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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/4285/the-bowl-championship-series-a-case-against-subjectively-aggregated-statistics/

The Bowl Championship Series: A Case Against Subjectively Aggregated Statistics

November 2, 2005 by

System has fallen and it can’t get up:

The BCS means well. All it really wants to do is arrange a No. 1 vs. No. 2 national championship game. But how can you trust a “system” that does more makeovers than the Queer Eye guys? Hardly a year goes by that the BCS doesn’t go under the knife for a nip and tuck.

This season, it was the introduction of the 114-member Harris Interactive College Football Poll and the departure of the Associated Press poll. Before that, the lineup of computer rankings was reduced. Before that, the number of components used in the overall rankings system was trimmed. Before that, formulas were adjusted.

It’s always something. Strength of schedule is in. Strength of schedule is out. Quality wins are in. Quality wins are out. Congress barks about antitrust legislation. The BCS magically creates new opportunities for lesser conferences.

I’d rather clean Bevo’s stall after the big lug scarfs a 10-pack of White Castle Slyders than endure another annual controversy, another cluster of inevitable BCS fixes. The BCS doesn’t set the postseason agenda, it reacts to it. Every season a flaw is exposed, followed months later by another bandage applied by the BCS administrators.

A quick note: out of nearly 80 other collegiate sporting varsity championships, Division IA football is the only one in which a winner is not determined through some kind of playoff-bracket system. Instead, heterogeneous teams and conferences of wildly disparate resources and qualities (e.g. Army versus USC, Conference USA versus SEC) are ranked according to a triumvirate of aggregated statistics.

Additionally, instead of utilizing a Sweet 16 or Elite 8 bracket tournament, the BCS uses conference champs plus two-at-large wild cards. There are six conferences which are considered the big kids on the block: Pac 10, SEC, Big 10, Big 12, ACC and Big East. Whoever ends up number one in each of those is given an automatic bid to one of the four BCS bowl games (Sugar, Rose, Orange, Fiesta). So regardless as to how good a team is in relation to the rest of those in Division I-A (as ranked by the Harris Poll or USA Today), as long as they win that conference championship they get a bling bling filled bowl trip (each team that goes to a BCS bowl receives $11-14 million).

[Note: in terms of relative credibility and openness of either the Harris Poll or USA Today poll, both arguably pail in comparison to the new Master Coaches Survey].

Polls Schmolls

This still misses the heart of the problem: that for the same reasons that the US News & World Reports rankings of college academic programs is flawed, so to is the BCS. The scale methodology is flawed if nothing else for the fact that you cannot use a subjectively assessed interval aggregation system to compile a nice round number (see also: The Flaw of Averages).

For instance, the typical Likert-scale uses a 1-5 rating system (1 for worst, 5 for best). Each pollster has their own attitudinal preferences which are subjective and relative to their own internal ranking system. It is foolhardy and misleading to attempt to aggregate all the pollsters subjective views on what flavor of ice cream is the best flavor. Is Crimson Tide Cookies ‘n Cream? What about Hokie Orange Sherbert? Can one forget Knute Rockne Fudge Delight?

Similarly for the BCS, the method behind its obfuscated madness is strewn with vain attempts of using a statistical approach to an otherwise scientifically agnostic sport.

Methodology aside, the practicality of implementing a structured playoff system would be both expensive and lengthy — not to mention making the bowl games less meaningful. Besides, it’s not like the BCS is pitting Toledo and Wyoming in the national title game on a regular basis…

No offense to alums of Toledo and Wyoming.

You may also enjoy reading: Notre Dame Football Announces Improvements To Its Storied History


Aaron Singleton November 3, 2005 at 11:31 am

It’s hard to think of anything that makes me angrier than the BCS. The fact that division IA college football doesn’t have a playoff when every other division of every other sport on the planet does, is ludicrious. The BCS fiasco is very reminiscent of government, always messing things up, always a step behind, always acting after the fact to try and cover up past mistakes but never anticipating future ones. The sports media is just as culpable. Everyone knows a playoff is the only thing that makes any sense, but the media, rather than spearheading the effort to exert pressure in favor of one, instead plays the apologist for the system and acts like a playoff is out of the question. It’s time to quit all the politics and give the people what they want.

anarkhos November 6, 2005 at 5:53 pm

It won’t change until revenue drops.


scott sasser November 16, 2005 at 9:56 pm

I hope that either this year or next year, 4 teams, one from the PAC 10, one from the Big 12, one from the SEC, and one from the ACC or the Big-10 all go unbeaten, but until that happens, the system will be “flawless”. I know it sucks and i want a playoff but it’s almost a usless topic to argue anymore unless some big shot listens to what the people want.

Tom December 7, 2005 at 8:36 pm

After the Auburn incident last year, I think everyone officially realized how sucky the BCS is. And now everyone says that it got it right this year. Well no duh, its so obvious whos 1 and 2. But the BCS really screws up all the rest. Assuming that they keep the same stupid system, I think (along with a lot of other people) that their should be a 16 games playoff or something. So that even if the BCS screws up again, the winner will be determined the right way. A computer and a whole bunch of people cant decide who will play for the champion.

Steve June 16, 2006 at 11:22 am

The BCS is a playoff. Two teams get in. And I think the way they pick the teams is superior to the NCAA basketball tournament selection process. Maybe more teams should get in, but I think more than 6-8 would be a mistake.

Jasen December 3, 2007 at 6:20 pm

Let me start by saying I am not a Hawaii fan (Go Irish).With that said let me say what a system the BCS is. What other ranking system puts an undefeated as a #10. I know I know Hawaii isn’t in a major conference. I know their schedule is filled with a bunch of unranked opponents, but statistically speaking aren’t the unranked opponents giving the #1 and #2 teams the most problems? Still they are one of the only teams to be undefeated. I say they should be given a chance at the title game, what else could happen? Oh that’s right they might actually win and show that you don’t have to be a major college to be competitive. Hawaii is only #3 in total yds, #2 in passing yds and only #1 in points scored. Too bad they aren’t able to bring in more money, because as it looks that is the only way you are going to go to the championship game.

darjen December 3, 2007 at 9:03 pm

As much as I hate it as a college football fan – from a libertarian/ancap perspective, I’m not so sure there’s anything morally wrong with the BCS… unless you consider that any school whose football program isn’t profitable uses tax money to pay the coaches.

Having said that – go Buckeyes!

website June 21, 2010 at 3:37 am

Your reply is refreshing (and illuminating–no doubt it will help starkly differentiate us here–for the lurkers, they’ll see I’m essentially right that there is always a resort to statism in the types of qualifications you are trying to set forth here–nothing’s for free).

talkpc June 21, 2010 at 3:38 am

Two teams get in. And I think the way they pick the teams is superior to the NCAA basketball tournament selection process. Maybe more teams should get in, but I think more than 6-8 would be a mistake.

Walker Hayes November 8, 2010 at 6:56 pm

They should call the computer rankings and polls checks and balances. Playoffs don’t give you the best team, but the teams that get hot at the so-called right time. Non-playoff set-ups rightly reward the team that did well over the long haul. There should be at least one such non-playoff choice in sports. Pro-playoff has become thoughtlessly anti-different.

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