Tag:BCS Computer Rankings
Posted on: October 19, 2011 3:03 am
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Posted on: October 19, 2011 3:01 am
Edited on: October 19, 2011 3:11 am

Which BCS component is least credible? All of 'em

Posted by Adam Jacobi

Here's the Inside College Football crew discussing which of the BCS components is least credible. It's a little too constrained by brevity for my tastes, but I'm glad there's a discussion being framed around the demerits of the system. That said, I'm generally of the opinion that since all three components have grave issues of integrity, arguing about what might be the worst of the three is sort of missing the point.

The Harris poll is not conducted openly like the AP poll, even at its most basic levels, and that's a major problem. The coaches poll, as I'm sure you're all tired of hearing from me by now, is a joke until the last week, and even then the coaches don't appreciate the scrutiny and would love to opt out of making their ballots public. But for as ill-informed as the polling is, at least the one poll that has the consequential heft to it is open, so at least we can see what makes up that component of the BCS rankings when it matters. That is the best thing I can say about any aspect of the BCS.

And as for the computers, the formulas should be made public and verifiable, period (currently, only the Colley algorithm is public). We shouldn't have to wait until a televised Sunday night BCS reveal to see what the computer rankings are; we ought to be able to figure them out for ourselves and ensure their accuracy. Otherwise, who's to say that a certain computer ranker wouldn't just game the stats and nudge a team a place or two -- just a little bit -- at some  friendly AD's request? I'm sure they would all thunder that such a thing has never happened, but computer poll operator Kenneth Massey openly admits that it could for the right price. That's a pretty enormous red flag, no?

Now, the point Randy Cross makes at the end of the clip above, that the BCS usually gets the right two teams into the title game at the end of the year, is correct. That was the job it was created to perform -- to select the two best candidates to play in a national title game -- and by and large there aren't many complaints about its ability to do that. OK, forget what I said above, that's the best thing I can say about any aspect of the BCS.

The problem, however, lies in A: that it's still not a playoff, and B: the rankings are used for purposes other than selecting a national championship matchup. Specifically, they're used for the purposes of assigning at-large BCS bowl invites, which means they play a role in the allotment of BCS bowl prize money. So we've got a system that controls the disbursement of over $100 million dollars in total, every year, and the computers specifically are being run by processes operating under no official supervision. If that game hasn't been rigged, nobody in the NCAA is even trying. Is this not college football? Are we not ever operating in the gray areas when it comes to money and ethics? Heck, is this not America?

Seriously, we take minutes out of games to look at instant replay just to spot a ball, or to stare at whether a receiver's toe stayed in or out of bounds. We argue over minutiae on the field, and regulate the food given to recruits and athletes off it. And don't you dare give one of the kids money, because the NCAA can audit their bank accounts. But where millions of dollars and the highest-profile postseason bowls are concerned, the selection process is purportedly mathematical, but really just runs on a few people's word. That is utter insanity and a mockery of this great sport.

Posted on: November 8, 2010 12:44 pm

BCS computers should not use margin-of-victory

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

What would you say about a Coaches' Poll voter who looked over the college football landscape after Saturday's action and ranked Auburn , undefeated and owner of more top 25 wins than any team in the country, all the way down at No. 11? What would you say if he voted four different teams with two losses ahead of the Tigers, including a Missouri team coming off of a loss to Texas Tech and an Arizona team that lost at home to 4-4 Oregon State ? What would you say if he kept Alabama all the way up at No. 5, ahead of not only the Auburn team two games ahead of it in the SEC West standings but 12 spots ahead of the 8-1 LSU team that just beat it head-to-head?

What you would say is that this voter had lost his damn mind and deserved to have his voting privileges revoked. You would say he deserved no part in a BCS process where so, so much is riding on every ballot. And you would be right.

Then why do so many college football analysts, fans, and statisticians insist that the six computer rankings that enter into the BCS formula -- each of which carries far, far more weight than any single Coaches' Poll or Harris Poll ballot -- be allowed to use margin-of-victory as part of their calculations? Because the hypothetical ballot above is exactly what the computers would spit out; it's the current "Predictor" rankings as produced by ratings guru Jeff Sagarin , where margin-of-victory is all-important and straight wins and losses irrelevant. Sagarin has stated unequivocally that he would prefer submitting the "Predictor" rating to the BCS-mandated margin-of-victory-ignoring "ELO_Chess," for the reasons laid out here by fellow BCS computer rater Kenneth Massey and baseball statistical godfather Bill James :

“You’re asked to rank teams that don’t play each other, that don’t play long seasons, and you can’t include margin of victory?” said Massey, who provides a “better version” on his Web site, masseyratings.com . “It’s a very challenging problem from a data-analysis standpoint. It does require sacrificing a bit of accuracy. It’s not the best way to do it" ... 

“This isn’t a sincere effort to use math to find the answer at all" [according to James.] It’s clearly an effort to use math as a cover for whatever you want to do. I don’t even know if the people who set up the system are aware of that.

“It’s just nonsense math.”

Maybe the math is nonsense. But shouldn't that be weighed against the fact that to virtually everyone else who follows college football, ranking Alabama ahead of LSU is an act of even greater nonsense?

The problem is that ratings system like  the Sagarin "Predictor" and Massey's preferred system (which also ranks the Tide over the Bayou Bengals) aren't even trying to do the same things the BCS rankings are attempting to do. Their goal is to identify which teams are the "best," the most powerful, the most likely to win a given matchup; as its name implies, what "Predictor" wants to do is forecast the future, and there's no doubt it would do a better job of this than "ELO_Chess."

But certain unfortunate tiebreaks (like TCU 's and Boise State 's current predicament) excepted, BCS berths aren't awarded on the basis of hypothetical future results, or guesses at perceived strengths. They're awarded on the basis of achievement, on wins and losses and conference championships. Including margin-of-victory may make the BCS computer rankings "more accurate" when it comes to selecting which teams are playing the best football, but it would make them less accurate when it comes to answering the question the BCS rankings are trying to answer: which teams are most deserving .

That ought to be cause enough to keep the rankings margin-of-victory-free, even before we start wondering whether we really want the BCS nodding in approval as Boise desperately tries to hit the century mark week-in and week-out on the San Jose State s and Wyoming s of the world. (Not to mention it's already a shame when a player injures himself in a game that's well in hand; what happens when LaMichael James or Justin Blackmon tears an ACL trying to tack on a computer-mandated score at the end of a 60-7 blowout?) No, it's not particularly fair for TCU's annihilation of Utah to go in the BCS computers' books as nothing more than a W. But as the Horned Frogs' jump up the human polls shows, it's simply not true to say the BCS doesn't take the impressiveness of their victory into account at all.

The bottom line is that by including scoring margin (even one capped at, say, three touchdowns) in their computer rankings, the BCS would officially declare every win numerically judged like a figure skating routine, would give the thumbs-up to coaches like Bob Stoops who'd prefer to quit on a potential win over risking an embarrassing loss, would agree with "Predictor" that Alabama beating Duke by 49 points is more important than LSU beating Alabama by 3. The computer rankings could be better, but the way forward isn't to open a Pandora's box that college football would be much the worse for having opened.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com