The BCS is why Wisconsin should’ve tried to score 100

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.

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61 Responses to The BCS is why Wisconsin should’ve tried to score 100

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention The BCS is why Wisconsin should’ve tried to score 100 | Death To the BCS -- Topsy.com

  2. IB says:

    When you just wrote a book about hammers, every problem is a nail, it seems. I have an inkling that if we switched over to computer rankings that took margin of victory into account, you wouldn’t be particularly enamored with that, either (I can only imagine the diatribes about “Auburn is only #9 these stupid computers down with the BCS.”

    Also, I have a feeling teams will try to run up the score when they are competing for at-large playoff spots too. In fact, the BCS rankings moved Wisconsin not a whit. Would the effect of 83 points on your playoff selection process be less than zero?

    • DanWetzel says:

      We suggest a selection committee that is informed, would decipher margin of victory properly and rely on agreed upon criteria for choosing and seeding the field. Using poll voters who don’t watch games and mathematically unsound computer formulas is ridiculous.

      If you’re going to use mathematical formulas, shouldn’t they be based on, you know, math?

      The current system is about PR and spreading the blame. No one is willing to man-up and admit they run this system and stand by the results.

      • Mike Nemeth says:

        When I hear a man lobby for margin of victory I hear a starving man begging for bread crumbs. Margin of victory is an inaccurate measure of what we’re really looking for – a measure of playing performance. We want to know not just whether a team won, but how good was the opponent and how well did the two teams play. Only then can we compare diverse performances and records and choose the 2, 4, 6, or 8 best teams to compete for the title. We can measure playing performance if we use the correct metrics and then we can computerize the formula just to make it practical to rank 120 teams. I’ve done it and I’ve written a book about it but I won’t flog the book in your space without permission. Mike Nemeth

  3. Pingback: Exactly. « University and State

  4. SteveS says:

    If Wisconsin and Ohio State both win out and have an equal margin of victory over the remaining 2 games, is it safe to assume that Ohio State will leapfrog Wisconsin in the BCS standings and go to the Rose Bowl? As an avid Badger fan, I don’t want this to happen, but basically, what should Wisconsin fans root for when it comes down to it?

  5. Eric says:

    The BCS didn’t ask the Big Ten to use their standings as a tie-breaker for the league title. The only solution to the problem you site is that the BCS should make a rule that doesn’t allow for leagues to use their standings in any fashion. Why should the BCS care about that?

    Also, if you prefer a selection committee for selecting teams target your venom properly. Your problem is then with the BCS standings and not the BCS as a whole.

  6. Jon says:

    I find this line interesting “(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.)” because they abused Wisconsin at their own game. MSU controlled the lines, ran the ball down Wisconsin’s throat and limited Wisconsin’s running game. They did have a bad loss to Iowa, but they dominated Wisconsin and unfortunately don’t get a shot at OSU.

    • Peter says:

      He’s not denying that the Spartans are deserving of a BCS bid. Instead, he’s pointing out that because the Big 10 uses BCS standings as a tiebreaker, and because the BCS standings are (to some extent) a beauty pageant, MSU has little chance of winning despite having proven themselves on the field.

    • Thomas says:

      Did you read the whole article, or stopped after reading that line?
      MSU who beat Wisconsin who beat OSU yet OSU goes to the Rose Bowl.

  7. DanWetzel says:

    One thing I failed to mention in the blog:

    Wisconsin (No. 5) gained 39 points in the Harris Poll and extended its lead over Ohio State (No. 7) by 42 points (from 84 to 126). This in a week when no team in the top 11 lost, so voters reshuffled based on quality of victories. In this case, Wisconsin beating the Big Ten’s last placed team in Madison.

    I think it’s reasonable to assume that scoring 83 helped Wisconsin, even if that wasn’t the intention.

  8. UW-Nick says:

    Jesus Christ you may be the 100000000th person who has blogged about the indignity of that 74-yd pass play in the 4th qtr. Did you watch the fricken game! The play was busted and the pass was a wobbly duck that should’ve been picked off and run the other way for a touchdown. Instead Indiana’s DB botched the coverage horribly and the UW wideout had a clear path to the endzone. What, is he supposed to kneel it at the one then?

  9. Jeff Dunn says:

    Great website, Dan, great blog.

