Running up the score doesn’t bother me like it does some people, so I just shrugged when I saw that Wisconsin had drilled Indiana 83-20 — including 24 fourth-quarter points. They have scholarships at Indiana, too. The Badgers backups have a right to play all out.
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema denied that he was running up the score to impress poll voters. “There’s not one style point on that board,” he told ESPN.com. Except, you know, for that 74-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter (and yes, it was third-and-6, but come on).
For the sake of this argument, though, let’s accept Bielema’s word. Because he should’ve been trying for style points. The smartest coaching move he could’ve made was purposefully dropping 83 points on Indiana and creating a wow-factor result. Otherwise, the game would’ve been otherwise ignored by national poll voters who may hold the Badgers’ Rose Bowl hopes in their distracted hands.
Hell, Bielema should’ve gone for 100.
One of the many fraudulent excuses trotted out by the BCS is that its sole purpose is to pair No. 1 vs. No. 2 — according to the BCS, of course — in the title game. That isn’t even close to true and is a complete insult to anyone’s intelligence when it gets repeated. The BCS standings will determine the Big Ten’s champion if things hold, and there is a three-way tie for first place among Ohio State , Michigan State and Wisconsin.
None of these teams will play for the BCS title, mind you. None will be ranked No. 1 or No. 2 (unless there is complete anarchy). The BCS has long ago ruled their seasons irrelevant and pointless.
As such, the BCS rankings shouldn’t matter to these teams. They shouldn’t have to care what some retired SID living in Florida who has a Harris Poll vote thinks. Yet they do. They have to.
Wisconsin needs to remain ahead of Ohio State in the BCS standings. Wisconsin defeated Ohio State head-to-head earlier this year but is under siege right now. The Badgers have just two games remaining, at Michigan and home against Northwestern. They should win both and elicit a yawn from voters.
Ohio State, meanwhile, is at Iowa (a possible decent victory) and home against Michigan — and when Ohio State plays Michigan, it’s a national affair of great import because of Woody, Bo and other factors that have nothing to do with the actual 2010 season.
So the smartest move Bielema could make to help his players go to the Rose Bowl was runs up the score on Indiana. How could a poll voter drop a team that just scored 83 points? By scoring the most points in a Big Ten game since 1950, Wisconsin’s victory became newsworthy, earning extra highlight time on ESPN and additional headlines in the newspapers.
Since many poll voters are probably unaware that the bottom half of their top 10 could determine the Big Ten’s Rose Bowl rep, it stands to reason they aren’t focused on where they rank the Badgers and Buckeyes. You need to use any trick possible.
(Michigan State has no chance in a three-way tie because the Spartans lack the brand name that poll voters — many of whom have never seen them actually play — gravitate toward.)
The BCS clearly promotes style points. And it highlights the ridiculousness of its argument that margin of victory should not be included in the system’s computer formulas. The concept that a mathematical formula can be devised to accurately rank 120 teams that play diverse schedules is specious to begin with.
Taking out the second-most important piece of information — the first question asked about a game is who won, and the second: what’s the score? — makes them patently useless. Bill James, of Moneyball fame, calls the BCS computers “nonsense math.” Dr. Hal Stern, of UC-Irvine, says it’s the BCS using the illusion of math as a public relations tool. He was the first — and not the last — quantitative analyst to call for a boycott of the BCS.
Even the BCS’s in-house computer guys admit they can provide “better” formulas. Jeff Sagarin calls the non-margin of victory formula “the politically correct version” of his numbers and suggested to the Associated Press that it’s a way to systematically close out teams from smaller conferences: “They might as well acknowledge before the season starts, ‘Hey, it doesn’t matter if the following teams go undefeated, they’re not going to get in the (championship) game.’ ”
How big a difference would margin of victory provide? Sagarin offers a second set of numbers on his Web site that illustrates it. Auburn goes from No. 1 to No. 9, Boise State from No. 12 to No. 4, Ohio State from No. 18 to No. 6. Stanford is ranked second. Nothing is the same.
Sagarin went to MIT. A half-baked argument on behalf of sportsmanship doesn’t exactly satisfy a professional logician, nor anybody who considers just how flimsy and hypocritical it is. The BCS assumes college coaches, players and fans are idiots and will buy another wrongheaded bill of goods.
Sorry, we aren’t and we don’t.
What everyone understands is that margin of victory is an overriding factor in the way college football is played. The poll voters are acutely aware of it and the coaches have responded as such. Oklahoma ’s Bob Stoops even admitted to giving up against Missouri this season in an effort to keep the margin of loss down.
Whatever Bret Bielema’s intentions were on Saturday matter not to anybody outside of the Wisconsin and Indiana football families. The implications, however, concern all of college football. Because it illustrates one more reason, on top of so many already, that the BCS is rotten to its core.
And if the Badgers do get passed by OSU, the team they trounced, something eminently possible in this backward system, perhaps next time they’ll hang a hundred.