Daily Archives: May 19, 2008

A fix for the Coaches’ Poll?

Whatever you do after you read this post, do not ask me in the comments section how I got here. Because I have no clue how I stumbled on this.

That being said, I think I may have figured out a way to reduce significantly the bias/conflict of interest problems that plague the Coaches’ Poll.

To start with, I’m forced to get a little esoteric with you. I’m talking “mechanism design” economics theory here. That’s a theory that tries to bring back certain efficiencies to a market (such as insurance, where people may seek coverage without disclosing risks) where parties don’t have equal levels of knowledge about a matter. How do you find a way to share that information efficiently?

What intrigued me about that linked article was this little tidbit – Mechanism design has also been used to refine voting procedures in NCAA football rankings…” I googled the hell out of that fragment, but couldn’t find anything direct on it. But I did find an interview with Roger Myerson, one of the three economists who won a Nobel Prize for their work in this area, who had this to say about applying the concepts of mechanism design to voting:

… If there are 10 candidates on the ballot running, say, in a Democratic primary, you can vote for several of them, but you can’t give more than one vote to any one of them. And the person who gets the most votes, most approval votes, was approved by the largest majority, gets the bonus of winning the votes of the state.

And with that, the light bulb went off over my head. Instead of letting each coach rank in order the top 25 schools and then add up the ranked totals, why not simply have them each turn in his list of the ten best schools in the country – unranked? The teams would then be ranked in order of those which received the most votes. With 600 some odd votes for teams, you’d still be able to construct a top 25 fairly easily, I would think. (And if not, you could always let the coaches vote on a bigger group, such as a top twelve or fifteen.)

The beauty of this approach is that it minimizes, if not eliminates, the effect of any individual coach’s bias or conflict. Go back and look at Tony Barnhart’s analysis of the final regular season coaches’ poll of 2007. Remember stuff like this?

… Stoops, understandably, had his team ranked No. 1 after beating Missouri twice this season. He had three Big 12 teams in his top four (Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas). He had LSU at No. 6.

… Somebody at Georgia made Wyoming’s Joe Glenn mad at some point. He had Georgia No. 10 on his ballot.

… You got to give the Big Ten coaches credit for one thing. They all stick together. Seven of them vote in the poll and they all had Ohio State No. 1, even Michigan’s Lloyd Carr, who has announced his retirement.

… Hal Mumme of New Mexico State continues to be our resident contrarian in the coaching fraternity. He had undefeated Hawaii No. 1 on his ballot.

With approval voting, none of those individual selections would impact the final poll, because none of the coaches would be able to vote like that.

Also, think about how the psychology of voting changes with this approach. Once a coach knows he can’t game the system with an absurdly high vote for a school (maybe to enhance the chances for a BCS crasher like Hawai’i or to improve a school’s strength of schedule by lifting other schools’ rankings), it forces him to face his vote in a more rational context. In other words, unless enough of his peers agree with his evaluation of a particular school’s merit, his vote won’t have sufficient impact. That should reduce his incentive to rig the voting.

One thing you’d have to be careful about would be to make sure that one conference wasn’t overrepresented in the voting (see Barnhart’s notes about the seven SEC coaches’ voting, and, more particularly, about the seven Big Ten coaches’ voting).

Another benefit from this approach is that I have to believe it’s much easier for a head coach to provide an honest assessment of the ten best teams in the country than to sit down and try to rank the top 25 in order. That should also increase the accuracy of the results in that they’re more likely to come directly from the coaches than from a surrogate.

I’d be interested in anyone’s thoughts on this. Have I missed something obvious?



Filed under College Football

Thanks for the tickets, ASU.

By the way, while I’m patting Mr. Westerdawg on the back this morning, a few  more bouquets should be thrown in his direction and Kanu’s, as it looks like their nefarious plan to put red and black derrieres in the seats at Arizona State is having some impact, according to none other than Dennis Erickson.

