National champion dilemma: settling it on the field vs. getting the best team right

When it comes to a postseason football format, you pays your money and you takes your chance.

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32 responses to “National champion dilemma: settling it on the field vs. getting the best team right

  1. Mike

    B & B Wrote:

    “Fremeau notes that according to the Massey Rating composite, the BCS has consistently crowned the team that the computer consensus has placed as the best team in the country (or at least the team with the best resume, if those two concepts are distinct).”

    The phrase “according to the Massey Rating composite” is one hell of a qualifier. Numerical based ranking system may be preferable to human opinion based ranking systems, but they are still in many ways based upon a set of opinions that some group of people programmed into a ranking system. IOW, someone had to choose the individual metrics that are used in the rankings, and some human or group of humans thought those metrics were the best one to use to determine the best team.

    I think the reason that people tend to prefer playoffs over ranking systems is that the process favors something that is truly American; a meritocracy. Win your next playoff game, EVERY SINGLE TIME and you are the champion, regardless if some set of human pollsters or computers thinks you have the best team.

    To be sure, the above thinking reintroduces the argument about the regular season vs. the playoffs. And that is a good debate to have in any sport. In my mind, in a good playoff format, the regular season gives teams the opportunity to compete in the play-offs. How teams perform in the play-offs can be counter intuitive to how they performed in the regular season, but that does not make the results any less valid.

    • Hackerdog

      It doensn’t make the results OF THE PLAYOFF any less valid. It certainly makes the regular season less valid.

      Just ask Alabama whether that LSU loss matters to them now that they’re playing a rematch for the championship.

  2. James Stephenson

    See I have a problem with this. How on Earth could NE be ranked the best team last year. It is because these damned computers do not account for Defense enough. I have no question that OSU is a good football team, but their Defense is wretched. They would give the ball to LSU, who would run that ball right down their throat. LSU would stonewall em once, they would get 2 scores down and then the Honey Badger would get his. But according to the computers OSU is the number 2 team. Sorry but a team with like 100 ranked Defense is not the number 2 team in the country.

    Likewise, last year NE’s Defense sucked and it sucks this year. In fact, since NE has went wide open O, little D, they have won nothing. Those first SBs were won because of D. Not the O.

    • Football Outsiders has Green Bay behind the Texans and Steelers this week, two defense-heavy teams. You can question the value of computer ratings, but not on the basis that they inherently favor offensive teams.

    • Mark

      You need to check out OSU’s defense when the starters are playing. A lot (but certainly not all) of those scores happened in garbage time.

  3. Human decision making is not rational. You can easily bias a person by giving an expectation before a decision has to be made. We like to go with our “gut” instead of what data tells us. We are Predictably Irrational.

    That is why I prefer computers. You have someone, or a group of people, that have sat down and decided which metrics should go into the algorithm. At least in that case, the computer doesn’t take emotions into the equation. The algorithm is open for improvements and transparent to the public.

    Also, I think the reason I prefer a playoff is that every team can’t play every other team in a season. So then we have to rely on polls done by humans that have their own self-interest that they put before fairness.

    I hope we see the super-conference playoff system some day.

    • Chuck

      See, I think a big flaw in the superconferences is that everybody can’t play everybody. I’m sure there’s another existing thread for this, but in my perfect playoff world:

      1-Only 80 teams in D1; 8 conferences, 10 each
      2-Round robin schedule; everybody plays the other nine; no conference championship games necessary
      3-Conference winners make an 8-team tourney; insert subjectivity here — a committee like the basketball tourney committee seeds the 8 conference winners
      4–Play the tourney, crown a winner.

      I love the NCAA Big Dance, but the dude is spot on in his footnoted criticism.

      • Silver Creek Dawg

        I like it too, but my buddies and I think it should be 4 16 team conferences with 8 team divisions. Play 7 conference games against your division mates and 5 OOC against whoever. Then you have conference championship games and the 4 champs advance to a plus one model.

    • AusDawg85

      Two sides of the same coin…

      “That is why I prefer computers. You have someone, or a group of people, that have sat down and decided which metrics should go into the algorithm.” To me, that’s just getting the bias hard-wired into the system.

