Well, I guess we’re all supposed to be rejoicing because everybody is talking about the BCS. Mind you, most people are talking about how much it sucks, but according to its defenders around the country that doesn’t matter, because what’s so great about the BCS is that it generates so much controversy and conversation. And, that’s so much more fun than talking about games on the field.
This does not mean that I think Michigan deserves to be in the championship game. In fact, I think Florida is deserving and that, in any event, it’s really a toss-up between the two teams. (and the computers clearly see it that way).
Furthermore, while I appreciate the advocacy of ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit, who is arguing loudly that Michigan got jobbed, and while I agree with some of his criticisms, his chief complaint doesn’t really hold water. His main argument seems to be that it doesn’t make sense that Michigan was ahead of Florida in the polls for seven weeks until Sunday. Herbstreit has asked repeatedly since Sunday, “what has changed all of a sudden” to have convinced the voters to jump Florida ahead of Michigan? His answer is that the voters decided they didn’t want to see a rematch. Herbstreit has repeatedly argued that not wanting to see a re-match is not a valid reason for voting against Michigan. I agree with Herbstreit that the voters should only be voting based on whom they think is the best team (or the second best, etc.) not on what match up they do and don’t want to see.
But, to answer Herbstreit’s main question, it’s pretty obvious what’s changed: Florida went out and won the SEC championship Saturday night, beating a highly ranked Arkansas team in the process. That Florida is 12-1 and the champion of arguably the toughest conference in the country is, it seems to me, a pretty good credential to play in the title game, and the crowning achievement in that credential was their performance this weekend. It wasn’t the prettiest win, and the game-changing play was a horrible muff on a punt that Arkansas never should have fielded. But, UF won the game by ten points capping a season that, as I mentioned above, the BCS computers consider to have been about equal to Michigan’s. This is hardly an historic injustice.
ESPN.com’s Gene Wojciechowski also says that Michigan got jobbed. He opines that, among the injustices was that Florida got credit for closing its season with wins against FSU and Arkansas, while Michigan was idle. But, this isn’t the real problem with the BCS. It’s not unreasonable that Florida would be getting additional credit as it continued to play after Michigan’s season was over. You can’t really ask voters not to evaluate new data from Florida just because Michigan’s no longer playing. There are problems with the way voters vote (some examples forthcoming) that, frankly, make a mockery of the BCS system. But, the real BCS deal-breaker is that the voters are forced, in the first place, to come up with all kinds of cockamamie rationales for their votes in the first place when there is such an obviously better alternative: a four or eight-team playoff.
Wojciechowski’s most compelling datum in support of Michigan is that their one mutual opponent, Vanderbilt, apparently believes Michigan was the better team. I think that’s worth something, but I am not sure how much.
So, while I think the BCS sucks, and I am bummed that Michigan won’t be in the national championship and, I suspect that a re-match would actually be a more interesting game than the one we’re going to get, Herbstreit’s and Wojo’s arguments don’t really move me. (Side admission: I have found Urban Meyer to have been really weak in all this and have assumed the worst about the UF football program. But, Derrick Jackson’s annual review of the academic performance of the Top 25 football teams puts Florida in a very good light – their 80% football graduation rate is easily the best among the teams ranked in the AP top ten nationally. Michigan is second best among top ten schools, at 71%. So, kudos to the Gators for that). There’s really no way around the fact that both teams had great seasons, both have good cases, and one played an extra, very consequential game at the end of the season that voters could hardly be expected to discount. And, according to the computer experts, the computers basically had the two schools in a dead heat. In other words, this thing’s a toss-up and Florida is not the wrong choice.
But, according to an article by Pete Thamel in the New York Times today, some of the criteria used by the humans is so mind-numbingly flawed that, if the BCS wants to save its image, the first thing it should do is require voters never to speak in public.
Thamel says there were three main reasons for voters’ decisions to switch to Florida this week:
- The perception that Florida’s schedule was superior was a main reason some voters jumped the Gators over the Wolverines.
- Many voters either did not want to see a rematch of Michigan and Ohio State in the national title game or did not think that the Wolverines deserved another chance.
- Voters tended to favor the teams in their region.
The first reason is an acceptable basis for distinguishing between two very highly regarded teams. The second reason is not – the BCS is supposed to accomplish one main objective – put the two best teams in the championship game. Herbstreit has been dead on in his criticism of this rationale. The third reason ought to get voters stripped of their right to vote.
Here are some of the individual voter comments, as quoted by Thamel:
“George Lapides, a Memphis sports radio talk host, said he believed Florida would lose to Michigan if the teams were to play. But he jumped the Gators from No. 4 to No. 2, past the Wolverines, after Florida beat Arkansas.
“I liked the idea of a conference champion playing a conference champion,” he said. “I think that’s more appealing than a rematch. I think you try to pick something as appealing as possible.”
Fresno State Coach Pat Hill, whose teams typically play tough out-of-conference schedules, said he voted Florida second in the USA Today poll because of the Gators’ strength of schedule. “It was hard,” Hill said in a telephone interview. “I think Michigan had their shot at Ohio State. They didn’t get it done.”
George Perles, a Harris Interactive voter and a former Michigan State coach, said he put Michigan at No. 2 in part because of where he lives.
“They lost one game to the best team in the country,” Perles said in a telephone interview from his home in East Lansing, Mich. “And No. 2, because they’re from the state of Michigan, and I just so happen to live here.”
It can’t possibly be true that BCS voters are empaneled based on their good sense concerning what would be a more “appealing” match-up. I am stunned that Lapides would admit allowed to such an arbitrary basis for his vote. Likewise, Coach Hill’s comment that Michigan had their shot is simply irrelevant to the question – who are the two best teams in the country? And, most embarrassing of all are Perles’ comments: that he voted for Michigan because, hell, he’s from Michigan.
Now, maybe Thamel deliberately picked three quotes that would put the BCS in a poor light. But, I doubt that. This is a pathetic basis for determining who should play for the national championship.