Sports Illustrated assembled a 12-member mock selection committee to pick a mock four-team playoff field for the 2012 season. It was interesting. It was also an exercise in futility that showed the folly of choosing four teams and choosing them through a selection committee.
SI’s committee was the most probable committee, an assembly of athletic directors representing each conference. The problem is, though directly involved, these are fans, not experts. Athletic directors quickly resorted to the transitive property and justifications that would not pass muster in a sports bar. Ohio State AD Gene Smith’s justification for not voting for Kansas State was he felt “Oregon and Texas A&M would beat em.” This is how you are deciding which teams play for a national title. It is a condensed version of the Harris Poll.
The task at hand is not seamless. The committee picked Florida and Oregon. Georgia has the same record as Florida and beat Florida head to head. Stanford beat Oregon in Eugene, won the Pac 12 and would be left out because of their second loss on the road, to the No. 1 team in the country on a controversial no touchdown call in overtime. Kansas State, winning what may be the nation’s toughest conference with one loss, did not reach even the final round of voting.
This selection committee decides, but it adds no gravity to the decision. Four vs. five comes down to nothing more than who a bunch of old men sitting in a room think would win. Old men think defense wins championships. Advantage: Florida. Old men don’t like Bill Snyder’s team. Advantage: Florida. That method does not resolve the matter in a satisfactory fashion. It just provides a tangible outlet for the animosity of aggrieved fans.
Selecting four teams cleanly may not be possible and this might do a worse job than the BCS formula.
How to fix it? I would junk the committee and move to an objective formula. The BCS has stained the name of “computer polling,” by using a smorgasbord of opaque, unverified and mathematically invalid ones, combining them and then watering them down further with human polling. If there is a transparent formula, with common sense, agreed upon factors input, the output provided would be in far less dispute. Moreover, having scenarios and knowing precisely what a team needs to occur during the closing weeks adds excitement. The committee adds no value. It only clouds and warps the process based on hunches, unfounded truisms and personal whims.
Since that won’t happen… Develop the formula anyway and use it as a baseline. That would provide a firm structure for the committee’s analysis. There would be grounding for comparisons between to teams. It would force more rigor into justifications for inclusion and exclusion. Dislodging No. 4 in a formula in favor of No. 5 would require more than “Oregon and Texas A&M would beat em”
Also, add teams. This will happen anyway and probably before the present deal expires. The motivation will be an even more sick sum ESPN cash rather than the practical considerations. That said, expanding to eight teams with some form of automatic entry would ease the decision-making process. Six teams win their conference and get in via the rating system. In 2012, one of the at large places goes to Notre Dame. With the ranking done after the SEC title game, it would come down to Florida vs. Oregon for the second at large place. Having a proper formula would ease that process tremendously.
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