3. The Dawgs are buying up ASU season tickets: I talked to Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson the other day. He says his fans are fired up over Georgia’s trip to Tempe on Sept. 20. “Shoot, we like playing teams from the SEC,” said Erickson, who won a pair of national championships at Miami. “I just wish Georgia wasn’t so good.” Erickson told me that a lot of people from Georgia are buying up Arizona State’s season ticket packages, some of which are as cheap as $99. “Something tells me Georgia is going to have a pretty good crowd here,” Erickson said.

Way to go, fellas.

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Filed under Georgia Football, The Blogosphere

Welcome to the party, pal.

Good to see someone else in the Dawgnation jump into the BCS/playoffs hot tub, as Paul Westerdawg adds his thoughts about why a playoff would be bad for college football.

Unlike me, Paul’s primary concern isn’t mission creep, although he certainly acknowledges that it’s a valid reason to be concerned, but rather more of a “the devil’s in the details” one that’s reminiscent of something I posted early on at my blog.

My issue is related to the NCAA’s fundamental inability to develop a system whereby the “Best” eight teams make the playoffs. To architect a playoff system for college football today would require so much compromise, consensus building and caveats to get sign off, avoid Anti-Trust Law Suits from small conferences and to include all the appropriate TV Partners that it would create a dramatically more frustrating system than what we have today.

I don’t argue with what he writes, but I do think that the matters he cites would wind up simply adding more fuel to the expansion fire. I will say that I don’t think you need an eight team playoff to fix the “Auburn 2004” problem of more than two undefeated teams left standing in the top four of the rankings at the end of the regular season; a four team playoff handles that problem just fine.

Paul does a good job of illustrating why devising a limited playoff format to fix the ills of a specific BCS postseason is an almost impossible task. He uses the 2006 season as an example, but 2007 would have been just as hard to address. My worry is that the easiest way to address his problem is to expand the tourney enough to satisfy those left out.

Of course, if you want a playoff, as most of Paul’s commenters do, this really doesn’t matter much. After all, as I’ve said before, for those folks, playoffs will fix anything.


UPDATE: While Paul focuses on the horse trading obstacles to overcome in setting up a playoff format to determine which schools get a shot at the brass ring, here’s a look at a different question:  would the winner of the tournament be any more the “true champion” than the team that wins today’s BCS championship game?


Filed under BCS/Playoffs, The Blogosphere

Steele and the schedule

Phil Steele has posted a fun but essentially meaningless exercise over at his site.  He’s ranked D-1 schools’ 2008 schedules based on their opponents 2007 won-loss records.

Georgia ranks #1 on his list.  The schools Georgia will play in ’08 went 98-57 last season.  Ten had winning records.  No other school in the country matches that.

Of course, that was last year.  It’s probably worth filtering that through Steele’s list of returning starters to begin with.  Here are the numbers on that for Georgia’s ’08 D-1 opponents (kicker means place kicker and/or punter):

  • Central Michigan – 8 offense (w. QB); 8 defense; 1 kicker
  • South Carolina – 5 offense; 10 defense; 2 kickers
  • Arizona State – 7 offense (w. QB); 7 defense; 2 kickers
  • Alabama – 8 offense (w. QB); 8 defense; 2 kickers
  • Tennessee – 8 offense; 7 defense; 2 kickers
  • Vanderbilt – 4 offense (w. QB); 6 defense; 2 kickers
  • LSU – 5 offense; 5 defense; 1 kicker
  • Florida – 7 offense; 8 defense; 1 kicker
  • Kentucky – 4 offense; 8 defense; 2 kickers
  • Auburn – 8 offense; 6 defense; 2 kickers
  • Georgia Tech – 7 offense; 5 defense; 0 kickers

Some of Steele’s numbers are off, as is the case with Georgia Tech, and, of course, just because a starter is returning, doesn’t mean he’ll necessarily hang on to his status.  But it’s worth noting that most of the teams Georgia will face this season bring back at least half of their starting group from ’07.


Filed under Georgia Football, Phil Steele Makes My Eyes Water