    Here’s my solution – :) – get a Republican Congressman from Texas or Alabama or somewhere to introduce legislation to ban all federal research and grant funding of any kind to every public university in America until the NCAA institutes a Div. IA championship playoff as it does in every other sport. Then we get about 15 co-sponsors of the bill from football rich states, and you guys write like hell about the bill – you and every BCS hating journalist you know.

    We have a new Congress. The R’s are in charge. It’s a new day. People are pissed off and what better group to take it out on than the backroom fatcats of the BCS.

    It doesn’t matter whether it has a chance in hell of passing. It doesn’t matter whether or not it is good public policy. What is important is that it is outrageous, and it is bold, and it is controversial. And it is exactly what is needed to topple the B(C)S. Further, I *guarantee* you there is a Congressmember or 10 who will actually do it. Just the introduction of a bill like this will get scare the bejesus out of every University President and Board of Regents in the country; and the slightest hint of momentum and the big 6 will fold like the Taliban.

    Introduction, co-sponsorship, subcommittee hearing, committee markup, we’ll have a playoff before the bill is ever brought to the floor of House in the 112th Congress (i.e., less than 2 years)…..

    Regards,
    Jeff Dunn
    Santa Monica, Calif.

  10. Prezbucky says:

    Regarding Michigan state, we wish we (UW) could play them again.

    As for the points — a few things:

    1) Wisconsin’s offense is pretty tough to stop at the moment
    2) IU, Mich and NW do not sport great defenses. That said, they have each put forth respectable defensive performances this year…
    3) The back-ups do need practice running the offense in live game conditions — this is how teams build depth. You wouldn’t run the ball on 3rd and 6 normally; why should the scrubs be expected to do so?

    I don’t know your playoff proposal, but here’s mine:
    11 conf champs plus 5 at-large teams. The at-large teams are selected by a (NCAA BB Tourneyesque) selection committee, and all 16 are seeded by that committee. First-round games are played at the higher seed, so northern teams might get to play close to home for once, and after that the games are played at traditional
    bowl sites… with the NC game always being at the Rose Bowl. Other D1 bowls could still be played… a playoff would not be a death knell for the bowls. A playoff would mean more games than the BCS and that means more money. And with a playoff, major CFB would finally crown its champ in the universally accepted manner.

  11. Jim Kyle says:

    The Big East has now co-opted another school that might have aided the fight for Death to the BCS by taking in TCU, a move that makes absolutely no sense for either the school or the conference except in the context of the damned BCS. Everyone stands around while this unbelievably flawed institution destroys the traditions and rivalries of college football while providing nothing positive to the game. Meanwhile, money is left on the table on one hand, and wasted on unnecessary travel on the other, all for the sake of getting a seat at the table and preserving an inequitable and likely illegal system. Meanwhile, legitimate programs like BYU, Boise, Nevada, UCF and East Carolina fall hopelessly further behind with little hope of catching up unless they can somehow find a way to bring this travesty to an end.

  12. Dr Opsimath says:

    Here’s what I like about the whole Death the the BCS discussion: even though it’s an emotional issue, with passionate people on both sides, you guys stay focused on measurables, on data, and on logical, rational cause-and-effect and if-this, then-that arguments.

    Seems like everything these days has to be polarized, and that both sides only want to see the data that supports their side of the argument.

    I heard Hancock on some interview, and he reminded me of a Boondocks cartoon. Riley asked his granddad for something silly, and granddad said, “It doesn’t both me that you’re stupid. What bothers me is that you think I’m stupid, too.” That’s what I wanted to say to the chucklehead as he kept spouting one inane argument after another.

    I can’t remember … is this point in your book? Pick any team sport out there, and look at the ratio of the number of teams to the number of games played. Just to keep it apples and apples, look at pro football. Thirty-two teams and sixteen games, for a ratio of 2:1. (Most sports play more games than they have teams, but football is special.) Now look at college football: 120 teams, and a 10-12 game season, for a ratio of at least 10:1. Given that there are so many more teams than games to be played, you just cannot rank them, by vote or by computer, with any mathematical meaning to it. Basically, we have no idea who the best team ever was, going back 110 years. It’s been a SWAG each and every year. A playoff is the only way to give any credibility to this system. The only way.

    Cheers and best to you this new year.

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