Poll Dancing: Week Fourteen, or This Time the Field Goals Are Personal

It’s the rare sequel that lives up to the original.  Those that surpass (The Godfather Part II, The Dark Knight) are rarer still.  Of course, with movies that’s generally because movies that inspire sequels are actually good.  At the very least, they’re popular.  In college football, apparently all it takes is that the sequel be in the best interest of ESPN.

On Saturday morning (by pure chance, as I usually don’t even watch) I had GameDay on and heard an exchange between someone and Kirk Herbstreit (that’s how much attention I was paying).  Herbstreit was asked who deserved the #2 spot besides Alabama and made a big show of not being able to produce an answer.  This was before Oklahoma State destroyed Oklahoma in what amounted to the Big 12 championship game.  The Cowboys finished the regular season with just a single loss–a double overtime stunner on the road at 6-6 Iowa State.

I thought for sure that the BCS computers would boost Oklahoma State into the national title game.  As you know, Big 12 teams have received tremendous (suspicious, even) benefit of the doubt from the machine portion of the ratings pretty much all year.  And they didn’t let me down.  Only two computers had the Cowboys at #3.  The other four had them at #2 as expected.  So what happened?

ESPN decided, in direct contrast to their no-rematch mantra in 2006 when voters fatefully picked Florida over Michigan to face Ohio State, that suddenly the only thing that mattered was “quality of loss.”  What they really decided, of course, was that their enormous TV deal with the SEC could benefit from (and perhaps even be justified by) having two SEC teams face off for the title, even though they had already played in what was at the time billed as the Game of the Century.  That the game will be on their channel is just a coincidence, I’m sure.  The “quality of loss” nonsense is just the easiest way to sell it to the voters and the public.

But is that really all that matters?  If so, then where is the argument for Boise State?  Their only loss was by one point to 10-2 TCU.  Shouldn’t they be ranked ahead of Oklahoma State too?  Stanford’s only loss is to 11-2 Oregon.  Virginia Tech has two losses, but they’re both to 10-3 Clemson.  No one is arguing for these teams, because elevating them does not achieve maximum benefit for ESPN.

How about quality wins?  Alabama beat 3 teams in the final BCS top 25 (#s 6, 22, and 25).  Oklahoma State beat 4 (#s 8, 12, 14, and 24).  If nothing else, that should even out the imbalance of their comparative losses.  Of course, then there’s that whole business of Oklahoma State actually winning their conference.  ESPN will tell you (over and over and over) that Alabama shouldn’t be punished because they play in the same division with the best team in the country.  But Michigan was punished for that in 2006, until we learned that maybe Ohio State wasn’t the best team in the country (at least not that night).  Georgia was punished similarly the following year, before ESPN was knee deep in SEC hoopla, for basically the same thing Alabama is now being rewarded for.

So what’s the answer?  Obviously, shady computers and easily-manipulated polls aren’t working.  A national title game featuring two teams from the same division is a joke, a mockery of the very idea of competition.  At this point, I’ll take ANY advancement of the postseason, even if it’s only a plus-one (which I still don’t think is enough, but at least it would solve this year’s main problem).

Next week, I’ll give you the preliminary concept for a national ranking system that does not have the trappings of the current system.  While there is no way to avoid all forms of bias, the most egregious tampering (coaches/fans having a direct impact on the standing of their team through voting) can be eliminated.  Hopefully, it will work well with all postseason concepts, although I doubt it would be that great for a two-team BCS-style format because that’s completely stupid.

Oh, and why next week?  Because there’s a game this Saturday, and in my system, EVERY game counts.




  1. Great post. Looking forward to your ranking system.

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