|Sunday, October 21
Updated: October 22, 8:05 PM ET
BCS formula not nearly as confusing at it seems
By Richard Billingsley
Special to ESPN.com
For some reason, many people feel totally alienated by the BCS. Maybe it's because they are intimidated by its seemingly complex formula. The funny part is, however, that it's not that complicated. As one those involved, I'm hoping that by relaying the formula in simpler terms fans might embrace the concept, which very simply put is, "the best two teams in the nation should be those who play difficult schedules while incurring the least amount of losses, and are the consensus picks of the best polls America has to offer."
Sounds easy enough, but the formula is not without controversy. Some of that, again, may be attributed to ignorance of the formula. Some may be deserved. I'm not here to defend the BCS as much as I am to present information so individuals can at least form an educated opinion.
The formula consists of four distinct parts, with each having sub parts, and these parts are very basic, yet fundamentally sound components. The four parts are: Polls, Strength Of Schedule, Team Losses and Quality Wins. The tabulation reads: Poll Average + Strength Of Schedule + Team Losses - Quality wins = BCS Rating. The LOWEST score total is ranked first.
Part 1 -- Polls
Any computer formula needed to include these two polls. After all, these were the time honored polls of four generations. The AP started in 1936 and the coaches poll in 1950. But they could not be the sole determining factor. Why? The reason is simple -- they are too subjective. Is there such a thing as regional or team bias? There could be. Do coaches vote for teams on their upcoming schedule so if they win, it makes them look better? I doubt it happens, but it could. The sportswriters and coaches that I know who are voters on the AP or coaches polls take their voting VERY SERIOUSLY, and they are to be commended for their service, but I don't know all of them. Do they all take their polling that seriously? Something needed to be used to balance out the potential for bias. Bring on the computers.
Computer Polls. This component accounts for the remaining 50 percent of the "Poll Part" of the formula. It is derived from an average of 8 computer polls, all of whom were carefully chosen for their particular strengths in reflecting different, yet popular points of view in ranking teams. The highest and lowest rankings are discounted allowing the remaining 6 to become a truer average of those varied points of view.
I'm not sure why everyone thinks math polls are new to college football. Nothing could be further from the truth. Various forms of mathematical formula's were used to declare National Champions long before the AP. Deke Houlgate, a professor of economics at Illinois created a widely known math formula in 1926. In 1929, Dick Dunkel perfected a formula that is still being used today in the third generation of The Dunkel Index. The computer polls have become the most controversial part of the formula and I'm sure it stems from the fact that at times, computer polls can vary greatly position to position, team by team among themselves, and also in comparison to the AP and coaches polls. Most people are offended by this and consider it to be a flaw. Actually, it's just the opposite. It's logical, if you understand the concept that early in the season computer polls, would at times, reflect the opposite results from the AP and coaches. Computer formula's are not designed to mimic those polls. They are, in fact, designed to take out the exact ingredient that the AP and coaches polls hold so dear -- subjective opinions.
Roy Kramer and Charles Bloom did an excellent job of pulling together the right combination of polls to give America a sampling of different rating systems. What would be the use in every computer poll following the same point of view when there are so many different philosophies from which to choose? For instance, some people feel very strongly that a limited capacity margin of victory should play a role, others believe that margin of victory should not count at all. There are those who feel strongly that a team's strength of schedule should supercede their won/loss record, others feel a won/loss record supercedes a strength of schedule. Some sports enthusiast believe every team should begin the season equal, others believe you should start where you finished last year, and still others just believe you should use your expertise and start them wherever you choose (like the AP and coaches polls). Some feel each game should weigh equally on the season, others feel the most recent performance should count more.
There is no way any of these groups can be ignored because they are all valid points of view. The fact is there is no right and wrong when it comes to ranking college football teams. It's a matter of personal opinion as to which point of view an individual chooses to follow.
In the wisdom of the BCS, all of these philosophies are included, and only the very best, the ones that have proven themselves over time, are used. This was not done lightly or frivolously. Countless painstaking months of evaluation went into the research of each computer poll that was chosen.
Part 2 -- Strength of schedule
Part 3 -- Team losses
Part 4 -- Quality wins
The perfect example
Add those wins and you get 73, add the losses you get 62. Now, three of those wins by opponents were over I-AA teams -- Arkansas St. over Richmond, Kansas over So. Illinois, and Oklahoma St. over S.W. Texas St. -- so those three are discounted leaving 70 wins. The games with the calculating team (Oklahoma), are discounted in the calculations and since the Sooners' opponent's were a combined 0-12 against Oklahoma, 12 of those losses are discounted. The final figure is 70 wins and 50 losses.
Take the winning percentage from 70/120=58.3 percent or .583 and multiply that times the weight of 66 2/3 which gives you a figure of .3889.
If you calculate out subpart B of opponents' opponents record you come up with 710-643 or .524 and weigh that against the 33 1/3 percent for a figure of .1749.
Add the two sub parts together for a total of .5638.
Rank the results in descending order. If you calculate the entire Division I-A in that manner last season, Oklahoma finished with a schedule rank of No. 11. Florida was No. 1 with a rating of .5962. In the final calculation, take Oklahoma's No. 11 and divide that by 25 and the Sooners' strength of schedule has a value of 0.44 for BCS calculations. Jeff Sagarin devised a computer program that automatically calculates these figures. They are verified by Dr. Peter Wolfe and turned over to the college football Hall Of Fame for use in calculating the BCS formula.
Learning to appreciate these darned computers
We are here to serve college football. All of our formulas are a reflection of our personal beliefs on what is pertinent to earning a championship, but once that formula is written, the computer doesn't care if it's evaluating Florida State or Ball State, all teams are equal in the eyes of a computer chip. Most of the questions I receive by e-mail revolve around the differences found among the computers in regards to specific teams. As mentioned above, this occurs because we all have different view points ranging from starting positions to methods of calculating the strength of schedule.
Certainly there is a poll here for everyone's pleasure. If you don't like using margin of victory, check out Billingsley, Massey, Colley or Anderson/Hester. If you appreciate using margin of victory in a limited capacity, check out Sagarin, Wolfe, Matthews or Rothman. If you value predetermined starting positions check out, Billingsley, Matthews or Sagarin. If you believe all teams should be started equal, check out Colley, Massey, Wolfe, Rothman and Anderson/Hester. If you don't think a poll should be published until all the "nonsense" is weeded out, check out Rothman, Wolfe and Anderson/Hester. If you're wondering why a really good poll has not been created to take all of these into account.....it has, check out the BCS.
Where do we go from here?
Still, I know there are multitudes of people out there unhappy with the BCS. I say to you, be patient. The BCS is a process of evolution. At the end of every season the conference commissioners evaluate the process. This is a good thing. Thank goodness they have that attitude. I feel college football is in good hands. Perhaps it's time we realized the BCS is GOOD for the overall health of college football.
BCS pollster Richard Billingsley is a college football historian, and author. His complete rankings are available at www.CFRC.com.