The human element and gaming the system

Something the MAC commissioner said in the Heather Dinich piece I linked to yesterday…

“In the case of the BCS, they started it from scratch, so they were building metrics as they went. To think that there wouldn’t be a time period of calibration, that’s just logical to think that’s going to occur. One of the big complaints about the BCS was the lack of the human element. Now we have a big dose of the human element. Some people like it, some people don’t. You don’t overreact. You let it play out a little bit to really get a sense of it.”

… is kind of amusing in light of last year’s big struggle over what to do with the Big 12’s two best teams.

If a team from the Big Ten, SEC, ACC, Pac-12, Big 12 — or Notre Dame — finishes the regular season undefeated and wins its conference championship, it’s a lock for one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff, right?

“I don’t think it’s automatic or should be automatic,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said, “but I think it would take some unusual circumstances for an undefeated Power 5 team not to be one of the top four.”

Makes sense.

But then why schedule aggressively? Why put an Oklahoma or a Clemson on the nonconference schedule if the only goal is to win every game? Because winning isn’t enough in the sport’s new postseason.

Teams must now answer the question, “But who did they beat?”

Well, that’s the story this week, anyway.  The problem with the human element is that it isn’t necessarily consistent.  Nor is it necessarily transparent, Jeff Long’s insistence to the contrary notwithstanding.

There are 12 people tasked with comparing teams with similar résumés, and one of the criteria that “must be considered” is strength of schedule. There’s no doubt the selection committee honored that mandate in its inaugural season. It’s the reason Marshall was locked out of the committee’s poll for weeks. It was a factor in all seven of the weekly rankings, as committee chairman Jeff Long consistently noted wins over the committee’s top 25 teams as justification for where teams were slotted. It was one big reason TCU was ranked ahead of Baylor all season. TCU had a win over Minnesota. Baylor had a win over Buffalo.

Bill Hancock explains.

“Clearly, teams that have faced tougher opposition are generally going to come out ahead,” said Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoff. “There’s just no question that the committee compares those nonconference schedules. I know that the playoff will usher in a whole new era of scheduling and that teams who want to be in this playoff are going to have to prove themselves with their schedules.”

That’s exactly what Ohio State did.

Well, that was certainly convenient for the Big Ten.  But what happens to Ohio State when it’s in the mix next time and doesn’t have an advantage in strength of schedule?  If there’s one thing Urban Meyer has demonstrated in winning three national titles, he knows how to work the selection system to his advantage.  I’ll believe Hancock when his argument is used to keep a Ohio State or Alabama out of the semifinals.

Which is not to say that Baylor, between its insistence on playing a weak ass nonconference schedule and not getting a conference championship game bounce going into selection time – and don’t think Ohio State’s crushing of Wisconsin wasn’t a big, big factor there at the end – doesn’t face an uphill struggle.  But let’s not kid ourselves about how the human element can be influenced at a timely point.  Computers may have their flaws, but at least you know they’re using the same criteria at the end they were using at the start.

15 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs

15 responses to “The human element and gaming the system

  1. I think the SEC coaches know exactly how much the committee will take strength of schedule into account. That’s why we still have an 8-game schedule when a 9-game would solve much of the rivalry vs. cross-divisional game bickering.

    Ohio State’s schedule wasn’t all that tough. They lost to a bad Virginia Tech team at home by two touchdowns. They still got in the playoff. They would have been the #1 seed had they played Akron instead.

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    • This.

      I realize it’s fun to discuss all the different rules and impressions, and wishful thinking to pretend this means we’re going to have better football games, but I fail to see how “win all of your games” is the only metric ADs are incentivized to achieve. If they’re doing otherwise, it’s almost certainly economic.

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  2. Faulkner

    Of the three (TCU, Baylor & OSU), OSU had the worse loss. Not to mention their annual schedule filled with state of Ohio cupcakes. I’m willing to let it play out to see if they get things right, but in my opinion they didn’t last year. Yes, OSU won last year, but they shouldn’t have been given a shot in the first place.

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    • reipar

      It is not about the worst loss. It is about the best body of work. tOSU played a tougher schedule and got the conference championship game bounce when they destroyed Wisconsin behind their third string QB.

      If you do not like that a team you feel should have never been in the play offs won it all you are really going to hate when this moves to 8 teams.

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    • watcher16

      I’ve never believed this argument. A team at the beginning of the year is not the same as at the end of the year. I’m more in the camp of who is playing the best right now, while also considering the road to get there.

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      • reipar

        So I assume you definitely felt like tOSU deserved to be in the playoff?

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        • watcher16

          Yes: And their national title proved it as well. They were playing the best at the end of the year and had a solid body of work throughout and got better as the season progressed

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          • reipar

            You on the other hand are going to love the 8 game playoff. See there is something for everybody.

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            • watcher16

              I’m actually neutral on the issue as I believe there are pros and cons to both. But I fail to see how my stance on body of work combined with current playing aptitude would you lead you to think I’d love to see more teams in?

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              • The more teams in a playoff the more likely you are to capture a team that gets hot at the right time of year and wins it all. For examples look to the NY giants two recent Super Bowls.

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  3. Just Chuck (The Other One)

    Here’s a test: When you play the game, you know what the rules are before you step on the field. When you use computer rankings, you know what the rules are before you play the season. When you have humans making the selection the rules may change during the season. Which do you prefer? And Why? Discuss. (25 points)

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    • Cojones

      For 15 points, I’ll take the former Ark AD measuring the opponent’s schedule one step deeper by getting the PC to consider the strength of the opponent’s opponent’s schedule.

      Just credit those points to Skeptic’s account so that he can pay his betting losses when we beat FU. Bobo is still waiting for his $10.

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  4. Mayor

    Get rid of one of the Power 5 conferences, split those teams up and add them to the other big conferences to make 4 “super conferences” each with 2 divisions. The division winners all play in conference championship games. The conference champions play each other, seeded by how highly rated the teams are (#1 plays #4; #2 plays #3). The winners play for the national title. Simple. Needs no expansion either because the 8 best teams by definition (winners of their divisions) start the playoff with the conference championship games. Will some team complain about being left out? Yes. But the answer to that is: Win your division.

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    • Cojones

      Maybe, but the top 8 teams playing for it all enhances the Dawgs’ chances since we usually finish near the cusp. All I want is the Dawgs to be in it. They can take it from there.

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