college football scheduling
As is typical for this time of year (which is to say, any time between April and August, also known as the "offseason") news has come out of some college football players being arrested. In this instance, the culprits attend Auburn. Naturally, there's been some snark about glass houses and all that, some disagreements about whether the offenses were serious (I believe marijuana is involved) and stuff like that.
Mostly, though, my mind drifts back to a belief I have held* for several years: No college football team with any intention of contending for a national title should ever schedule a big opponent for the first week of the season.
The offseason takes a long time. There are eight solid months between games. Those eight months include an entire semester of school and a long, hot, often boring summer. This is the time period in which players have the least to do in their lives--less structure, less routine, less supervision from those that have the most influence on them.
So it is totally predictable that some players are going to get in trouble on occasion in the offseason. For some it will be a minor issue, but for others the problem will be a bit more serious.
And in many cases a coach will be expected to enforce a consequence that involves the loss of playing time.
And such a consequence must, for both purposes of discipline and publicity, take effect no later than the next available game.
Now, if a contending team happens to be playing Eastern Michigan, it might elicit a chuckle from media and the player feels bad, but a contending team can still roll to an easy victory. No big deal.
But if that first game happens to be scheduled against, say, Notre Dame or Alabama, a missing player could be the difference between winning and losing.
Yet no coach** can, in the public eye, delay a suspension like that for purposes of being competitive in a tougher game. So they suspend the player, cross their fingers, and hope.
So a team suffers due to one (more more) player's infraction based not on the infraction but on a predetermined accident of schedule.
The obvious solution, one that thinking athletic directors across the country should be wise enough to adopt, is to never schedule a huge game in the first week.
It makes the schedule boring, and it might mean turning down money for one of those fancy neutral site games, but if you don't want your team's postseason jeopardized because a couple of players were at the wrong party at the wrong time in April or June, you schedule a cupcake to open the season.
*I am not the first to think about this and I don't want to pretend that I am unique here; I may have even been prompted along this line by thoughts I read on this board, though I do not recall.
**Except Jim Tressel, but even he can get fired if things are bad enough.
So I have been thinking of some Ideas that would make a playoff acceptable to someone like me who loves the bowl system. And for those of you who think that they can coexist I couldn’t agree less. I would present the NIT as proof, yes it still exists but who really cares. The bowls would die a very slow death and become irrelevant. You can already see the beginning of this happening. A playoff system would only speed this death. No more Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, New Years Day… For me throwing away 90 plus years of tradition in not something that is acceptable at all. Now I always hear how you could use the bowl games for the tournament sites, but ask yourself why the Big Ten or Big East would ever agree to that. I don’t think that playing road games round after round would be appealing to them at all. So that option won’t work.
My solution is two fold
- Institute a 16 team playoff system. Every conference gets one automatic bid for its Champion. This would have 11 automatic bids and 5 at large bids, which are more at large bids than we have in the BCS and none of those bids would probably go to a lesser conference. This would increase the number of "big time" conference teams playing. I am not tied to any way of selecting those 5 teams, the BCS rankings, final AP/coaches poll, or selection committee are all fine with me. I would have the first round game played at the home site of higher seed. How great would it be to see some SEC, Pac 10, Big 12, and Florida schools traveling up to M, Ohio St., Penn St… in December? I would love that. Then the rest of the rounds could be at host sites like March Madness. This allows the NC be “settled on the field” and for those of us who don’t want the bowls go away my second point will deal with this.
- Now I will admit that this is a major compromise for those of us who love the bowls but without a compromise they will go away forever. First get rid of the automatic 12th game which has done nothing for the improvement of College football. Unless you like playing 1-AA school. Replace it with the bowl games, yes at the beginning of the season. I know that this is a very foreign idea, but the Peach Bowl is already doing it (Va. Tech vs. Alabama). So the first week of the season we would have a bunch of bowl games much like the “preseason games” of the 80’s and 90’s. So week one you would have a ton of great traditional inter-conference match-ups. So the areas that are used to the revenue that their local bowl game gives them would be able to keep the game and continue to provide the financial stability for those places, which is a factor in all of this.
