Archive for the ‘BCS’ Category

Sooners’ Title Hopes Gone Without Gresham

September 8, 2009

Even the most optimistic Oklahoma fans should start coming to grips with the reality that if the opening loss to BYU didn’t kill the Sooners’ hopes for a national championship, today’s news that superstar senior tight end Jermaine Gresham won’t play a down this season did.

OU’s lack of credible receiving threats became painfully obvious during the BYU game, as the Sooner wideouts struggled to get open, as well as to hold on to the ball when they did. Gresham, an ultra-talented wide receiver in a tight end’s body, would have injected a needed dose of explosiveness into the offense and provided a go-to target in crucial situations.
Gresham is just one player, but it’s not an overreaction to say he was vital to the OU passing game. His loss alone is going to cost Oklahoma at least one more game before the season ends.
(And that’s all before factoring in that the Sooners’ Heisman-winning quarterback will be sidelined for two or three more games.)
Not to be a downer, but there is no silver lining to this cloud. Youngsters will see more playing time, but that offers little solace for a team and fan base ready to win now.
Of course, the season is just a game old. Bob Stoops’ teams typically improve as the regular season goes on, and the OU coach and his staff have excelled in the past when forced to adjust on the fly. Don’t forget this is the same coach who won a Big 12 championship in 2006 after kicking his blue-chip quarterback off the team the day before the season started and losing one of the most dynamic running backs in college football history halfway through the year.

Lawyers, Football and Money

July 15, 2009

When the recent round of BCS show trials began on Capitol Hill, I firmly planted my flag with the masses who thought the politicos should just butt out. However, I found ex-lawyer and noted college football blogger Clay Travis‘ recent defense of Congress’ intervention pretty compelling. Travis, author of Dixieland Delight: A Football Season on the Road in the Southeastern Conference and the forthcoming On Rocky Top: A Front-Row Seat to the End of an Era, took time out of his busy schedule to discuss the finer points of the BCS flap with Homerism.

Blatant Homerism: I think you’re right that the general perception of Congress’ BCS hearings is that they are somehow motivated by a desire on the part of some politicians to affect a playoff in college football. After all, Orrin Hatch from the great state of Utah is leading the charge. Based on what you’ve written, however, competition in the marketplace, rather than on the playing field, seems to be the real issue at hand. Would you say that’s correct?

Clay Travis: To a degree, yes. Certainly for antitrust, since antitrust requires you to define a marketplace before you can prove that an antitrust violation occurs. Here the marketplace is pretty easy to define, it’s the 119 top division college football teams. Often in antitrust situations there’s a battle over what the marketplace is, think satellite radio when XM and Sirius argued that satellite radio wasn’t the marketplace, downloadable music was. As a general rule, the larger the marketplace the least likely there is to be an antitrust violation. I don’t think Congress is interested in the actual playing field results with this caveat: At its most fundamental level the big six conferences have designed a system where its virtually impossible for someone from one of the other five conferences to ever end up in the top two of the BCS standings.

Utah made a run last year, had several great wins, and finished sixth in the final BCS standings before the bowl. So it’s a combination of two things: 

  1. The system is designed to reward the big guys financially; 
  2. It doesn’t give the little guy a chance to compete and leaves them with no alternative system. 

BH: So Congress is more interested in how the money gets doled out than who the national champion is?

CT: Well, I think Congress is being a bit disingenuous here. I think the reality is that if a “small five” conference member won a national championship or advanced to the BCS title game, there wouldn’t be any real argument in a political context. The money would still be an issue in terms of how it’s distributed (that’s the real antitrust angle), but the playing field would be level. Which, to be fair, is, I think, what most people, in Congress and otherwise, have a real issue with.

Put it this way, imagine if the BCS existed in high school football. You had a division that ostensibly rewarded a state championship, but only those schools that drew more than, I don’t know, 2,000 people to their games each week could compete for the championship based on how the playoffs were seeded. Would any state in America stand for that? I don’t think so. Would it violate federal antitrust law? (No, because the Sherman Act only applies to interstate commerce.) Would it get changed? Yep.

So I think what you’ve got is a situation that many feel is unfair and there’s a search for a legal reason why that system is unfair. Antitrust offers the best legal reason. But antitrust is just the legal hook that furnishes a potential remedy for the outrage.

BH: We all know the BCS exists–it has a Web site, networks negotiate over the rights to televise BCS games, we see the weekly BCS standings. Yet, it’s not a legal entity. How, then, can it be subject to antitrust regulations?

