Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Some Things Never Change | by Jeff

BGS got a little attention last year when we broke down the inherent bias in the Coaches poll. Jumping in our wayback machine, the main controversy last season was which team deserved the final at-large bid, as Oregon, Notre Dame, and Auburn all had a shot at the BCS. In case you've been living in a cave (or Jay's closet), the overwhelming controversy this season is, "Who's number 2?" Let's see what dastardly biases are revealed now that the final Coaches poll is public.

Florida vs Michigan for #2
Seven out of the ten conferences preferred Florida in the big game. Only the Big Ten sided with Michigan over the Gators, with former Gator coach Ron Zook the only Big 10 coach to break ranks with his conference brethren.

Conference #2 Votes
SEC 7 0
ACC 6 0
WAC 5 0
CUSA 5 1
Big 12 4 2
PAC 10 4 2
Sun Belt 3 1
MAC 3 3
Big East 2 2
MWC 2 2
Big Ten 1 4
Independent 0 1

Conference Bias
For the second year in a row, the Big East leads the pack in bias toward fellow conference members. Once again, teams rated fellow conference members an average of one spot higher in the polls than everyone else.

Rankings Boost by Conference
Big East
Pac 10
Big 12
Big 10

One interesting conference in this regard was the Big Ten. With only three ranked teams and one of them the unanimous #1, the coaches essentially boosted Michigan by roughly the same number of votes that they dropped Wisconsin. I don't think this is any more than a coincidence, but on the surface it does make the conference appear somewhat less biased.

Self Gratification
Last year, coaches rated their own teams an average of +1.7 spots higher than everyone else. This year the toots from their own horns were even louder, as the boost jumped to +2.5. The top five pat-yourself-on-the-backers:

Coach, School
Greg Schiano, Rutgers
Art Briles, Houston
Rich Rodriguez, West Virginia
Phil Fulmer, Tennessee
Mike Riley, Oregon State

A couple of coaches seemed to take a lesson in humility, as none of the top five offenders returned from last year (although Stoops was close, putting Oklahoma #4 overall this year). Last year's #1 back-patter, the Old Ball Coach, to his credit left the Gamecocks out of the top 25. But that didn't stop him from from winning the "Anti-Notre Dame Curmurdgeon" award again; for the second straight year, Spurrier had ND ranked the lowest of all the voting coaches (14th last year, 16th this year.) Gee thanks, Ball Coach!

OOC Prejudice
Last season, coaches rated non-conference opponents on their schedule about +.7 spots higher than other teams. This season, that number was slightly smaller at +.5. Good to see the coaches being a little more balanced. But why would a coach be less biased toward non-conference teams on his schedule, yet more biased for conference teams? If they were trying to boost their own team's strength of schedule, certainly they would rate every opponent a little higher. Could it be that the shared conference revenue from bowl appearances is weighing a little heavier in their minds?

Special congratulations go out to Ball State coach Brady Hoke, who accidentally left Arkansas off of his ballot. It is great to know that coaches invest so much time and energy in something so important. Of course, that is only slightly worse than Howard Schnellenberger's rankings for both LSU and Oklahoma. At #15 and #18 respectively, each of these schools were ten positions lower than their consensus rankings. I am assuming that Howard will be taking ND and the points in the Sugar Bowl.

On the flip side, you may want to steal a copy of Iowa State coach Dan McCarney's NCAA basketball picks this March. Other than swapping Southern Cal/Louisville and Oregon State/Georgia Tech, Dan successfully "picked" the exact order of the final rankings. Tell him what's he's won, Jay!

Poor Precedent
While you might agree that Jim Tressel abstaining from the poll was a smart thing to do from an Ohio State standpoint, the fact that USA Today let him do it is problematic, and it sets a terrible precedent for next year. Now that the final votes are public, I can imagine any number of scenarios where a coach would find it in his best interest to abstain from voting, especially when the outcome would directly affect his BCS chances or the opponent he would face (or even for more personal reasons, like not generating bulletin board material). Tressel's decision might have opened the door for more coaches to follow suit.

Recipe for Disaster
As we said last year, the Coaches Poll is by far the most inherently corrupt component of the BCS system. Coaches, their schools, and their conferences directly benefit from the results of the voting, and as a result, objectivity goes out the window.

As Bono once sang, "How long....to sing this song?"