Why the new BCS is horseshit

Ah, football season. I feel better now.

I just got done watching the ESPN Gameday preview special, and the picks made for the BCS National Championship Game (the real one, not the Rose Bowl, which I”m sure USC will again think is the national title game) show exactly what”s wrong with the new BCS formula.

To refresh memories, the new BCS formula puts two-thirds of the ranking power in the hands of stupid humans and just one-third in the cold, accurate fingers of computer rankings. This came about, of course, when humans wanted to put USC in the title game three seasons ago but the then-powerful computers proved them wrong.

So now the BCS is largely a popularity contest stripped of most of its logic. And because of that, one favorite to make it to the BCS title game (Fiesta Bowl II) is West Virginia. Ranked No. 7 in the pre-season USA Today poll (sorry, the AP poll no longer counts for anything), the Mountaineers are a favorite to make the title game because they have such a weak schedule.

In case you missed that, West Virginia is seen as a favorite for the title game because they have such a weak schedule. Because they have such a weak schedule. Not despite it. BECAUSE they have it.

Two years ago, Auburn was denied a shot at the national title because their schedule was too weak. But that was in a year when three teams finished the season undefeated (two of them did it the hard way – by playing in a conference championship game). This year, however, there”s no clear consensus favorite, and except for West Virginia the top teams all have rough schedules:

- No. 1 Ohio State has No. 2 Texas, No. 15 Michigan, No. 17 Iowa and No. 19 Penn State
- No. 2 Texas has No. 1 Ohio State, No. 5 Oklahoma, No. 22 Nebraska and No. 25 Texas Tech
- No. 3(tie) Notre Dame has No. 3(tie) USC, No. 15 Michigan and No. 19 Penn State
- No. 3(tie) USC has No. 3(tie) Notre Dame, No. 12 Cal, No. 20 Oregon and No. 22 Nebraska
- No. 5 Oklahoma has No. 2 Texas, No. 20 Oregon and No. 25 Texas Tech
- No. 6 Auburn has No. 8 Florida, No. 9 LSU, No. 14 Georgia and No. 24 Alabama

- No. 8 Florida has No. 6 Auburn, No. 9 LSU, No. 10 Florida State, No. 14 Georgia and No. 23 Tennessee
- No. 9 LSU has No. 6 Auburn, No. 8 Florida, No. 23 Tennessee and No. 24 Alabama
- No. 10 Florida State has No. 8 Florida, No. 11 Miami and No. 18 Clemson

That”s an awful lot of Top 25 action for nine of the Top 10 teams.

No. 7 West Virginia? They play No. 13 Louisville … and that”s it.

It”s not surprising, of course. West Virginia plays in that joke of a conference called the Big East. With just eight teams in the conference, West Virginia plays them all:

Louisville, Rutgers, South Florida, Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Cincinnati and Syracuse. That might make good basketball, but in football that”s a joke. And the non-conference schedule is just as laughable: Marshall, Eastern Washington, East Carolina and Mississippi State.

There was a time – the 2003 season, for instance – when strength of schedule mattered. Oklahoma was saved by it; USC suffered from a weak schedule and LSU almost got screwed by playing Northern Illinois. But no more. The BCS has exorcized strength of schedule from its formula and shifted power to the biased human polls.

So now the winning strategy is apparently to put together the best team you can (for a high pre-season ranking) and craft the worst schedule possible so as others around you lose, you rise into the vacuum. Listening to ESPN Radio all week, I heard over and over about liking teams “because of the easy schedule”.

That”s horseshit. Teams should earn their place in the BCS title game by being good and beating good teams. Strength of schedule should be emphasized, not ignored. Playing conference championship games should matter because it”s an extra game typically played against a pretty good team. The politics of human polls should be de-emphasized if not eliminated, rather than given more power.

Just remember – computers are analytical; humans are biased. West Virginia is obviously positioned to exploit those human biases. Because the computers will hate them.

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