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Monday, December 04, 2006

... not that it ever was.

Someone was getting screwed yesterday. If Michigan went, Florida was getting screwed. Every other year the BCS claims another fanbase as its virgin sacrifice on the altar of "#1" versus "#2," and you're damn skippy those are airquotes delivered with maximum sarcasm. It just so happens that this year it's us.

I had planned on slapping up a column today boldly titled "FLORIDA GOT SCREWED." This would have been preferable to the above title for many reasons, the foremost among them being that since it isn't it's Michigan fans who are quietly swearing oaths of revenge against poll voters. But it would also have removed the waft of sour grapes from this post and allowed me to be really frickin' righteous. Alas.

I spent a good portion of the day jumping from from Tradesports to the coaches poll to the computer rankings, pounding refresh. When the coaches poll came out I slapped some stuff up, updated it a few times with more detail, and then clicked over to Tradesports. Naturally, Michigan had collapsed and Florida had surged. What stood out, though, was Ohio State's price, which shot up in concert with Florida's.

The market was telling Ohio State to breathe easier because the coaches had decided that the number three team in the nation was number two. Over the course of yesterday, OSU shot up from a 64% chance to win against either Michigan or Florida to a 73% chance against just Florida. If you think a win premium was built into Michigan shares, the market was 50-50 on who would get picked, so a reasonable assumption is that the market felt Ohio State was around 55% to beat Michigan.

That's what draws my ire. It seemed clear to everyone from sea to shining sea that there was a choice between the best team and the matchup that least highlighted the staggering absurdity of the BCS. The vast majority went with the latter. Some people are at least forthright enough to admit it:

George Lapides, a Memphis sports radio talk host, said he believed Florida would lose to Michigan if the teams were to play. But he jumped the Gators from No. 4 to No. 2, past the Wolverines, after Florida beat Arkansas.

“I liked the idea of a conference champion playing a conference champion,” he said. “I think that’s more appealing than a rematch. I think you try to pick something as appealing as possible.”

God... this is what it's come down to? We're having sports talk radio hosts choose who plays in the national championship game? Sports radio is a medium built around saying and doing dumb things for attention. If there's a profession less suited for the careful consideration I would like to think is the main attribute of a good poll voter, I can't think of one.

Uh, nevermind. I forgot about football coaches. Here's Jim Walden. He's the guy who voted Florida number one, and his reasons for doing so are subtle and reasonable:
“If you look at the Big Ten conference, it is a joke,” Walden said in a telephone interview late last night. He added: “I voted my heart and I voted my strength of what I believe in. In my opinion, Florida is the No. 1 team in the nation.”
If I stumbled across that sentiment on a Rivals message board, I would dismiss that guy as one of the board idiots. This guy has a vote that determines who goes to the national championship game. (Wikipedia temporarily has this nugget of joy on Walden: He still hosts a Sunday evening radio show in Iowa on WHO called "Two Guys Named Jim," or what some may call "One Guy Named Jim and One Guy Named Urban Meyer's Bitch!"Wooo open source encyclopedia. Also note that Walden was 0-17 against the Big Ten in his coaching career.)

Then there's former MSU coach George Perles:
“They lost one game to the best team in the country,” Perles said in a telephone interview from his home in East Lansing, Mich. “And No. 2, because they’re from the state of Michigan, and I just so happen to live here.”
I did not realize that geographical proximity was supposed to be a factor.

It's Pat Hill, the D-I coach voted Most Likely To Be Mistaken For A Janitor, who comes off the best:
“It was hard,” Hill said in a telephone interview. “I think Michigan had their shot at Ohio State. They didn’t get it done.”
...for a given value of "best," anyway.

Bowl advocates constantly tell us that the entire regular season is a playoff. If that's so, it's the world's dumbest, one where teams either can lose or can't, either must schedule tough teams or don't have to, either have a history of good teams or don't. It's a "playoff" where over half the time some team with as much or more of a claim is cast aside, leaving their fans and coaches to gnash their teeth and, if they're from the charmingly insecure and paranoid south, bring it up for years whenever their team hits 6-0.

There's no conspiracy here save that of stupidity. The BCS is a Lovecraftian monster with parts swiped from any system that was handy. A playoff beak here; bowl tentacles there. It is a playoff, a two team playoff, which is no playoff at all. It has ruined college football's most hallowed traditions, kicked a half-dozen teams directly in the nuts, and given us mostly grief. The people who run the BCS are, bluntly, idiots. The Harris poll has talk radio hosts in it and guys who vote Boise #2. Richard Billingsley's formula is a disjointed mess. The rest of the computers are crippled by an inability to consider the same factors humans do. The coaches -- glorified gym teachers all -- are hopelessly biased. Only Jim Tressel, who abstained after looking at the absurdity of picking one of two teams and seeing it spun as an insult to his opponent either way, seems sane to me.

And somehow people who oppose a playoff will tell me that watching a bunch of idiots decide that my 11-1 team doesn't deserve to go to the national championship game because there's a much worse 12-1 team that had the good fortune to play in a conference without Ohio State is a beautiful thing that adds to the unique charm of college fooball. To them, I only say that I wish you would die in a hideous and painful fashion because a bunch of gym teachers held a vote.