December 5, 2004

It appears I had too much faith in the BCS when I wrote last year's commentary. At the time, I argued that awarding six automatic bids to the major conference champions was merely an accurate reflection of the balance of power in Division I-A football. It is no different from I-AA, which gives automatic bids to the champions of the eight strongest conferences, or other NCAA sports that don't have enough bids to go around.

Furthermore, as a replacement for the old bowl tie-ins, the BCS made perfect sense, and was if anything a step up for the little guys. The odds of Utah playing in a major bowl game under the old system was zero. With the BCS system, they are able to play their way into a major bowl.

However, in preserving the Big East's automatic bid, the BCS looks less like a fair way to handle the bowls and more like a self-interested clique. Every competent analyst knew that, minus Virginia Tech and Miami, the Big East was no longer a major football conference. Averaged over the BCS years (1998-2003), Miami has been the #3 football program in the nation, and Virginia Tech has been #6. The best remaining Big East team, Syracuse, sits at #33. Looking at the whole conference, the rankings are #33 Syracuse, #40 Boston College, #41 West Virginia, #47 Pitt, #90 Temple, #102 Rutgers, and #108 Connecticut. And it gets worse, with Boston College also headed to the ACC, to be replaced by #50 Louisville, #72 Cincinnati, and #93 South Florida. Is this really the mark of a major conference?

For comparison, the best program outside the BCS conferences has been Southern Miss (#29). The best non-BCS conference, the Mountain West, has the following program rankings (again, 1998-2003): #38 Utah, #39 Colorado State, #46 Air Force, #60 BYU, #75 New Mexico, #76 San Diego State, #83 UNLV, and #91 Wyoming. I'm not trying to create an argument regarding whether the Mountain West should be given the Big East's BCS bid; the question is why the Big East champ is guaranteed a BCS bid while the Mountain West champ is not. Clearly the two conferences have comparable strength, which means that having a strong Mountain West champ (Utah) and weak Big East champ (Pitt) was not a huge surprise.

The obvious solution is for the BCS to acknowledge that the Big East is no longer a major football conference and remove their automatic bid. There would be no pressing need to give that bid to a different conference, as the Mountain West is no more likely to regularly churn out national title contenders as is the Big East. This means that either there would be three at-large bids, or the BCS could throw a bone to the non-BCS conferences by giving that bid to the highest-ranked champion from any of those conferences. Had such a system been in place this season, Cal would have been in the Rose Bowl and Pitt would have been left out of the BCS.

What's sad is that this problem was plainly obvious before the season, and nothing was done. As a result, we get treated to Pitt playing in a BCS game they don't belong in. Ironically their opponent will be Utah, which should be favored to beat Pitt by about 17. Perhaps seeing Pitt embarrass the Big East in a prime time New Year's bowl will create the same sort of dissatisfaction that caused the BCS to finally adopt a reasonable formula this year. Perhaps a huge Utah win might bring about the end of the BCS. Or perhaps Pitt will get lucky (I give them a 1-in-7 chance of winning), and preserve a system that is clearly biased against the mid-majors.

December 5, 2004

I'm happy to see that the new BCS formula worked out (for the most part), given that it was basically my idea. At the encouragement of past Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese, I made the following ideas in a detailed proposal last January:

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Note: if you use any of the facts, equations, or mathematical principles introduced here, you must give me credit.

copyright ©2004 Andrew Dolphin