CT: Good question. Just because something is well-designed legally doesn’t mean that an arbiter of justice can’t pierce the construct of the company. Look at price-fixing, for instance. Generally if companies conspire to fix prices, they don’t first register a shell corporation to help regulate their price-fixing. Yet, does that mean that those companies aren’t individually responsible for violating the law?

It’s a clever legal shell game, but that’s all it is. Here we have an entity that I think any judge in the country would recognize does exist. Same with any Department of Justice investigator. In fact, the way the BCS is designed, without full legal identification, is a tremendous red flag. It just leaps right out and grabs you. “Look, look, the lawyers were aware of a potential issue here and this was their resolution.” It’s too cute.

It shows that the BCS lawyers were aware of the antitrust applications to their actions.

It’s like Bill Clinton responding to questions about a sexual relationship by saying, “There is no relationship.” Immediately you ask yourself, why is he using the present tense? Why is he reverting to lawyer mode?

Smart fans should be asking themselves, wait, why doesn’t the BCS exist?

BH: Bottom line: Does the BCS violate existing antitrust law?

CT: Yes. I believe the BCS as constituted violates Section 1 of the Sherman Act.

BH: If the Department of Justice decides to launch an investigation of the BCS, what do you think the most likely outcome would be? Is there room for some kind of compromise here?

CT: Well, another good question. If it happens, the investigation will come from the DOJ Antitrust Division. They have the power to bring criminal charges if their investigation uncovers an antitrust violation. Would it come to that? Doubtful.

Typically they would work with a corporate entity to craft a compromise that didn’t violate antitrust laws. So I think that would be the most likely outcome. The investigation would set off alarm bells, the media would be all over it, and the BCS would be reformatted. How? I don’t know. We’d be even further down the college football rabbit hole then.

Washington Intrigue with JC Watts

May 11, 2009

After all that time spent in public service, ex-Sooner great JC Watts appears to have taken a Tony Almeida-esque turn.

Of course, given his performance in some off-the-field pursuits, could it be that the distinguished gentleman from Eufala is working as a double agent on the side of playoff advocates?

BCS: On the Merits?

May 6, 2009

College football’s, shall we say, “unique” method of determining a champion stands out for a number of reasons. Among them, resumé supposedly has a lot to do with who plays for the national championship.

Whether or not the system and the voters who make up two-thirds of its rankings actually do reward teams with stronger bodies of work is another issue entirely.
To test the impact of resumé, Homerism collected BCS data on the final rankings prior to the bowl season for the last four years–2005 through 2008. I compiled figures for strength of schedule (SOS) as calculated by the Anderson & Hester rankings, one of the computer polls that make up the BCS system. I then compared strength of schedule against the BCS standings.
(Bear in mind that record clearly has the greatest impact on the BCS standings. The real issue would be whether or not schedule helps teams distinguish themselves from competitors with similar records.)
The universe of 80 teams demonstrated a correlation of 0.184 between SOS scores and BCS averages. As such, this indicates a fairly weak relationship between SOS and BCS scores.
On the other hand, when the teams considered are limited to those only in the top 10 in the BCS rankings, that correlation increased dramatically, up to 0.408. Likewise, the relationship between SOS rank and BCS rank was nearly 0.5. Conversely, among the teams ranked 11 through 20, the relationships between scores and ranks were nearly negligible–around 0.040.
As always, correlation shouldn’t be mistaken for causation. That said, what do these observations suggest?
*The BCS does tend to reward degree of difficulty for higher-ranked teams.
Otherwise, it would seem that the correlations among the top 10 teams should be more in line with the entire group. Looking at 2008, for example, BCS title game participants Oklahoma and Florida ranked 5th and 20th, respectively, in SOS. Meanwhile, other one-loss teams that finished outside the top two had worse SOS rankings: USC (68), Alabama (43), Texas Tech (23), Penn State (52). Texas, which came in 3rd in the final BCS standings, provided a notable exception, with an SOS ranking of 6th.
Similarly, in 2006, the BCS put a one-loss Florida team into the championship game over Louisville and Michigan. The SOS rankings:
  • Florida (11);
  • Michigan (16);
  • Louisville (34).
Of course, exceptions to this trend have arisen. During the 2007 season, eventual national champion LSU finished 2nd in the BCS rankings. However, two other two-loss teams with appreciably higher SOS, Georgia and Missouri, finished behind the Tigers. Likewise, Ohio State ended the regular season ranked number one, while Kansas finished 8th. Yet, both teams finished with similar records and SOS rankings (Ohio State: 60; Kansas: 67).
If you object to the different ways in which the computer polls determine SOS, any analysis like this is pointless. Same applies if you disagree that record should play such a key role in the rankings. However, the relatively strong relationship between SOS and BCS rankings demonstrated here does seem to imply there is at least a little method to the BCS’s ballyhooed madness.

