|Thursday, July 12
BCS figures new formula makes for a better title game
By Wayne Drehs
Since its inception in 1998, the Bowl Championship Series has generated plenty of debate. So it was fitting Thursday that the first tweaking in two years to the complicated formula brought much controversy.
The changes, headlined by the addition of a quality-win component and a limit on the
Last year, Miami and Washington, both with one loss during the regular season, had legitimate complaints when the BCS computers spat out 11-1 Florida State as Oklahoma's opponent in the national championship game. Miami had beaten Florida State in the regular season, and Washington had handed Miami its only loss of the season.
Thursday's changes hope to clarify which teams are college football's two best. Had it been in effect last season, the new BCS formula would have sent Miami, not Florida State, to the national championship game.
The changes pleased the American Football Coaches Association, which had pushed for such adjustments since February 2000.
"It's exactly what we asked for," said Grant Teaff, the association's executive director, which represents all college football coaches. "The big thing for the coaches was certainly the margin of victory. We didn't think it was right and the coaches didn't want a system where the more you score, the higher you rank."
The quality-win component is designed to reward teams for victories against Top 15 opponents. It was positive news for Larry Coker, who takes over as Miami's head coach after serving as an assistant on last year's staff.
"The system we were under last year was a work in progress, but a good starting point for defining a true national champion," Coker said. "I believe scoring margin needed to be evaluated, and the adjustments made to that factor are definitely a move in the right direction. I am also very encouraged by the addition of a quality-win component.
Though the changes pleased many coaches, others, including Kansas State's Bill Snyder, had a hard time swallowing all the numbers and figures that will go into determining this year's national champion.
"There's no change in how I feel," Snyder said. "I still don't believe that two or three guys sitting in an apartment in Seattle should have the capacity, or the ability, to determine who competes for a national championship. But the bottom line is if you just keep winning, it all works out."
Some said they aren't sure the adjustments to the BCS formula will help clarify things at all. Kenneth Massey, one of two computer pollsters -- Richard Billingsley is the other -- who were asked by the BCS to eliminate margin of victory from their formulas, said he believes his poll was more accurate before the changes.
Massey, a mathematics expert at Virginia Tech, said he came out with a national championship of Oklahoma and Washington when he plugged last year's numbers into the new formula.
"I can't speak for the other polls, but as far as my system goes, I think it was a little better before the changes," Massey said. "Any time you throw away data, you're going to lose ability to produce good results. And in a sport that plays only 11 or 12 games a year, there isn't enough data with wins and losses alone."
While Massey and Billingsley have adjusted their formulas, two other computer polls that weighed heavily on margin of victory, the Dunkel Index and the New York Times poll, are eliminated from the BCS formula all together. They will be replaced by the polls of Dr. Peter Wolfe of UCLA and MIT's Wes Colley.
Now, of the eight computer polls, four will use margin of victory in their formulas and four will not. Of the four that will, margins will be capped -- some at 21 points, others at 23. A more lopsided victory will have no more effect on the poll than the cap's limit.
It's a change that Dick Dunkel, owner of the 72-year-old Dunkel Index, refused to make. John Duck, executive producer of the Dunkel Index, said his poll capped margin of victory at 21 points over the point spread. So in a game in which Florida State was favored by 30 points, it could win by as many as 51 points before the poll stopped measuring the margin of victory.
"In our opinion, margin of victory is really the premier accuracy determination that works in a formula," Duck said of the index that began six years before the first Associated Press college football poll. "How a team beats another team is really just about the key ingredient to determining the success of a football team. I mean, to determine a team's performance, the best place to look is on the scoreboard."
"Throughout this process, we've met the most resistance from the computer people," Teaff said. "But that's their deal. They talk about numbers and figures, and we talk about our responsibility to the game and responsibility to coaches and players emotionally. And besides, the polls that are done by the coaches and the writers will probably still make margin of victory a factor still anyhow." Another minor adjustment made to the formula is designed to catch any poll that is exceptionally different from the others. In the past, a team's lowest score among the eight polls used to comprise the BCS formula was thrown out. This year, the lowest and highest scores will be eliminated, leaving each team with six computer scores that will be factored into their BCS ranking.
The goal, of course, is to blend the subjective with the objective. Hardly a simple task.
"I don't think you can ever reach perfection and satisfy everyone with the system," Teaff said. "To be honest with you, I don't think we're at a perfect situation right now nor will we ever be. But we've worked hard to be as close as possible. And in a way, all the debate is good because it gives people something to talk about. It keeps college football on the front burner."
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.