Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Voters Made a Mess of That!!!!!!!!!

Monday night's BCS Championship game between Notre Dame and Alabama turned into an embarrassment, not only for Notre Dame, but for the method of selecting the finalists.

NCAA football and basketball are unique around the world by having their rankings determined by votes. First the NCAA football gurus select 115 media and football personalities to rank the top 25. Then 59 coaches also rank the top 25 teams. Finally, 6 independent computer formulas rank the top 25. These 3 scores are combined and averaged and result in the official NCAA Top 25 List. This list is then used to determine which teams play in which bowl games and eventually the top two teams meet in the BCS championship game. (Study the details here or here...if you're feeling brave!)

The reason for all these polls and computations arises from the ridiculous number of teams in the same competition. No where else in the world do 120 teams compete in the same competition. Of course, there's no way they can all play each other, so any system must be intrinsically "unfair".

The closest comparison of a field that size that comes to my mind is the field at a tennis major which starts with 128 players. But in tennis each round is an elimination match that halves the size of the field. Players can also compete every second day making the entire tournament last just two weeks.

So for many years college football championships have been decided by voters, and more recently by a championship game. As this year demonstrates the "experts" don't necessarily do a great job of making this decision. In fact, during the "Bear" Bryant era ('64, '73) Alabama was twice voted national champions at the end of the regular season and then proceeded to lose their bowl game! In fact, in 1973 Notre Dame was the team that defeated the national champions in the Sugar Bowl.

How I picture the voters casting their votes.
As an outsider, one reason I see the voters seem to make these mistakes is that they give too much weight to an undefeated season. Of course, an undefeated season is a major accomplishment, but an undefeated season against weak opponents does not automatically make you a better team than a 2 loss or 5 loss team who played stronger teams. Even after the bowl games were played the voters still ranked Notre Dame above Georgia. That makes no sense considering how close Georgia played Alabama compared to the Fighting Irish.

I'm not saying Notre Dame is a bad team, but during the regular season they only played one Top 10 team compared to Alabama's three. Plenty of other teams also had a tougher schedule. Stanford, for example, also played three Top 10 teams during the season.

It's not all Notre Dame's fault. USC was ranked #2 when Standford played them early in the season, and outside the Top 25 when Notre Dame played them later. But who's responsible for the schedule isn't my point. The simple truth is that others had a more difficult schedule and losing doesn't make them a worse team.

All of this just reinforces the difficulty of making judgements. 115 football personalities and 59 coaches plus the mathematicians and computers all operating within their area of expertise couldn't correctly identify the best 2 teams in college football in 2012. BRING ON THE PLAYOFFS!!!! Even 4 teams is sooo much better than what we have now!!!!!

So when we're tempted to poke our nose into other people's business and criticise the way they're raising their kids, working on their job, attending church services, or whatever it is, we need to remind ourselves that we're not experts and we'll never have all the necessary information to make a completely accurate judgement. Of course we need to care for people, listen to them, encourage them, support them and occasionally within the church we even need to reprimand them, but we should always do so with an attitude of humility, leaving the final judgment to God.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.
Romans 12:3

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