Off Topic: Boycott the BCS

I know I should be on topic with Global Warming, but this is a subject that irritates me, so I decided to write an off topic article on how error prone the BCS system is at picking the National Championship Game for College Football.  I was going to start a cause, but it seems that many people have already jumped on this and many pages exist to promote a boycott of BCS football games.  For me it means I will not watch any BCS football games this year and perhaps even in the future.  I wash my hands of the BCS.

Now to show just how bad the BCS system is at choosing the National Championship Game (NCG).  I will do this by using the Sagarin computer ranking of the NFL and comparing how accurate it is at picking the Superbowl. I pick this method because the NFL uses a play-off system that pits the top 6 teams from each of two conferences, where the winner of each conference plays in the Superbowl.

The NCAA is the only group that doesn’t have a play-off system to chose who will play for the championship.  To put it in a politically correct term, they are flaming idiots.  They have a convoluted method where they simply pick two teams from a pool of 100+ teams and then whoever wins the game is the champion.

I use the Sagarin ranking because it is used as part of the BCS selection method and it also shows rankings for the NFL using the same methodology.  The rankings are available back to 1998 for the NFL and that is the period I used to show how poor a predictor it is.  The only real issue I see is that the Sagarin rankings include the play-off and the Superbowl so the final rankings include that final game.  After I was done crunching the results it hardly mattered except for that there was a correlation between the winning team and the Superbowl winner.  Since the purpose is to predict the game, that doesn’t really cause a problem.

I will start off by showing the final top two teams by the Sagarin ranking from 1998-2010.

The Inconvenient Skeptic

AFC (Red), NFC (Blue)

Right away there is an issue with the idea of using a computer to choose the Superbowl.  5 out of 13 years (38%) the top two teams have come from the same conference based on the computer rankings.  This is similar to the result this year where both LSU and Alabama are the top two teams based on the computer ranking.  Of course in the NFL it is not possible for two teams from the same conference to meet in the Superbowl.  There have been many great NFC and AFC championship games over the years as a result, but in the end each team comes from a different conference.

Of the 8 times that the top two teams have come from different conferences, only 3 times have the top two teams met in the Superbowl.  That leaves a 23% rate of predicting the Superbowl in general, but even when that is only used to compare for the 8 times the top two teams have been from different conferences, it is only a 38% accurate predictor for who plays in the Superbowl.

The Inconvenient Skeptic

2002, 2007 and 2009 are the only years that the ranking picked the top game.

When it comes to picking the Superbowl, the rankings system is an abject failure as it has only managed to pick the Superbowl teams a dismal 23% of the time.  That is a reasonable estimate of the accuracy for the BCS system.  It gets it right about one quarter of the time and this year is not one of the good years.  This year it is certainly possible that the Packers and 49ers will be the top two teams and they will have a chance to play in the play-offs.

If the BCS rankings were used to pick the top 12 or top 16 teams to have a play-off, that would be a useful application of the BCS.  Instead what we have is a BCS system is broken and a play-off is needed.  It is time to take action and boycott the entire system until we get a play-off.  I understand that the students and alumni of their respective schools will participate, but for the rest of us.  Let the boycott begin.

Posted in Causes by inconvenientskeptic on December 5th, 2011 at 4:32 pm.


This post has 8 comments

  1. GregO Dec 5th 2011


    You might find this interesting:

    So much for experts choosing winners at college football.

  2. Amen! I was hoping UGA would beat LSU so that 2 teams who didn’t win their conference ended up in the “national title” game, which would have ended this “B-S” once and for all.

  3. inconvenientskeptic Dec 6th 2011


    Agreed. Sports experts in most cases are little better than the average Joe. ESPN is a great example of this. They talk so much hype about their favorites that people start to believe it.

    Having a national championship game that includes only two teams from the same conference is stupid. It would be like a Steelers/Ravens Superbowl….

  4. The BCS system is really screwing up college sports. Now schools are jumping conferences like a random walk. It’s insane. Consider Boise State. They join the Mountain West and then announce they are leaving in the first year. Schools are jumping around so much I am hard pressed to tell you who is in the Big East or the Pac 10 at any given moment. The BCS system is behind this and it needs to stop.

  5. inconvenientskeptic Dec 11th 2011

    The BCS certainly plays a role in the chaos in the conferences. Your case in particular is heavily influenced by the ability to be in an automatic berth conference.

    The system is a disaster.


    Unless people start taking action (like boycotting the BCS games), it will never change.

  6. Adam C Dec 12th 2011

    I agree that there should be a playoff system for college football. But your analysis is based on the starting assumption that the Superbowl (tournament) identifies the best team — i.e. you set that as the criterion. If I was a strong believer in the validity of the ranking approach I could argue that you’ve actually shown how bad a tournament is at identifying the best team identified via a ranking method. What your analysis really demonstrates is that the “best” team(s) over the course of many games (a season) does not always win a short tournament at the end of the season. It does not in itself show which method is better for determining the “best” team.

    Anyway, having said all that, I think tournaments are better!

  7. inconvenientskeptic Dec 13th 2011


    I agree that a strong believer in rankings might take that approach. So let’s look at satisfaction with the current system.

    A strong believer in the ranking system should then encourage the NFL to drop the playoffs and let the ranking simply pick the two highest rated teams for the Superbowl.

    I am not aware of any dissatisfaction in that regard to the NFL, but there is enormous unhappiness with the BCS. Since the two systems can be rated on how satisfied and unsatisfied the consumers are with the method, it would appear that almost everyone prefers the tournament method in comparison to the ranking system.

    Give the people what they want. 🙂

  8. I really should

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