Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Orrin Hatch Renews His Attack on the BCS

Orrin Hatch has been attacking the BCS system for several years now.  He has two specific problems as I understand it.  One is that his beloved, undefeated Utah Utes didn't get a "fair" shot at the National Championship game at the end of the 2008-09 season.  The other concerns how it is that participants from non-BCS conferences do not receive as much money for playing in a BCS bowl game as the primary participants from BCS conferences.  I have nothing to say about the latter issue except for the fact that the schools that have built college football and who invest the most money in it year after year deserve the bulk of the money.

The championship game of the 2009-09 season matched two one loss teams, Florida and Oklahoma, with Oklahoma losing 24-14.  That year, Oklahoma was in a 3-way tie for the Big 12 South championship thanks to the fact that Texas beat Oklahoma 45-35; Texas Tech beat Texas 39-33 on a last second play;  and then, disproving the apparent fact that Big 12 teams didn't play defense, Oklahoma crushed Texas Tech 65-21.  Oklahoma got into the conference title game thanks to its being ranked higher than Texas and Texas Tech by the BCS formula.

I presume that the Big 12 adopted use of the BCS standings as its tie breaker in order to facilitate the Big 12 champion's rise to #1 or #2 in the BCS poll.  Oklahoma's destruction of Texas Tech and then, in the title game, its destruction of Missouri sealed the #2 slot and an opportunity to be another Florida victim.

The fact that one-loss Oklahoma got into the championship game while an undefeated Utah did not get in upset Sen. Hatch.  Apparently he could see that 12-1 is not as good as 13-0, never mind the fact that Oklahoma beat two of the highest rated teams in the country while Utah beat an 8 loss Michigan team, not counting the loss to Utah.  The only other BCS school that Utah played before their magnificent bowl win over Alabama was Oregon State, which had two losses other than its loss to Utah, that by a three point margin.  I do not see in their schedule anything like Texas and Texas Tech.  The win over Alabama, which I must say I thoroughly enjoyed, was said by some to be due to a lack of interest on Alabama's part but this sort of excuse by BCS schools for losses to WAC and Mountain West teams is wearing thin.

The problem here is one we have had forever in college football. In 1968 and 1969, Joe Paterno's Penn State teams went undefeated with Orange Bowl wins and the best they could get out of human voters was #2.  In 1973, his team went 12-0 with an Orange Bowl win and the best he could get out of that was a #5.  And then in 1982, they went 12-1 with a Sugar Bowl win and came out #1.  In 1986, they went 12-0 with a Fiesta Bowl win and got another #1.  But Penn State returned to form in 1994 when they went 12-0 with a Rose Bowl win and came out #2.

Penn State's problem was with human polls, the Coaches Poll and the AP.  There are serious problems with these human polls.  The first is that they are subjective.  Everyone knows that college sports are regional in nature -- ergo regional biases come into the picture.  Second, unless voters do extraordinary due diligence, they will not remember exactly who beat whom, when, and by how much.  Third, given that coaches tend to be rather busy on Saturdays, they are likely either to pass their votes onto a grandkid or SID or just look at the scores in the morning paper before casting their ballots.  One thing is for sure, they will watch very few games other than their own.  Reporters are in a better position to watch games but even they can't see many.

When the BCS came into being, computer polls were added to the mix.  They have been crippled by being ordered not to include margin of victory.  That's a bit stupid, of course.  Limiting the importance of large margins of victory would be smart but they aren't allowed to do that.  What they can do that human voters cannot do reliably is figure in strength of schedule.  The BCS system currently consists of two human polls, the Coaches Poll, as always, and the Harris Interactive Poll, the latter consisting of a large number of "former players, coaches, administrators, and current and former media," and a set of computer polls the results of which are averaged.

Sen. Hatch's complaint has to be with the humans who do the voting and the computer polls.  His complaint is no different from but has less merit than those of Penn State fans back when they were constantly disrespected.  If Utah wants a shot at the BCS title game it needs to persuade the Pac-10 to include it when it expands to 12 teams, probably sometime this summer.  TCU and Boise State need to pray that the Big Ten takes 2 Big 12 teams when it expands to 14 or 16 teams and the Big 12 takes them.  BYU is screwed.  There is no way the Pac-10 would take two schools from Utah.  One thing is for sure, a playoff system will require something akin to the BCS to select and seed participants so there is really no escaping it.

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