~ ~

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Forbes SportsMoney: chUMps BCS Selection Doesn't Add Up


12/05/2011 @ 11:56AM |53,002 views

Michigan State Is Bowled Over Again By The BCS

Roger Groves, Contributor

Last year about this time, I wrote a Forbes post stating that before Michigan State even played its bowl game it had already lost the BCS sweepstakes.  To avoid antitrust lawsuits, the BCS established a rule that “No more than two teams from a conference may be selected [to a BCS game], regardless of whether they are automatic qualifiers or at-large selections, unless two non-champions from the same conference are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the final BCS Standings.” Last year, the Big Ten had three teams tied for
the conference championship, all with one loss for the entire season. Those teams were Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State. Wisconsin and Ohio State were ranked higher than MSU in the BCS standings. They both deserved to be there – if you ignore tattoo-gate. So MSU was left out of the BCS mix.  But MSU was a top 10 BCS team. As I lamented,
“they were bowled over by the same regulator that ranks them so highly.” There was at least one conference champion, U Conn for the Big East, which lost three more games than MSU, played a weaker schedule, did not finish in the Top 25 that nonetheless played in a BCS game (Tostitos Fiesta Bowl) with all the resultant financial and recruiting benefits.
The question regarding the Big Ten is which two teams qualify this year?
Your common sense tells you that when a conference has two divisions, and the winners of those divisions play in a conference championship, the winner of the championship game is a shoo–in. That would be Wisconsin. And you would logically say the other BCS team from the conference would be the team that played for the championship since it was the best team from its division. Stated differently, the second-best team is the other team in the championship game. It is no different from the long-established sense that whoever finished second is the runner-up. This year’s runner-up in the Big Ten is Michigan State. And if we consider that Michigan State, affectionately known as Sparty, also beat Wisconsin in October, your common sense would surely tell you Sparty would get the affectionate nod as the second team to play in a BCS bowl game.
Now enter the Michigan Wolverines for BCS consideration. They cannot replace Wisconsin because Wisconsin won the overall conference championship. Under BCS rules, the Big Ten is one of the Big 6 conferences, and its champion is an automatic qualifier (“AQ”) for a BCS game. So that means the other BCS slot within the conference is between Michigan and Michigan State.
I hear you saying, “Well, that is really not that difficult a decision. In head-to-head competition this season, Sparty beat Michigan, end of story.” But just to make sure you are analytically objective, you add the footnote that MSU only lost one game in conference during the season, while U of M lost two. And in case recent history is a factor, you add the fact that Michigan State beat Michigan for four straight years.
Well if Sparty was bowled over last year, this year is worse. It’s like they lost an antitrust or patent suit because there appears to be treble damages. First, Sparty had Wisconsin beat in the championship game for the second time this season until a questionable strategy was employed to try to block the last Badger punt.  Worse yet, they convincingly beat arch-rival Michigan (28-14), yet lost to Michigan in BCS standings. So the first-time-back-to-being-decent-in four years-Wolverines, not Sparty, end up playing in a BCS bowl game. That is classic can’t win for losing.
So in reality Michigan benefits from not earning the right to play for the conference championship. By losing more conference games than MSU, Michigan did not have to risk playing Wisconsin, which is clearly a better team by any objective measure. By default, through its non-game, Michigan outplayed MSU for the second BCS slot. The reward system is upside down.
“How can that happen?” you ask. In the BCS Standings the higher the overall average the better. The short answer is that Michigan finished 13th with a BCS average of .4794.  Michigan State finished 17th with a BCS average of .3883. But just for fun and anguish, let’s look under the hood for a moment.
Sometimes technology gets in the way of intelligence. The BCS has a technology component for its standings and thus its decisions. The BCS Standings is a combination of two polls (Harris Interactive and USA Today Coaches), plus 6 computer rankings. The point total is determined by averaging the percent totals of the Harris, USA, and computer polls.
The Harris Interactive poll is composed of 115 panelists. That group includesformer coaches, players, administrators and current and former media.  I wonder how much of their decisions are influenced by former glory of U of M.  And guess how Harris picks the 115 panelists? There is a pool of 300 people nominated from the 11 Football Bowl Subdivision conferences and Notre Dame. The actual 115 are randomly drawn by Harris Interactive. Random sounds a little like guess work or luck or something other than head to head competition on the field.
And it is not clear just how to quantify the intangible perceptions of those who cast a vote in those polls. Just who is interacting with whom? Is someone influencing someone else in ways that is akin to political lobbying? Is there a need for BCS finance reform?  A New York Times article published results from an investigative report in 2009 asserting that Fiesta Bowl top executives used bowl funds for political purposes which may have violated campaign finance laws. The Fiesta Bowl’s CEO was fired. The Fiesta Bowl is one of those selected by the BCS for its games, so the question of how influence is peddled within the entire system is not far-fetched. I am not a conspiracy theorist that claims U of M grads paid off the pollsters. But I am keeping my eyes open. After all, where there are billions of dollars, there is potential for abuse.
As to the USA Today Coaches Poll, many of us wonder whether coaches who have more than a full time job coaching their own teams really can stay fully apprised of other teams. They may delegate that task to a grad assistant or someone within the school’s athletic administration. I would love to have published reports of all those within the coaches poll stating just who exactly made their decision with accompanying rationale.
Yet after all the sifting of data, and use of computer algorithms, it doesn’t matter that Michigan State beat Michigan this year. It doesn’t matter that MSU beat Michigan for four years in a row. Apparently, the 11 conference commissioners, the ND Director of Athletics, the Harris panelists they nominate, and the computer algorithms prioritize something else. My guess is that gray hairs dominate this group and harken back to a more distant past for a less-than-objective way of deciding who plays this year. Michigan’s past tradition, brand name and fan packing I suspect is a bigger factor than the BCS will admit or can quantify. What they can quantify is projected revenue. Therein may be the undisclosed statistical comparison of greater impact than the poll-computer data points.
Whatever the total composite of the system, it is the system.  Sparty cannot take its ball and go home. MSU is going to Tampa to play Georgia.  The coaches and players must concentrate on football Xs and Os, not computer ranking algorithms.
It may take a never-to-happen study by the General Accountability Office or the Congressional Budget Office to reveal the nuances of BCS weighting or potential internal biases. But even those studies will probably fail to solve all controversies. Alas, there will always be winners and losers, some who make the cut and those who are oh so close (“OSC”). The OSCs will always have an argument, an argument that fails under whatever comprises the current system. So for the second year in a row, during Sparty’s greatest two football seasons of national significance since the 1960’s, MSU will be an OSC not a BCS.
Roger M. Groves is a Professor of Law at Florida Coastal School of Law, teaching business and sports courses and director of The Center for Sports and Social Entrepreneurship. Visit Roger at and follow him at Twitter@rgroveslaw.


