Monday, November 22, 2010

BCS Week- Philosophy

College football has always occupied an odd spot in the sporting landscape. Unlike pro football, players can't commit all their time to football (some do actually go to school), and unlike college basketball players can't play 40 times a season, or multiple times a week. Because of a limited schedule, it's traditionally been impossible to have a true champion. High school sports deal with this by having state champions, but as a nationwide sport college football had to settle on the "mythical national championship" selected by polls. Sometimes the MNC worked well, but occasionally it would result in multiple champions from various different polls. The BCS was established to help solve that problem, but who's satisfied with a 2 team playoff? Aren't there other qualified teams? How can a team win every single game they play, but still not win a championship? How to pick a championship team is a difficult task, but that's what I'm going to look at over the next week starting here.

What Do Championships Reward?
Many people would say that the best team in a league wins the championship. I would contend though that this isn't true. They actually reward the most successful team, and they should. A team that beats Washington by 30 points is probably better than a team that beats them by 5. Even when one team loses to another, they can often actually be better. 9-2 Virgina Tech lost to 6-5 James Madison, from the FCS. The Hokies are absolutely better, but they had an off day and an unlucky game. How much of a role does luck play? Here's a look at how often the better team wins in the 6 best conferences in football over the last couple years, using this method.
2008 2009
ACC 0.76 0.5
Big 12 0.86 0.93
Big Ten 0.82 0.84
MWC 0.98 1
Pac-10 0.83 0.91
SEC 0.87 0.84
Average 0.85 0.84
So while luck plays a smaller role in college football than other sports, it still changes the result in 15% of top level games. That's where the difference between the best teams and the most successful teams enters. You can't reward Virginia Tech for being the best team, you have reward James Madison for winning.

What Ranking System To Use
The goal of playing a game though is just to win, not to win by any given amount. Take the example from earlier, where Team A beats Washington by 30, and Team B beats them by only 5. If you are predicting who wins games, you should pick Team A, but if you want to reward a champion you should rate both teams equally. Because of this, I think the BCS is right not to include margin of victory, and when selecting a champion I'll use my No MoV rankings. I'm going to criticize the BCS plenty this week but I'll credit them here, they do a pretty good job of focusing on the goal: winning football games.
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