Opinion: BCS rigs the numbers and few people are happy with the system
Jim Litke Associated Press columnist
The BCS needs to get out of everyone's face.
Most people who scam the public have the good sense to keep quiet about it. Not the guys who call the shots the Bowl Championship Series. Emboldened by their newest TV partner and current water-carrier — let's call it BCSPN — they've turned the con game into a weekly series.
It's not as grindingly bad as "The Decision," but at least that was a one-off. This one is called "BCS Countdown" and the first words out of host Rece Davis' mouth when it made its debut Sunday night could turn out to be prophetic.
"Love it or hate it," he said during the opening segment, "you can not ignore it."
No, but just give us some time.
The overwhelming majority of college football fans already hate the BCS. A year ago, the conference commissioners and college presidents who run the cartel took some bad PR advice and tried charming their critics, setting up a Twitter account and Facebook page. Not surprising, both were carpet-bombed immediately.
"You are like a black, ichorous boil on the sporting world that should be lanced with rusty nails," one disgruntled fan messaged.
"We hate you," another wrote. "Signed, Everyone."
Polls show that nine out of every 10 fans favors a playoff. The BCS response over the years since hijacking the sport's postseason a dozen years ago has been to tweak the rules, try and buy off the smaller conferences it was excluding, rebuff congressmen who complained, and dumb down the polls.
That last move was occasioned when The Associated Press told the BCS to stop using its media poll in late 2004 as one of three equally weighted components — along with the coaches poll and computers — in determining the rankings.
The AP was replaced by the Harris Interactive Poll, a move that turned embarrassing when it was revealed that Larry Rash, one of the Harris voters, was on board simply because his father-in-law was Troy University coach Larry Blakeney.
"And if I was living in a perfect world," Rash, a masonry-supply contractor, said upon his removal from the poll board, "I would like to see a playoff."
Now, as some of us have suspected for a long time, it turns out the books are cooked, too.
In 2004, Bradley Carlin, a professor of biostatistics and Mayo professor in public health at the University of Minnesota, wrote an op-ed piece for the Sunday New York Times and concluded, "No matter how you arrange the formula, the BCS remains nothing more than an elaborate seeding system for a two-team tournament.
"Its sole benefit is to create one game that precludes all but two powerful contenders from a legitimate title shot. More to the point, it will always run a high risk of crowning the wrong champion."
That view has gained momentum in succeeding years. In 2009, respected analyst Bill James called on his colleagues to "have the dignity, the self-respect, and the common sense" to boycott the BCS' championship charade.
Building on work done by Dr. Hal S. Stern, head of the Department of Statistics at the University of California-Irvine, James backed Stern's conclusion that the purpose of using computer rankings in the BCS formula was "to create some gobbledygook math to endorse" what the poll voters came up with.
"There is no point in our participating in the process if you're going to tell us how to do the analysis based on your ignorant, backward-looking prejudices," James wrote, repeating his call to boycott the BCS. "Run your own damned computers."
Increasingly, they have.
In another op-ed piece this past Sunday in the New York Times, Yahoo Sports columnists Dan Wetzel and Jeff Passan noted all the BCS-mandated changes to their computer rankings haven't quieted criticism about their credibility. Two of the six remaining BCS computer analysts acknowledged they could produce better rankings without all the meddling.
You wouldn't know any of this, of course, watching "BCS Countdown," or going to the official web site.
"The BCS is one of the most successful events in the history of college football, yet it is often misunderstood," a statement on the site said.
"Thanks to the BCS," it added, "the top two teams have played each other 12 times in 12 years by BCS measurements and 9 times in the last 12 according to the AP poll — including the last six years in a row."
Some accomplishment. The BCS has been rigging the computer formulas to justify their rankings and nine of the 12 times, humans arrived at the same conclusions without employing any computer formulas at all.
Not exactly the kind of thing you want to be broadcasting from the rooftops.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org