Study Hard, ‘Horns

February 28, 2009

In Homerism’s experience growing up, even the best students had at least one subject they just couldn’t master. While they typically breezed through most of their classes, there was always that one that gave them a surprisingly tough time. (Think Anthony Michael Hall and his shop class woes in The Breakfast Club.)

Mack Brown is lucky the BCS wasn’t part of the curriculum back in his day. He just doesn’t seem to get it.
Brown has announced he and his team will be knuckling down this offseason for a crash course on the ins-and-outs of the BCS. He has even hired some top-notch tutors, extending invitations to supposed “BCS gurus” to come to Austin and break down college football’s system for picking a champion.
As Dr. Saturday points out, the BCS isn’t that tough to figure out–both in how it’s calculated and how it affects teams. (The Doc’s analysis is brilliant and succinct: “Win every game as convincingly as possible against the best possible competition.”) If Brown really can’t put it together on his own, well…
On the other hand, if this announcement is some kind of stunt, credit Brown for his persistence in publicizing what he considers to be the injustice foisted upon his team by one of the world’s most famous algorithms. Brown should give up the class dunce routine, though, if he wants to be seen as a reformer, rather than a whiner.

Thwarting Mediocrity

February 1, 2009

If I’m Roger Goodell, I’m happy as hell this morning about last night’s Super Bowl.

Not because it was a thrilling game. Not because The Boss blew it up at halftime. Not because the league’s most legendary franchise won yet another Super Bowl. Not because the league’s coolest cat, Mike Tomlin, won his first Super Bowl.
No, I’m ecstatic because the Arizona Cardinals didn’t win.

There’s just something wrong with the idea that a team who had as mediocre of a regular season as Arizona could have been called the NFL’s champion. I felt the same way last year when Eli Manning and the New York Giants actually did hoist the Lombardi trophy.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly no fan of the Steelers–great franchise with probably the most annoying fans in the NFL. I can’t stand the Patriots, either. (For the record, Homerism is a Ravens fan.)
What bothers me, though, is the notion that Arizona essentially used a three-game playoff stretch to distinguish itself this year. Should we just ignore the fact that this team won a paltry nine games during the regular season, playing in the weakest division in the entire league? I can’t get past that.
Arizona clearly deserved to be in the Super Bowl, in so far as the Cardinals did everything required of them by the NFL’s system. Homerism won’t dispute that. What does it say about the system itself, though, when it produces a result that appears to be so at odds with a greater body of evidence?
If the Cardinals are being rewarded for playing the best in a short stretch of the postseason, what’s the point of the regular season? The non-playoff games become something worth little more than exhibition games. Sure, the regular season may determine the playoff participants, but winning or losing one game just doesn’t seem all that meaningful. In terms of importance, Patriots-Colts on Sunday night in October becomes about as “must-see” as a rerun of NCIS.
Alternatively, let’s say the Cards really were the best team in the NFC all year, but they decided to sleepwalk through the regular season, knowing all they needed to do was qualify for the postseason. That doesn’t strike Homerism as the kind of season that should be rewarded. Maybe I’m in the minority there.

What does any of this have to do with college football? After all, the differences between college and the pros seem so great that any comparisons between the two are pretty much irrelevant.

That’s true. The real issue at stake here is the true meaning of being called a “champion.”
In Homerism’s opinion, Pittsburgh is a worthy champion, not just because it won the last game of the season against a mediocre NFC team. The Steelers ran up a sterling record against one of the hardest schedules in NFL history. They had the kind of postseason AND regular season that merited the title of champion. It feels like a satisfying conclusion to the season.
At the end of this past college football regular season, the tiresome debate of who the two “best” teams were ensued. Media bloviators began piping in with their own opinions about quality wins and losses, conference strength and style points. In the end, the BCS system spit out Florida and Oklahoma as the two title game participants.
Were Florida and Oklahoma the two best teams? Would both have beaten USC or Utah at Dolphins Stadium on Jan. 8? Who’s to say.
Keeping the Cardinals in mind, though, maybe we need to rethink what we’re trying to determine in college football. Homerism would contend that the chance to play for the college football national championship shouldn’t go to the “best” teams, but the teams that had “the best seasons.”
A champion should be the team that earns it, week in and week out. Everything should count. Let’s forget about trying to figure out who the best team is, and worry about who had the best year.