      “At least in that case, the computer doesn’t take emotions into the equation.” Sure does inspire them, though!

      “The algorithm is open for improvements and transparent to the public.” In theory, and there has been some tinkering, but the debate about which algorithm’s are correct, weighting, etc. becomes a human issue again, so what got solved?

      A panel of knowledgeable voters, charged with the task and open to peer review not unlike the Mumme poll seems better.

      • UGAfoo

        I guess I like the computers because you take the politics out of it. You say you hard wire bias in the algorithm, but it is much more difficult to do that if it is open to scrutiny.

        Debating and constantly improving an algorithm based on statistical evidence seems much better than a bunch of people that don’t watch all the games giving their biased opinion to rank their team higher.

        • AusDawg85

          Get what you’re saying, but looking at our historical computer rankings, just can’t help but believe there is bias and/or flaws in devising a rating. For example, if I’m interpreting Sagarin’s latest ratings correctly (and maybe I’m not) he shows TAMU ahead of UGA. We’d shoot a pollster for that.

  4. Scorpio Jones, III

    I notice even minds like that of Mark Emmert have begun to realize any playoff in big time college football is not workable with the current scholarship limits…although he does not really understand that’s what he is saying.

    If playoffs are such a fair measure of greatness, picture the Dawgs going into the first round of the playoffs with Brandon Harton (no offense, BH) as their starting tailback in a game that would not be against Kentucky.

    The longer this bs gets argued the more bogus it becomes.

    It appears to me only the oversigners can prosper in a playoff environment.

    Add 20 scholarships and it MIGHT be fair, maybe…but not without the additional bodies…ever.

  5. Macallanlover

    I love the objectivity of computers but have always wondered why, if they filter out all subjectivity, they don’t arrive at the same conclusion. That tells me there is subjectivity when the software is written that impacts the final results. So the old “garbage in-garbage out” applies to a degree. I continue to look at computer polls because only computers can account for the interaction of 120 teams’ schedules upon one another and assign a value. Averaging a few computer results can give you a viewpoint that should be considered but you should always realize there is a bias there too. Asking a machine to account for the emotion and passion of 15,000 young adults playing a game may be more than even computers can handle. Bottomline is we will always argue about who is the best team, that is why we need to give the better teams a chance to prove themselves in a limited playoff. It is as good as we can do, but we continue to fall short of this simple need.

    • Ed

      You’re right, there is subjectivity. To answer your question of why they arrive at different conclusions, specifically it’s because different computer algorithms take different things into account and favor different stats. For instance, Colley doesn’t take games against I-AA teams into account. Here’s a breakdown of each of them (http://tinyurl.com/7yjc6s7).

      I disagree with your bottomline though – if you want to find the “best” team, a playoff won’t get you that because “best” is subjective. Playoffs are objective and frought with just as many pitfalls.

      • Macallanlover

        I am totally in favor with playoffs to settle it on the field about who will be the national champion, but that is different from “the best”. “The best” isn’t guaranteed by the SuperBowl, the World Series, March Madness, or any other playoff, but they are a deserving champion who won it when it mattered.

        You misunderstood, my bottomline was never that a playoff would guarantee you the best, only that we could design a playoff group with the best teams and give them a chance to earn a legit title. Anyone can argue about the injuriy. bad call, etc., that kept them from being the best. Art least with 8 teams representing all significant groups, the best team has a chance to prove themselves.

  6. Always Someone Else's Fault

    This, from the end of Micahel’s post at B/B:

    “The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is just a complete abomination to me. If you need additional evidence that the Big Dance has killed college basketball, look at Saturday’s sports coverage. Were you aware that North Carolina and Kentucky played? Two top five teams, loaded with NBA prospects wearing the jerseys of the two winningest programs in college basketball history, played a one-point game that was decided in the final seconds and the game was a total afterthought on the day of the college football conference championship games. That’s what happens when a sport becomes a four-month lead-in for a three-week tournament.”

    Anyone remember who played in the first round of the NFL play-offs last year? Second round? I don’t – I didn’t watch.

