both have one loss. West Virginia lost to South Florida a long time ago and has moved back up the rankings pretty steadily. Their conference isn't very strong and they played an average non-conference slate. Missouri lost to a very good Oklahoma team several weeks ago. Their conference is okay and they had a couple nice non-conference wins. Neither would be a terrible option, but those two certainly haven't separated themselves from the pack to establish that clearly one of the two must be the best this year.

If one of them falters this final weekend, Ohio State probably slides in to the title game. Their conference sucks and their non-conference games sucked even more than that. But they only lost once. Also in the mix could be Oklahoma - they have two losses, but they could also be about to beat a really good Missouri team for a second time. There is also the Pac 10 conference with USC. THey have two losses in a very mediocre division, but the polls and the BCS have always loved them like none other. THere is also teams like Kansas, Florida, and Georgia - all with good records, but none playing for their conference titles this weekend because there was another really good team (or two) in their half of their conference. There is Hawaii - undefeated, but not from a major conference. THere is Virginia Tech and Boston College from the ACC - not considered to be a great conference either. And there is LSU which has lost twice - but both to really good teams and both times in TRIPLE OVERTIME, not to mention that they played in the SEC which continues to be light years ahead of all other conferences.

Where is the playoff? Clearly we have a field of teams that deserve it. It could be great, it would get ratings, it would bring in money - why not do it?