Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Flawed Logic Ruins College Football Once Again

Every year, as the college football season gets ever more complicated, several strange things happen. The prognosticators, forced with narrowing down a field in which at least 8 teams could legitimately have a chance to win a national championship, set up a series of arbitrary rules to weed out teams and create that comfortable and easy-to-understand matchup between the BCS #1 and #2. The pollsters aid in this, changing their votes over the last few weeks not with respect to which team is actually better, but to ensure that these rules are followed and obeyed without a second consideration. I could list any number of these, but chief among them for me is the puzzling principle that if a team does not win its conference, it should not get a chance to win the national championship.

On face value it makes sense. The idea is if you are going to have only two teams play, they should be teams that could win their conference, the theory being that if you can’t even win your conference, how should you be expected to win the national championship? In addition, in these incredibly competitive conferences it wouldn’t be fair to leapfrog the winner and say they aren’t as good as a team they finished ahead of in conference.

However, there are numerous factors this theory does not address. For instance, conference success is not an indicator of which team is better than another. It does not take into account non-conference wins or losses, which might play a big part in determining which team is actually better. Georgia Tech just beat Georgia, a highly ranked SEC team and currently sits at #15 in the BCS standings. That win does not count at all towards the ACC championship game, and they will be watching unranked Virginia Tech take on Boston College for the crown. Last year, that same Georgia team was incredible competition for anyone they faced, losing only 2 games early on and finishing extremely strong. But Tennessee had a better conference record, so they represented the SEC East despite a worse ranking and worse record. Conference titles, it would seem, don’t take into account one of the most important elements of what makes a team great-non conference games! How can we use this as a barometer of who to place in the national championship game if the conference winners are so clearly not the best teams in the conference?

An even more telling argument might be a quick look at every other sport in the country. Will any Terps fans be giving back the 2006 Field Hockey national championship trophy because they didn’t win the ACC that year? Will the Terps men’s soccer team have to refuse the title (if they win it) because they didn’t win the conference this year? Would we not allow North Carolina basketball to go to the Big Dance if they lost to Duke in the ACC Finals? Likewise, will the Ravens hand back the Lombardi Trophy because they were a wildcard team back in 2000? In baseball, wildcard teams often win the World Series; in fact, they are as likely (if not more) than any other team to win it all. Does this make their win less legitimate? Don’t worry, I’ll answer for you. No, it doesn’t. The regular season (or conference games) only tell part of the story. You know who the better team is by your eyes, by seeing who is really the better team based on their record, how they are finishing, and who they beat.

Under this strange and logically flawed “rule,” Virginia Tech would have a better case than Texas to go to the national championship game if they beat BC. Cincinnati would have a better case than Texas Tech. No matter what you think about the BCS, if there are only 2 teams, they should be the best two teams in the country- and I don’t need a conference trophy to tell me that.

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