    Who was the best team in CBB last year post to post? It wasn’t UConn.

    Alabama’s probably overrated, but not nearly as much as “playoffs.”

  7. Eric

    The ESPN comment section was litered with comments calling Fremeau an idiot for supporting the BCS in anyway and that a playoff is the only way to settle it. No one, literally no one, understood what the article was really about and realized that it actually made a good point.

    I told myself to stay away from those message boards (which never works), but the boards prove how stupid the casual sports fan is. If the general consenous disagrees with the process, the process is probably is better than what they want. If we create a playoff system, it will eventually get watered down just like every other sport. The best solution might be to create 8 team playoffs with 8 super-conferences, but eventually casual sports fan will bitch and for money reasons it would expand to 16 teams and 32 teams, etc.

  8. Mark

    The pros have way too many teams in the playoffs to make the regular season mean much. Once a team has secured their spot, they rest their starters. Imagine UGA resting the starters against Tech!!!!

    Still, I don’t buy the article. There’s no way to know the BCS got the top team right. If it doesn’t get the #2 team right, then there’s no real way to know if the #1 team would have lost to the #2 team (see Auburn).

    College football would be better off with a plus 1 model or a 6 team playoff. I think 8 is too many but would be OK too. Any more than that, and the regular season takes a hit. I would even be OK with a system that was flexible from year to year.

    Still, if it means bracket creep, then let’s keep what we have. I would rather have the BCS than go to a 16 team playoff. The top 6 is plenty.

    One thing a playoff solves… how can you know that Bama is better than OSU? It’s much harder to know without a playoff of some kind.

  9. Irwin R. Fletcher

    Let’s skewer a couple of the points first…

    1) Measuring the ‘best’ based upon the 16 game season statistics ignores the performance in the playoffs. For Green Bay, you have 4 additional games that could be used to measure the ‘best’ team that Football Outsiders don’t include. I imagine if you include the 4 wins over 4 really good teams in the sample size, the Packers would be the ‘best.’
    2)NCAA basketball hasn’t been killed by the Tourney…it’s actually been kept on life support because of the Tourney. What’s killed NCAA hoops is players leaving before their Jr and Sr. season.

    Anyway, it all comes down to what your definition of ‘best’ is. Is is the ‘best’ team over the course of the regular season? Is it the ‘best’ team over the course of the playoffs? Is it the winning team of a match up of the two teams we think are the ‘best’? Is it the ‘best’ team when healthy? Is it team with the most depth able to win even with an injury?

    Frankly, I don’t care who is the ‘best’ because we will never be able to agree on it. Even the stats lie. Should we put the Chargers in the playoffs because they are ‘better’ than the teams with better records? Of course not.

    Why? Because wins and losses are objective results.

    That’s why playoffs are the gold standard of declaring a champion for pretty much every sport. Using whatever criteria you need, you set “rules” to determine who makes the playoffs based upon actual performance (scary concept, I know) that results in a pretty good (not perfect) but pretty good representation of who the best are from that season or meet or whatever….it gives us the best teams or the best runners or the best ping pong players or the best swimmers or the best baseketball teams (Milwaukee Beers!)…anyway, you get them together and you let them settle it on the field or track or in the pool…

    I know this is a foreign concept, but it really isn’t rocket science. Those that don’t want a playoff think they are smarter than everyone else and have a better way of determining the champion or who the best team is…I don’t trust them or myself to determine that, I’d rather just go old school and determine a champion by a system of objective rules and measures.

    • Mark

      Very few people care about the NCAA basketball regular season. Make a football playoff too big and the regular season becomes less valuable. You want UGA to rest their starters against Tech after getting into a playoff like they do in the NFL? Get a 16 team playoff and watch it happen.

      • adam

        The vast majority of the college football postseason is irrelevant.

        Once the regular season is over, people stop watching. Of course, they still watch some BCS bowls, the bowls involving their teams, and the MNC game. But most people don’t care about the majority of bowls and don’t watch.

        I also think think that one thing that kills the college basketball regular season is the number of games and the length of the season. It’s like pro baseball. Do the playoffs make the regular season irrelevant? Or does the 162 game season take care of that?

