Sports from the point view from the guy that holds the clipboard for the guy that holds the clipboard.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

BCS Defender: BCS vs March Madness

Tonight pre-season college basketball ends and on Thursday the real season begins!  I know that is a completely cynical statement, but judging by America's reaction that is exactly what has happened.  Maybe some fans realize college basketball starts when the conference tournaments do, and others are really good and see it starting right after the Bowl Games end.  But for most of America, college basketball does not start until Thursday.  It may suck, but it is also very true.  Tonight we will have people arguing about seeding without even watching half the teams they are arguing about play.  Compare that to the hated BCS.  How many games have people seen that are involved in the arguments they are having over who belongs?   Admit it, people actually care about and watch the College football regular season, but do not for College basketball.  When they argue about who's in and who's out they are arguing only about the best teams and they are talking about games they actually saw.  That is a better situation.

The BCS is better than March Madness.  The BCS does not reward mediocrity.  It has maintains a meaningful regular season.  It's selection methods are transparent and open to public scrutiny.  It is more honest and fair than March Madness.  And lastly it does not encourage gambling.

Before you start flaming me, please remember that I still mean everything I said, when I wrote this other piece last year.  I love the tourney as much as anyone and have since I was 12.  The points I made there still hold.  It's just that no one wants to ever look at the other side of the coin.  I have that courage, do you?  If not, stop reading.

Mediocrity: I name thee Boston College.  They lost to Harvard.  But because they beat Duke and UNC they are in the tournament.  Tell me why they deserve a title shot.  Tell me they are going to win even one game.  Tell me rewarding mediocrity like BC is better than trying to figure out who is actually the best team.  Why are they in?  Cannon fodder.  To make sure that the "pure" 6 game winning streak you need to win the title remains intact.  What did they do to deserve an equal chance at winning a title as Pitt,  Uconn, UNC, Oklahoma, or the other top teams this year?  In college football beating two top ranked teams in one season means you ruined two seasons.  Major upsets that stop title dreams in their tracts.  In a bizarro world where Duke and UNC are football powers and BC sucks, those two wins would be the story in college football.  It would be like Mississippi State taking out Florida and LSU.  It would blow away the Appalachian St victory over Michigan.  It would be something those players would never forget.  Something fans would never forget.  Let's go back to Appalachian St. and ask this question five years from now "Which story was better in '07/'08  App St beating Michigan, or Davidson's run in the Tournament?"  I bet more people will remember the regular season upset.  What is better a system that rewards only the best of the best, or one that rewards mediocrity?    Do you know what we call a system the rewards mediocrity instead of performance?  Communism.

Transparency:  How is the BCS chosen?  Their website tells you.  Everyone can look at it figure out on their own how each team qualifies.  Yes even the computer polls publish their formula and the pollsters finals votes are made public. And then the Bowls slot the teams amongst themselves based upon those teams that qualify.  How does the Tournament decide who plays?  A ten man selection committee that gets to do almost whatever they want.  And guess who they end up giving the vast majority of open bids to?  They give them to the big conferences.  But the issue is transparency.  BCS has it, while March Madness locks people up behind closed doors, in a back room secret ceremony.  Which is better?  When people were upset about Utah this year I was able to tell them that in their dream 8 seed tournament Utah would have been left out.  How did I know this?  By looking at the BCS selection page and applying their rules, I saw that Utah was the 9th team placed into a BCS game.   Meanwhile if you have a question about the seeding of March Madness, tough luck.  You will get no answers.  Sure there will be a press conference, but it will look very Bush-esque as far as real answers to hard questions go.  Which system is more open? Which has something to hide?

Further the BCS allows itself to be open to criticism.  They could do the closed door thing and point to Basketball.  But they don't.  They are open and people rip apart the system because the information is on their website for anyone to read.   This is a better way of doing things.  This is American.  Not hiding but allowing people to criticize.

Honesty:  The Cinderella is the biggest lie in all of sports.  Stop right now.  Go search the web, and see which Cinderellas have won the tournament.  Then look at what conferences they come from.  Oh, NONE of them have come from outside the big 6.  Next, if we list ALL champions going back to 1966, you get three teams from non-major conferences winning it all.  UNLV, Lousiville and Marquette.  Two of those are now in a major conference.  Let's look at final fours then.  Two #11 seeds.  Elite eight?  Eight teams seeded between 10-12, including the two Final Four teams.  Wow, what a fair system that gives real chances to win a title to small conferences.  The thing no one mentions is that the size of the tournament and the stacked deck  toward the big 6 make it impossible for any but a large conference school to win.  The truth is that a playoff is an excuse to give more chances to the elite.  They recently expanded the field from 64 to 65.  Who plays in that game?   Do they take 2 bubble teams?  No, they take two teams that won their conference and make them play an extra game to see who will lose on Thursday to the best team in the nation.  That is more fair than the BCS?  Cinderella is a lie.  She never leaves with the Prince, but believe me, she does get screwed by him.

Gambling:  There is more money to be made gambling on an easily understood fixed seed single elimination tournament than there is any other way to settle a championship.  That is probably the worst thing about March Madness, is how much it thrives on gambling.  How much money to you gamble on that office pool? $1, $5, or $10?  All innocent enough amounts.  How much do you gamble on the BCS?   Nothing.  This is not cynicism, this is reality.  Don't believe me, then don't fill out a bracket this year.  I dare you.  Watch the tourney, but don't fill out a bracket.  You cannot do it.  And if people tried, March Madness would suffer as a result.

Slippery Slope:  Every single tournament set up by the NCAA has expanded it's field.  If we set up that perfect 8-team field for college football, do you know what will happen?  Within 10 years we'll be at 16, and within 20 we'll be at 24.  This is based upon the fact that every single tournament set up by the NCAA has expanded it's field.  Yes the slippery slope is an assumption based argument that should be avoided.  But here it fits. This is not spin, this is not stretching the truth, this is again, reality.  You might not like it, just like you did not like the gambling issue, but it is just as true.

Life isn't fair.  Yet the most heard argument against the BCS is "But Mommy, that's not fair!"   Sadly it is the most fair system we can come up with.  Everyone takes their turn getting screwed.  Utah has a gripe?  Talk to Auburn.  Big and small suffer alike.  And in fact more big conference schools have gotten screwed with perfect regular seasons ending with no title.  Life isn't fair, and it is cruel, but with the BCS, everyone has the same chance to get shafted.  Can we at least give credit to that definition of fair.  It is ugly, and imperfect, but it has value.

So there you have it.  The most beloved annual sporting event on America's calendar has lessons to learn from the most criticized.  Have I gotten you at least that far with my arguments?  Because if we can agree there. then there is hope that we can make both things better.  But I still sit here before you with the claim The BCS is better than March Madness.  I love them both, and can see the upside and downside in both.  However, if forced to choose I'll take the method that is open, honest, fair, preserves the regular season, rewards only the best teams, and does not openly encourage gambling.  I'll take the BCS.

1 comment:

Jim said...

Thank you for a great article. I have felt this way for years and it is nice to see I am not alone in this belief. As you rightly point out the Tournament uses a selection committee and with the number of slots available there will never bee a team that a wide number people believe could have won it left out. If college football goes to a tournament format you can be assured that there will be a committee that makes the picks as there is no other way to judge who should get the two spots from a pool of team 6 to 10.

The biggest problems for the BCS all come down to the formula. Bill James touched on it a few months ago but the computer polls are not allowed to be as good as they could be. Also, the human polls are given way to much weight when at most they should be only half but ideally about a third.