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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

BCS Computers Revisited

Last month we discussed here the problems that were created when margin of victory was taken out of the BCS computer formula. We looked at Jeff Sagarin's rankings that are used as part of the BCS formula. Sagarin's rankings are nice to examine because he calculates both his original overall rating and also what he calls ELO-CHESS, which he describes as the "politically correct" rating that is used by the BCS. Scoring margin is not included in the ELO-CHESS rating, only winning and losing matters.

In early October we noted some major differences between Sagarin's ratings and the ELO-CHESS ratings that are used by the BCS. At that time the Northern Iowa Panthers were ranked 56th in his "regular" ratings but were #6 when scoring margin was removed. Obviously it was still very early in the year and we figured things would even themselves out as more games were played and as UNI played more opponents from their FCS Subdivision (Northern Iowa is ranked #1 in the Division 1 FCS Subdivision - formerly Division 1-AA.) Well as far as things working themselves out....they haven't. In the current ratings found on Jeff Sagarin's website, through games of November 10th, Northern Iowa is ranked 35th. Seems a bit high for a FCS Subdivision team, but not completely unbelievable. UNI is 10-0, ranked #1 in their subdivision, defeated Iowa State on the road earlier in the year by 11, and would give many FBC teams a very tough game. But once again when scoring margin is subtracted from the formula, things start getting ridiculous. In the ELO-CHESS rating that is used by the BCS formula, Northern Iowa is ranked at #12. That is to say that as far as the BCS is concerned, UNI is the 12th best team in the entire nation. To put that into more perspective, at #12 UNI is ranked higher than USC (#15), Boston College (#14), and Clemson (#13). Now if someone on the street came up to you and was arguing that Northern Iowa was a better football team than Southern Cal you would laugh and immediately disregard anything they further said. Well, in this case that person is the computer polls in the current BCS system and should be considered useless.

Now this is not Jeff Sagarin's fault or his computer's fault. Sagarin is just doing what he was told to do by taking margin of victory out of his formula. We've argued before that scoring margin needs to be included in the BCS computers and we will continue to do so. For example, shouldn't Texas be rewarded more for beating Iowa State 56-3 compared to UNI's 24-13 victory over the Cyclones? Obviously. Would Texas beat UNI in a game played on a neutral field? Obviously. (Texas is #16 in Sagarin's ratings, UNI is #35. Texas is #25 in ELO-CHESS, UNI is #12.) Now I know that this is a very small scale example, and these computer polls take every game played in the entire system into account. But the point remains that if any part, albeit a small part, of the current BCS system thinks that UNI is the 12th best team in all of college football, then that system is flawed. Step one to fix the BCS, please allow these computers to do what they were originally designed to do and put some sort of measure for scoring margin back into their formulas. It really is common sense.