        College football teams play 12 games in the regular season. That is, by far, the shortest season in a major sport. If you add in the post season for every sport, college football still had the shortest. The NFL is the only thing close and it is nearly twice as long for the SB champs.

        All of the sports lose that “every game matters” concept because they play so many games. Not just because of a the tourney.

      • Irwin R. Fletcher

        The argument that the ‘big’ tourney kills the regular season in basketball is just silly. It’s all about sample size, quality matchups, etc.

        In a college basketball season, you have ~32 regular season and conf tourney games. Each one 1/30th of the season.

        Now, I know this is complicated, but….in college football, you have 12 regular season games. Each one is 1/12th.

        Now look at your pie…each of those slices of football games is worth almost 3 slices of basketball games. It’s really just 2nd grade math that explains the ‘importance’ of the regular season in college football.

        Other example, in hoops, you can play most teams in your conference twice (instead of once), you play more ‘cupcakes’ (think about those pie slices…instead of 2 slices against Coastal Carolina and New Mexico State, you have 6 or more slices against Wofford, S. Dakota State, Bowling Green, etc. Again, 2nd grade math…not some sort of ‘devaluing’ by the postseason.

        As far as your argument about ‘resting your starters’…well, I think 2011 is a pretty good example of why that fear is completely unfounded. UGA had a playoff game the next week and didn’t rest their starters. I’m not sure any program did. I can see guys getting less carries, etc. but there just isn’t as much fear in the college game of losing players when you have a 100 man roster compared to a 53.

        But the easier counter and the slam dunk on your ‘it’s going to devalue the Tech game’ argument is…if there were an ‘at large’ component to the playoff, the Tech game would still matter. In fact, it would matter MORE than it did this year.

        Ruh roh…did someone just turn the ‘playoffs kill the regular season’ argument on its head?

        • The argument that the ‘big’ tourney kills the regular season in basketball is just silly. It’s all about sample size, quality matchups, etc.

          In a college basketball season, you have ~32 regular season and conf tourney games. Each one 1/30th of the season.

          Now, I know this is complicated, but….in college football, you have 12 regular season games. Each one is 1/12th.

          Now look at your pie…each of those slices of football games is worth almost 3 slices of basketball games. It’s really just 2nd grade math that explains the ‘importance’ of the regular season in college football.

          Nice try. The problem is, you’re equating the importance of a single game in a season with the season as a whole. They’re not the same thing.

          But the easier counter and the slam dunk on your ‘it’s going to devalue the Tech game’ argument is…if there were an ‘at large’ component to the playoff, the Tech game would still matter. In fact, it would matter MORE than it did this year.

          Ruh roh…did someone just turn the ‘playoffs kill the regular season’ argument on its head?

          Actually, you just made the point that an expanded postseason diminishes the impact of the regular season. In your scenario, the Tech game matters more because of the tournament. Make the tournament big enough and all the game will matter for is seeding. Now that’s exciting!

          • Irwin R. Fletcher

            “Nice try. The problem is, you’re equating the importance of a single game in a season with the season as a whole. They’re not the same thing.”

            So what you’re saying is that the whole isn’t made up of it’s parts? That’s nonsensical. A game significance to the entire season is relative to how many games are in that season. Pretty simple. That doesn’t change based upon the postseason format.

            For example, in D3 where there are playoffs, each week is still very significant and keeps a high level of interest. (relatively) Why? Because there are only 10 regular season games and you can’t make the playoffs if you either (a) don’t win your conference or (b) lose more than a couple games.

            “Actually, you just made the point that an expanded postseason diminishes the impact of the regular season. In your scenario, the Tech game matters more because of the tournament. Make the tournament big enough and all the game will matter for is seeding. Now that’s exciting.”

            Wait a second here…what you just described is the BCS!!!! You presuppose that only an ‘enlarged’ postseason reduces the games down to ‘seeding’ when what we have seen is that even in a system that takes only the 1 and 2 seed, playing for ‘seeding’ is entirely possible and even probable. The exact scenario for the SEC championship game…LSU was just playing for seeding.