After reading Hannibal's excellent review of Michigan's bad scheduling luck in the Big 10, I was curious to see what the results for our non-conference games would look like through the same lens. Thanks to James Howell and Chris Stassen, all the data required is readily available. In keeping with Hannibal's treatment, I have considered all non-conference games since the Big11Ten entered its current format in 1993. Michigan's game against each team has NOT been subtracted from that team's record, because (1) our game against each team was part of that team's overall level of success that year, and (2) I'm lazy. The only team whose overall win-loss record was likely to be impacted significantly over the course of 16 years just from playing us was Notre Dame; their 6-6 record against us over this span is slightly lower than their net 0.616 success percentage over the same span (success percentage defined as (wins+0.5*ties)/(wins+ties+losses). If I get ambitious, maybe I'll run the numbers again with games against us subtracted out, but I suspect it won't change the conclusions much.So without further ado, here are the numbers:
Team Game score Record 1993-2008 Cumulative
Utah L 23-25 13-0 (1.000) 130-61 (0.681)
Miami (OH) W 16-6 2-10 (0.167) 106-83-1 (0.561)
Notre Dame L 17-35 7-6 (0.538) 119-74-1 (0.616)
Toledo L 10-13 3-9 (0.250) 118-70-2 (0.626)
The Horror L 32-34 13-2 (0.867) 148-56 (0.726)
Oregon L 7-39 9-4 (0.692) 130-65 (0.667)
Notre Dame W 38-0 3-9 (0.250) 119-74-1 (0.616)
Eastern Mich W 33-22 4-8 (0.333) 56-125 (0.309)
Vanderbilt W 27-7 4-8 (0.333) 50-127 (0.283)
Central Mich W 41-17 10-4 (0.714) 83-103 (0.446)
Notre Dame W 47-21 10-3 (0.769) 119-74-1 (0.616)
Ball State W 34-26 5-7 (0.417) 84-100-2 (0.457)
Northern Ill. W 33-17 7-5 (0.583) 81-104 (0.438)
Notre Dame L 10-17 9-3 (0.750) 119-74-1 (0.616)
Eastern Mich W 55-0 4-7 (0.364) 56-125 (0.309)
Miami (OH) W 43-10 8-5 (0.615) 106-79 (0.573)
Notre Dame L 20-28 6-6 (0.500) 119-74-1 (0.616)
San Diego St. W 24-21 4-7 (0.364) 77-110 (0.412)
Central Mich W 45-7 3-9 (0.250) 83-103 (0.446)
Houston W 50-3 7-6 (0.539) 74-113-1 (0.396)
Notre Dame W 38-0 5-7 (0.417) 119-74-1 (0.616)Oregon L 27-31 8-5 (0.615) 130-65 (0.667)
Washington W 31-29 7-6 (0.539) 95-94-1 (0.503)
Western Mich W 35-12 4-8 (0.333) 98-86-1 (0.532)
Notre Dame L 23-25 10-3 (0.769) 119-74-1 (0.616)
Utah W 10-7 5-6 (0.455) 130-61 (0.681)
Miami (OH) W 31-13 7-5 (0.583) 106-79 (0.573)
Washington L 18-23 8-4 (0.667) 95-94-1 (0.503)
Western Mich W 38-21 5-6 (0.455) 98-86-1 (0.532)
Bowling Green W 42-7 2-9 (0.182) 100-83-2 (0.546)
Rice W 38-7 3-8 (0.273) 76-95-1 (0.445)
UCLA L 20-23 6-6 (0.500) 109-83 (0.568)
Notre Dame W 26-22 5-7 (0.417) 119-43-1 (0.616)
Rice W 37-3 5-6 (0.455) 76-96-1 (0.445)
Syracuse W 18-13 7-5 (0.583) 97-92-1 (0.513)
Notre Dame L 20-36 9-3 (0.750) 119-74-1 (0.616)
Syracuse L 28-38 8-4 (0.667) 97-92-1 (0.513)
Eastern Mich W 59-20 3-8 (0.273) 56-125 (0.309)
Hawaii W 48-17 0-12 (0.000) 100-101-1 (0.498)
Colorado W 27-3 5-6 (0.455) 114-81-1 (0.584)
Baylor W 38-3 2-9 (0.182) 58-123 (0.320)
Notre Dame W 21-14 7-6 (0.539) 119-74-1 (0.616)
Colorado W 20-13 10-2 (0.833) 114-81-1 (0.584)
Boston College W 20-14 5-7 (0.417) 120-75-1 (0.615)
UCLA W 38-9 5-6 (0.455) 109-83 (0.568)
Virginia W 18-17 9-4 (0.692) 117-79 (0.597)
Memphis W 24-7 3-8 (0.273) 81-105 (0.436)
Boston College W 23-13 4-8 (0.333) 120-75-1 (0.615)
Boston College W 34-26 7-4-1 (0.625) 120-75-1 (0.615)
Notre Dame W 26-24 6-5-1 (0.542) 119-74-1 (0.616)
Colorado L 26-27 11-1 (0.917) 114-81-1 (0.584)
Washington St. W 41-14 5-6 (0.455) 93-95 (0.495)
Notre Dame L 23-27 11-1 (0.917) 119-74-1 (0.616)
Houston W 42-21 1-9-1 (0.136) 74-113-1 (0.396)
Cumulative opponent records in years we play them: 329-318-3 (0.509)
Cumulative opponent records for 1993 - 2008: 5117-4522-36 (0.531)
The difference in success percentage of only 0.022 here is about a quarter of a game per opponent per year. Whether or not this difference registers as "statistically significant" (I didn't check), common sense tells us that a quarter of a game per opponent is probably meaningless.
So the conclusion is, over the course of 16 years, our non-conference opponents have done, on average, no better or worse in years we've played them than they have over the course of the last 16 years as a whole. Sure, we've played a few teams who were unexpectedly playing lights-out (Utah undefeated last year; 10-2 and 11-1 Colorado teams in the mid-'90s), but we've also hit our share of otherwise decent teams having dismal years (0-12 Hawaii, 3-9 Toledo (granted they beat us, but that's not the point), and a couple of underperforming Notre Dame teams). In the end, it seems to work out about even.
EDIT: Added two games I previously missed.
How a kid from Northville wound up in Starkville, Mississippi is a tale of woe for another time. However, this year's Mississippi State home schedule allows me to see some pretty good visiting teams. Mississippi State's home conference schedule is LSU, Florida, Ole Miss, and Alabama. Add to that a non-conference visit from Georgia Tech and some good teams will be visiting about a mile and a half walk from my house. My question is which team's home fans have the opportunity to see the best visiting teams? I would be interested to see if any school has five better visitors than LSU, Georgia Tech, Alabama, Ole Miss, and Florida.