The 2011 installment of the BCS National Championship Lottery is complete with LSU and Alabama winning the Sweepstakes and the right to play for the coveted but largely meaningless Division 1-A college Football National Championship. As in years past, no one has the slightest idea how these two teams came out on top but by prior arrangement, everyone is contractually obligated to accept this decision. Predictably, LSU and Alabama fans are ecstatic and everyone else is simply pissed off. This year’s big losers were Stanford, Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Oregon, college football in general, and perennial BCS also-ran Boise State.
Predictably and as in all years past, the “ranking” system in place at the BCS has come under criticism by sport “purists” that have the mistaken notion sporting events should be contested on the playing field and not on the PC of some statistics nerd. This idealistic approach to sports apparently doesn’t factor in the financial gains that accrue to Bowl executives or BCS and NCAA officials which while not actually a part of the formula is the determining factor in futile conversations about a playoff format.
The actual calculation has been deliberately shrouded in mystery which is a clever way of saying the formula is two parts confusion and one part Bull shit. To further complicate matters, if such a thing is actually possible, there appears to be only one guy named Bob at the BCS who actually understands the formula. Bob has an office in the basement at BCS Headquarters which apparently is located in a gift shop at ESPN.
BCS officials often make Bob available to explain the BCS formula which it would seem, would make Bob a favored guest at lodge meetings, bowling tournament banquets, weddings, bridal showers, birthdays, retirement parties and the occasional Bar Mitzvah except that Bob is one boring SOB. Most people who find themselves in a conversation with Bob have an uncontrollable urge to give Bob a wedgie and then run his underwear up a flag pole. According to Bob, he has “Been there and done that” which really isn’t at all surprising.
Rather than suffer the indignity of having a wedgie publically administered during a Bar Mitzvah, Bob decided to reduce all the BCS math and statistics used to establish BCS rankings into an easily understandable and recognizable format. Turns out, the best tool for BCS rankings is a slot machine. As Bob explains, “You dump all the stats in and find someone with a handful of quarters”. First team to get three across is Number one, next three across is number 2. According to Bob the slot machine is simple, easy to understand and involves no wedgie. When questioned about the large element of chance involved, Bob simply points out that since the BCS only selects two teams and there is no playoff format, the BCS selection formula lacks what he terms “predictive validity”: no one knows if the formula actually yields the top two teams because this has simply never been tested. So the slot machine is the perfect tool for selecting the two participants in the BCS Championship game.
When pressed on the matter, Bob points out that for the Men’s Basketball Tournament, rather than two teams, sixty-eight teams are chosen and a single elimination play-off format is used. Year in and year out the playoff ensures that the eventual number one and number two teams meet for the Championship. The selection process is statistically validated every year as the two teams in the Championship game nearly always begin the tournament ranked in the top ten but on very few occasions have the Number one and Number two teams in the rankings actually made it to the Championship Game. Applying this logic to Football, there is only about a 15% chance all the statistical mumbo jumbo used for the BCS rankings will actually identify the real number one and number two teams in Division 1-A. Given the odds, Bob says the slot machine is the perfect technology and the odds are just about right. Besides, explaining a couple of pulls on a slot machine will probably keep Bob’s fruit of the looms intact but this isn’t guaranteed.