            So, I stick by my original point. A playoff format doesn’t delude the regular season and doesn’t create incentive for teams to rest players to save up for the playoffs.

    • Tom

      Okay, so if we’re being uber-objective, then the title game doesn’t matter – Even if Alabama wins, they’re still 12-1 while LSU is 13-1, so the Tigers are champions because they have the better record. And that Auburn and TCU were co-champions last season since they were both undefeated, Utah was the national champion in 2008, and Kansas & Hawaii split the 2007 national championship.

      If you’re setting up a playoff on “actual performance”, then it’s quite possible that the teams in the non-BCS conferences will get more teams in than BCS conferences because it’s easier to go undefeated or have better records in those conferences. If we’re going with conf champs this season you’re playoff is gonna consist of LSU, Oklahoma State, Wisconsin, Oregon, Clemson, TCU, Southern Miss, and let’s say Louisiana Tech, leaving out Alabama, Stanford, Arkansas, Boise State…

    • Hackerdog

      “Frankly, I don’t care who is the ‘best’ …”

      I shortened your argument for clarity. I’ll simply say that I disagree.

  10. G Marmalard

    Why does bama get to be no 1 if they beat lsu 1 out of 2 tries?

    • Playoff Supporter

      Because they will have beaten them when it counted.

      But that doesn’t mean the the regular season game didn’t count.

      If anything, it counted more.

      Wait, what was the question?

  11. Mayor of Dawgtown

    Why did Florida get to be no. 1 when they beat FSU 1 out of 2 tries in 1996?

  12. Always Someone Else's Fault

    Who doesn’t every team that beats the NCAA basketball tournament winner during the regular season get a co-champion button?

    An 8 team tourny in CFB with the BCS standings would include 3 SEC, 2 B12, 2 P-12, and 1 at large. Good-bye ACC, B1G, and Big East. Oregon-Stanford: Rematch. Oregon-LSU: rematch. Alabama-Arkansas: rematch. LSU-Alabama: rematch. I am not saying the last 3 match-ups would be a foregone conclusion, simply noting the likelihood of repeat games.

    And then you have arguments like ML, which prioritize geographic diversity over other metrics in the name of fairness and potential blind spots in the metrics. The ACC was awful this year. The Big East was worse. The B1G would be throwing a super-hissy fit over the expulsion of Wisconsin. That’s a lot of pressure to expand the field or rig the criteria to make sure everyone gets a piece of the pie – which immediately invalidates the notion that this is somehow an attempt to find the most meritorious team.

    And on it goes.

    Playoff proponents have no more prevalent argument than “well, it’s the way everyone else does it.” Fine. Go watch those sports, if you find their end-season spectacles that much more compelling. Vote with your eyeballs. But imposing their structure on CFB because it “must be better” rushes into things without much appreciation for the long-term consequences, IMO.

    I used to watch CBB a lot. I don’t watch much anymore, and it’s not because I find the talent levels in the NBA more interesting – I don’t watch NBA at all. The games are the same thing night after night — which team has the hot hand from three, etc. The semis and finals of the conference tournaments are interesting. The sweet sixteen on down is interesting. Everything else simply has no point, for 2 reasons:

    1) There’s nothing much at stake.
    2) 200 CBB programs make it impossible to follow the ups and downs of the sport outside the powerhouse programs.

    As a result, CBB now is Duke, NC, Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio State, and 195 teams only bettors could love. Yeah. And that’s exactly where CFB is going to end up unless they follow a different path.

  13. Rebar

    I love college football, particularly the SEC. I don’t really watch the pro game anymore unless there is a former Dawg playing. But the reason I love college football, and not many other sports, is because there is no playoffs. Every game means something! I don’t want to see a wild card team advance because they got hot at the end of the season. You are rewarded with that scenario by being ranked 2nd at the end of the season after making poi jelly out of Hawaii. I love college football because your body of work does not allow you to overlook anyone, and every game counts. I think a playoff scenario of any kind ruins the regular season. GO DAWGS, BEAT MICHIGAN STATE!