  1. VA Tech and U-M are the lowest rated BCS teams ever (ha - and they play
    each other). It's a really big joke, and possibly Boise State got screwed
    worse than we did.

    Contributing to the problem was coaches like Saban and Miles ranking U-M
    over MSU (probably thinking with their BCS hats on to increase the revenue
    that they get a big share of however they best can do it, or voting out of
    spite or loyalty v. merit).

    All we can say to U-M is that they can consider themselves a team that is
    better than us the next time they beat us on the field, and it's going on
    half a decade since they did so. And I guess you can ask the question of
    how many games they would have won without Denard. MSU could lose any one
    player and still have a good year - U-M is only good this year (and not as
    good as MSU) because of him.

  2. Saban wants UM to be highly-ranked when they play next September. Miles is favoring his former UM cronies. They would barely have won without running their generic quarterback-keeper plays to Dread-Nard the past couple of years. Absolutely true that we could lose any single player and still carry on, as we, in fact, did.

    We should just keep an eye on those last few recruits and see if our Coach get those guys that he wants to fill out the class. If so, we look solid moving on.

    (Heard that a 4-star recruit just de-committed from UM.)

    Anyway, we'll be on broadcast television early on the revised New Year's Day (After) while they appear on cable later in the week. It is the ONLY game that's not on cable all that day. So much for exposure discrepancy.

  3. I would recommend you to come up with posts a bit a lot more often.

  4. Lexia,

    Thanks for the input. Are you sure you saw the main page ( )? It is kind of streaky. We have had a few in the last few days. How did you find us? I'm curious.

  5. crybabies... You're playing a great team in Georgia so just be happy with what you get and embrace the realization that though you may not have been little brother to Michigan for the past 4 yrs, you'll always be in the shadow of the big block M and its greatness!!!

  6. And that's why we call them chUMps... Thanks for the contribution Anonymous.


Please sign in using the method most convenient for you. We do not receive your login information. This function is provided by Blogger.