Thursday, October 21, 2010

What is a Champion?

The first BCS standings are out and to no surprise, people are already discussing possible "controversies." The question is, and has been since last season, if Boise State runs the table, should they be voted into the BCS title game ahead of say, a one-loss Alabama. People claim the BCS system is crap, and that a playoff would better determine who the "true" champion is.

I used to think that way. It was my opinion that championships should be won ON THE FIELD; that the only way to BE the best, was to BEAT the best. However, there is an inherent problem with that line of thinking as it pertains to the playoff format - the problem is the idea that you can guarantee a team is beating the best. So many people argue that a playoff system would decrease the importance of the regular season. I disagree with that. I believe that if you build your playoff system out of conference championships, then your regular season is still incredibly important. In the SEC, it has long been thought that once you lose, you're pretty much done. This is because it is always assumed that the best teams in the SEC will not lose more than one game, so if you've lost one, you're behind the 8 ball. Now, if you make the conference title a condition for getting into the playoffs, you haven't lost anything.


That's not what proponents of the playoffs want. They want the possibility of a Cinderella story. They want Boise State to get a shot at the big boys. And essentially, in a 16-team playoff, they'd have to beat 4 "big boys" to claim the title. Now, say somehow a 4-loss ACC team wins the ACC title and then goes on a crazy run through the playoffs and reaches the NCG against that Boise team....and then beats Boise. Boise is undefeated until that game, but loses. The ACC champ has 4 losses, then pulls out a five game winning streak to finish the season. Were they the best team in the country, or did they just hit a good winning streak at the right time?

Sounds a little bit like the NFL a few years ago. The Giants won the Superbowl, but the Patriots held an 18-0 record going into that game (including a win over The Giants). So, the Patriots and the Giants each were 1-1 against one another in the season, and the Patriots did much better the rest of the year. Still, the Giants were the champions.

Is this what we want in college football?

What exactly IS the champion of college football? Well, right now it's a popularity contest with a small "quality win" factor built in. There are actually people out there who say Boise should be "given a shot" if they go undefeated because they've been in the BCS a lot recently, and they've earned it. Here's the problem with that - the BCS teams of years past are NOT this team. So, what you're saying is that a one-loss Alabama team, with wins over multiple top-ten teams hasn't done as much to earn the right to play for the title as an undefeated Boise State who has played only one team that is even ranked in the top 25 (and that one may not even stay in the top 25). People are allowing the "sexiness" of Boise State cloud their judgment.

So, what do we want to reward?

If the idea of "Being the Best by Beating the Best" is still how we determine a champion, then surely we can't think Boise State could be a true National Champion. Why? Because anybody can have a good game. If you play a pancake schedule, then play one solid opponent at the end of the year - when your team has gelled to its max, and has had 6 weeks to prepare - why does that make you a champion? It's a path-of-least resistance model to a title...and I don't see that as championship caliber.

A few years ago, the BCS formula was changed to include more human bias and less computers. I believe this is completely backwards. Humans can get caught up in the hype. Computers have no hype. I think the main focus we need to have is on the team's resume in the year in question.

Undefeated? Great. Who'd ya beat? Oh, you beat one team in the top 25. Well, this one-loss team beat 5 top-25 teams, 2 of them in the top ten. Their only loss is also to a top ten team. Sorry, they have a better resume. I don't care that you won every game you played, you played crap games.

"But Dukes! Without the human-bias polls, how will we know who the top 25 are?" Well, for the point of this argument, it doesn't matter where your team is ranked throughout the season. It matters what the whole season looks like at the end of the year. This system would require an algorithm that digs deep into not only wins and losses, but the records of the opponents, their opponents, and the performance level of each of these teams as well. So you are undefeated and beat nine teams who all are in the bottom thirty in total and scoring defense? I don't care. This one-loss team beat six teams who are in the top twenty in those categories. They have a better resume.

I guess it all comes down to this -

What is a Champion? Is it the team that wins the most games? Is it the team that has the best resume? Is it the team that catches fire at the right time?

Personally, I like to judge things on the body of work. Playoffs do nothing for me. The whole season is a playoff. Schedule the best teams, and beat them. Then your resume' shines like diamonds in moonlight, and you're worthy of being called college football's champion.

1 comment:

Todd said...

Hey, Dukes, good post. But what do you think about a 4 team playoff (or plus one)? I think that format gives you the best of both worlds - it maintains the importance of the regular season, plus it allows the "best" 4 teams to play for the National Championship. Other teams still get to play in the bowls, so we keep that, too.

Look, people have a legit criticism of Boise's body of work, but is it their fault that they don't play in a high-powered conference like the SEC? Are you going to tell those players, "Sorry guys, you will never play for a championship because you don't belong?" Those guys put in as much work as any other player in a major conference (if not more, because they have something to prove). Plus, you can't tell me that Boise would wipe clean any team in the Big East right now, and probably most teams in the ACC, yet both of those conferences get a shot at the national championship. This year, I would argue that Boise deserves a chance over any team in the Big East or ACC.

A plus one format would give a team like Boise to have a shot at the big game but it would require them to beat some stiff competition. Perhaps after they join the Mountain West we can strip the ACC or Big East of their automatic bid and give it to the MWC.