Saturday, December 06, 2008

Settling Texas vs Oklahoma

This is a college basketball blog, so I'm never going to talk about specific college football games, or make any college football predictions. But when I see issues involving misunderstanding about polls and computer rankings, I have to say something.

For one thing, I don't think I've ever seen an issue with so much misunderstanding. We assume that when analysts state facts that they're true, yet so often these "facts" are opinions, or even worse they are actually factually incorrect. So let me try to separate a few issues:

Myth #1: Texas beat Oklahoma straight up. It logically follows that they must be the team to play in the Big 12 title game.
This is false because you cannot logically separate a three-way tie where each team got their one loss from another team through head-to-head match-ups. It's logically impossible. If you say Texas is over Oklahoma because of head-to-head, then you MUST put Texas Tech in over Texas, since they won head to head. But of course, that takes us back to Oklahoma, since they beat Texas Tech. What's interesting is that people seem to sometimes understand this issue, because nobody is saying that Texas Tech should get in despite the win over Texas. They acknowledge the fact that I repeat over and over and over again: that the fact that Team A beats Team B does not imply that Team A is better. So if the system you want is for the best team in the Big 12 to get to move on in the case of a tie, then you a priori cannot use a head-to-head win as your be-all and end-all argument. You have to make the case that Texas is better than Oklahoma. Most analysts actually think Oklahoma is better than Texas (although they won't admit it anymore, because the chic thing to say in the media is how Texas needs to get in because of the head-to-head), so therefore it makes sense that Oklahoma should go. One can certainly make the argument that Texas is better, but the argument has to be more than "they beat Oklahoma."

Myth #2: It makes sense to use the BCS to separate out the top two teams in a three-way tie, and then use head-to-head to separate the top two.
This might be the dumbest thing I've ever all week, which is saying something. This is the most arbitrary, silly system I've ever heard. And the only reason you're hearing it is because it's the only "system" you can come up with which puts Texas into the Big 12 title game. You hear these Texas kids being interviewed, saying that a system like that would be more "fair." Really? The Texas kids think that the most "fair" system is the only one that puts them in over Oklahoma? I'm shocked. Now that said, I do think that there is a better system than the one that is used in the Big 12, but I'll talk about it later in this post.

Myth #3: Oklahoma beat Texas in the BCS because they ran up the score of their games and got "beauty" points.
This is an interesting argument because to believe it requires absolute 100% ignorance of the BCS and how it is calculated. First of all, I'm shocked that there are still leading college football "analysts" who don't know that the BCS computers do not take the score of games into account. That rule was instituted specifically to discourage teams from running up scores (this actually is a bad argument, and the BCS computers SHOULD be allowed to take score into account, but that is another issue for another post). So if one looks at the change in the most recent BCS poll, Texas made up ground in the human polls, but lost ground in the computer polls. So it was Texas that got the beauty points - not Oklahoma. And while I have no proof, it's pretty clear to me that some coaches were intentionally moving up Texas to counter what they expected would be Oklahoma's jump in the computer polls. Not only is this dishonest, but it's a total disrespect for the system: why even have computers if you're going to manipulate your human vote to cancel them out? It's the only thing that makes sense, since there's no doubt that Oklahoma's destruction of a top team on the road was more impressive than Texas beating up on a bad team at home and only covering the spread by three points. No, the reason that Oklahoma beat Texas in the BCS was because they had a tougher schedule. Computers don't fall for silly arguments like "Team A beat Team B, and therefore must be better." Computers simply saw the Texas and Oklahoma losses as essentially even. They saw their 7-1 conference records as essentially even. But Oklahoma's out-of-conference schedule was far tougher. It's not even close. And don't people remember that this was why the computers were added to the BCS? We want teams to schedule tough out-of-conference opponents. It's a joke when a school like Texas wants to play in a national title game, but their toughest out-of-conference opponent is Rice. Texas fans need to stop being mad at the BCS, and instead get mad at their coaching staff. If they'd chosen a tougher schedule, and won the games, they'd have beaten Oklahoma in the BCS.

Fact #1: There is a better way to break the tie.
That convoluted solution that Texas fans want, of course, is idiotic. But there is a better way to handle this, and it's not just improving the BCS formula (which I will talk about in another post). The solution is to break the idea that one team has to come from each division. Here would be my ideal tiebreak for a conference with two divisions and at least three teams tied with the same conference record:

Step 1: If one division has only one team, then that team automatically goes. The other division will have a tiebreak to determine the other team in the title game. The tiebreak will begin with head-to-head, then record against common opponents. If that doesn't separate them, then move to step 4.

Step 2: If both divisions have multiple teams tied, then each division gets one team in the title game. Each division will perform its own tiebreaking procedure, beginning with head-to-head, then record against common opponents. If that doesn't separate the teams, then move to step 4.

Step 3: If all of the tied teams are from the same division, then that division will get both teams in the title game. The other division will get none. The tiebreak will be done by head-to-head, then common opponents. If that doesn't separate the teams then move to step 4.

Step 4: In any tiebreak between two or more teams in the same division, where they cannot be separated by head-to-head or common opponents, the tiebreaker will be the final BCS standings of the regular season.

This system has an advantage over any current system because it preserves the division system, but makes an exception when you have two teams that are clearly better than all the rest. For this season, that would mean that Oklahoma and Texas would play for the conference title game. And wouldn't that make everybody happy (except Missouri fans, of course)?

The idea is that we need a system that is logically consistent, which preserves the division system, but which also can make sure that we don't have a mediocre team in the title game while a good team gets left out. The system I have come up with is far more logical than any other system I have heard, and it's the only one to have all of the aforementioned features.

That's the way this dispute SHOULD have been settled.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Frankly, these comments are far more likely to be found on a college basketball blog than a college football blog. Because of how NCAA tourney selection has worked in the past, basketball fans have it ingrained that teams that played tougher schedules should be rewarded. College football HAS NO SUCH TRADITION OR EXPECTATION.

Remember that the college football season was extended by a game a few years ago. That game has mostly been used by BCS programs to schedule an additional home date against a gimme opponent. This gave teams the chance to get the revenue from an additional home game, and gave them a chance to schedule an additional win so they could reach the 6 game bowl eligibility threshold. Teams that win 6 or more games can go to a bowl. Teams that go undefeated or close to it can compete for a national championship. There are VERY STRONG disincentives in college football to playing a decent schedule.

College football fans have never seen before a situation where the team with the strongest schedule got rewarded -- it's a completely new concept to them.