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Sunday, October 21
Updated: October 22, 8:05 PM ET
BCS formula not nearly as confusing at it seems

By Richard Billingsley
Special to

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
The AP and ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll. These are the two subjective components in the poll process, they are averaged together and form 50 percent of the poll factor. These two polls are subject to an individual's emotions and personal bias. Additionally, these polls are not subject to any particular rules or regulations, they rely on the experience and expertise of the individual participant.

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
The strength of schedule factor is the key ingredient in all of the computer polls, and I would say, the overall BCS poll as well. Why? Because the 132 year history of college football has proven to us repeatedly that teams with one or more losses on the season are indeed better than some undefeated teams that have played weaker schedules. This is the most challenging part of the formula simply because of the tremendous research that has to be done to create the end result. The formula itself, however, is quite simple. The strength of schedule is broken down into these four subparts:

  • Determining the cumulative won/loss records of a team's opponents, with only wins over other Division I-A teams being counted. All losses are counted. This sub part carries a weight of 66 2/3 percent.
  • Determining the cumulative won/loss records of the opponents' opponents. This sub part carries a weight of 33 1/3 percent.
  • Add A+B and rank the results in ascending order from No. 1- No.117, (the current number of teams being used in the BCS calculations).
  • Take that rank and divide by 25. The end result becomes the figure used in a team's strength of schedule. For example, the team that plays the No. 1-rated schedule each week receives a value of 0.04 (1/25), the No. 25 team gets a value of 1 (25/25), and the No. 35 team gets a value of 1.40 (35/25).

    Part 3 -- Team losses
    This component is used because if two or more teams are in competition for the top two places, and all have played "comparable difficult" schedules, the team with the better record should have a slight advantage. The formula simply adds one point for each loss on the season.

    Part 4 -- Quality wins
    This component is new for the 2001 season. It was instituted to ensure that teams who are playing -- and defeating -- other Top 15 BCS teams are receiving the proper credit that the overall strength of schedule may not reflect strongly enough. It's a very simple procedure. Since the lowest score wins in the final tabulations, points are deducted for beating the best teams. Beat the No. 1 team, deduct 1.5 point. Beat No. 2, deduct 1.4. Beat No. 3, deduct 1.3 and so on down through 15, where you deduct 0.1 points.

    The perfect example
    Here's Oklahoma from last season:

  • Polls=2.86. This is an easy one. The Sooners finished No. 1 in the AP and No. 1 in the coaches poll. That gives an average of 1. In the computer polls, one of Oklahoma's low ranking of No. 3 was discounted and the remaining, 1, 3 ,2 ,3, 1, 2 and 1, give them an average of 1.86. Add 1.86 and 1 and the poll total equals 2.86.
  • Strength of Schedule=0.44. Add the Sooners' opponent's record from their games with UTEP (8-3), Arkansas St. (1-10), Rice (3-8), Kansas, (4-7), Texas (9-2), Kansas St. (10- 2), Nebraska (9-2), Baylor (2-9), Texas A&M (7-4), Texas Tech (7-5), Oklahoma St. (3-8), and Kansas St. again in the Big 12 Championship game, (10-2).

    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.

  • Team Losses=0. Oklahoma was 12-0, so there was no penalty to add.

  • Quality wins=0. This was instituted for the 2001 season.

  • Totals = 2.86 + 0.44 + 0 + 0 =3.30 for Oklahoma's BCS Rating. Florida State qualified for the No. 2 slot in the championship game with a total of 5.37. Miami finished third with 5.69.

    Learning to appreciate these darned computers
    We have taken a ton of criticism from the media, being called everything from "computer geeks" to things far worse. But it's the fans that have been the most difficult to deal with. Unfortunately, there are people out there who have no respect for other human beings. We have all received vicious threats, vile, profane e-mails of unspeakable content, all from "fans" that are really a disgrace to college football and everything it stands for. Last season a "fan" e-mailed me that if I didn't live so far from him he would "track me down and beat my face". All this because I didn't have his favorite team ranked in the Top 10. Gee, sometimes I think we have our priorities a little out of whack. Besides, we all need to remember this, the very poll that disappoints us, is a delight to someone else.

    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 has, check out the BCS.

    Where do we go from here?
    The sky is the limit for college football, the greatest sport on earth. Last season 28,839,284 people attended Division I-A football games, for an average attendance of 43,630, only 59 per game short of the all time average of 43, 689 set in 1982. Television ratings are up. The networks are happy, the fans are happy, life in college football is good. I've been around this sport as an avid fan for over 35 years. I've never witnessed this much excitement. I've never seen people enjoying the sport this much, and paying attention to so many teams, not just their favorite teams. I attribute this to the BCS. The regular season has never meant as much as it does today. EVERY GAME has an impact on the BCS standings because of the computer polls and the strength of schedule component.

    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

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