Tag Archives: BCS

Adrian the Canadian: What’s wrong with the BCS and its successor?

I’ve made my thoughts about the BCS abundantly clear, so on the eve of the college football kickoff, I’ll let Adrian the Canadian give you a more well-reasoned critique of both the old/current system and the new one:

In case you missed it while focusing on the Olympics, Euro 2012, or MLB’s new double wild card chase,  college football’s bigwigs announced that, finally, there will be a playoff in D-I, sorry, FBS college football (starting in 2014). For those interested in the details, here’s Andy Staples. In short, it’s a four team playoff with the four teams selected by the ubiquitous “selection committee.” Now, despite what I’m about to argue, I think this is an improvement over the previous system which was corrupt, illegitimate, and, ultimately, kind of dull.  Still this system fails to identify and address the real issue with college football’s championship. The problem is not that college football does a bad job of identifying and rewarding the “best” team — it arguably does that with more frequency and reliability than any other sport in America — it’s that college football does little crown a legitimate champion. Indeed, what we want from our sports in not a system that determines the best team but one that gives us a legitimate result at the end of the season. The new college football model fails to do that.

As I’m sure Tyler will tell you, the best way to figure out a league’s “best” team is to have a sufficiently connected round-robin style tournament with a large number of rounds. In plain English, have everybody play everybody else lots. Such a system minimizes luck, randomness, and fluctuations in performance, leaving us with a relatively clear idea of who the “best” team is. Most domestic European soccer leagues follow this model, as did baseball prior to the advent of playoffs. This model doesn’t work for American football for an obvious reason: the sport is too physically taxing to play enough games. And yet, college football is pretty adept at determining who the “best” team is in any given year. Compare to the NFL: surely Alabama has a better claim to being the “best” college football team than the New York Giants do to being the best “pro-football” team. Tyler can do the analysis, but I’m willing to bet that the BCS champion correlates much more highly than the Super Bowl champion to statistical measures of team quality. However, no one complains about the Super Bowl champion or demands that the NFL change its playoff system.

The reason for this is simple; we sports fans don’t want a playoff system that determines the “best” team. What we want is a system that crowns a legitimate champion. Let’s look Continue reading


Part 2: The Return of Adrian the Canadian

Yesterday, Adrian reasserted himself on the blog with a clear proposal to reduce diving in soccer.  Today, he shows off his versatility with a response to my recent thoughts on fairness in U.S. and European professional sports leagues (written in relation to my brother Conor’s defense of talent concentration in European soccer). For a taste of the historical, economic, legal, and political, set aside 10 minutes and read on:

How long has it been? Too long, I think.  But Tyler’s recent post has compelled me to withdraw from my self-imposed hibernation and away from the stultifying process of studying for the Ontario bar exam. In short, I disagree with the capitalist/socialist, American Sports/European Sports dichotomy or, rather, I think it abstracts away from the real issue – that cartels make a heck of a lot more money than entities that exist in competition with one another. In short, the NFL and MLB are not staunch defenders of equality values; Dan Snyder and Hank Steinbrenner are not driving the train to the Finland Station.

The standard argument goes something like this: isn’t it ironic that America, land of unbridled capitalism, home of animal spirits on free and open fields, has “socialist” sports leagues that redistribute resources from winners to losers while red, socialist, pinko Europe has a free and open market for sports talent? It’s a cute argument and one that elicits a nice “hmmm…” from readers and there are certainly large elements of truth to it. American sports are, at least nominally, more redistributive, and there is a larger perception that American sports are organized more “fairly” than European sports from a competitive standpoint. Still, it’s far from clear that European sports are more aristocratic than American sports if we look at the highest levels and, more importantly, I think this distracts us from a deeper, more thorough comparison of why European sports and American sports are organized so differently.

Barcelona’s greatness is undeniable, but it’s not a greatness that has translated into a dynasty at the highest levels of competition. While Barca has been the dominant team in La Liga, it’s only won three of the last ten Champions League titles despite making each of the last ten tournaments. This means that the Champions League may not even be as “aristocratic” as the NBA:  eight different teams have won the Champions League while only six have won the NBA championship in the same span. And, unlike La Liga Continue reading

No one watches bowl games — let’s evolve to the College Football Premier League

There’s another nice summary piece by Tyler Cowen (Marginal Revolution) and Kevin Grier at Grantland this week (thanks to my PhD buddy Felipe for passing it along). Their topic: the college football bowl system. Their conclusion:

In sum, we have a system where the games are not designed to produce the best on-field matchups, the competitors often lose money [since no one watches most bowl games] but fight fiercely to participate, outsiders and observers complain vehemently, and the organizers amass and waste a great deal of money with little oversight.

They also note Continue reading

That darn BCS

The BCS just won’t go away. Since the majority of this post will be about conflict of interest, let me give full disclosure. I hate the BCS. I think it’s a big marketing device designed to generate a bunch of empty discussion without giving fans an exciting post season.

This year we get a rematch of LSU and Alabama for the national championship. This makes me pretty angry, since my Michigan Wolverines could have been given another chance against Ohio State in 2006 after losing 42-39 in a one versus two match up. I think Michigan was penalized more because it was the last game of the season and it was a shootout. No one wanted to see them play twice in a row (except me of course).

And big surprise, there’s controversy surrounding the rematch. This year is worse than usual BCS arguments about who is better than who; part of the controversy is about Nick Saban rigging the standings Continue reading

Pythagorean expectations, Pythagenports, and Pythagenpats – a bunch of mumbo jumbo

It seems like everywhere you turn in sports statistics, someone is talking about Pythagorean expectations. The Pythagorean expectation is a formula created by Bill James to estimate team quality in baseball, with runs scored and runs allowed as inputs. Proponents argue that luck plays a big part in close games, making point totals a better measure of team quality than wins. The formula is

Pythagorean = Runs scored^/ (Runs scored^c + Runs allowed^c),

where c is some exponent (usually greater than one) that can be calibrated. This kinda looks like the old Pythagorean formula from grade school (hence the name), though not really. The Pythagorean rises (at a decreasing rate) as you score more and drops (at a decreasing rate) as your opponents score more. In other words, the Pythagorean rewards teams for blowouts and punishes them for getting spanked, since these scoring outcomes may reflect team quality. If you score the same amount as your opponents, your Pythagorean is 0.5. The max is one and the min is zero, like a winning percentage. “Pythagorean wins” are given by the Pythagorean multiplied by the number of games.

Over time, this formula has been exported to basketball and football, and probably other sports. My buddy Adrian the Canadian sent me this week’s DVOA update at Football Outsiders, in which Aaron Schatz informs us that Football Outsiders has upgraded from the Pythagorean expectation to the “Pythagenport,” and Baseball Prospectus (the original Pythagenporters) has moved on to the Pythagenpat! These are identical to the Pythagorean, but allow the exponent c to depend on the number of runs scored and/or the teams involved.

Maybe this sounds reasonable to you, but these formulas make my head hurt. The Pythagenport even gets a logarithm involved. Where do these crazy functional forms come from? The intuition for these stats is simple: Continue reading