So, I've had this weird idea for a while and I've been wanting to bounce it off mgoblog to get some feedback (or basically to have an interesting discussion).
According to some reports (linked below), the corruption probe involving Louisville, Adidas and a few assistant coaches may expand greatly based on banks records of Andy Miller and Christian Dawkins currently in possession of the F.B.I. and wiretaps:
Multiple sources who’ve been briefed on the case and are familiar with the material obtained by feds told Yahoo Sports that the impact on the sport will be substantial and relentless. Sitting under protective order right now are the fruits of 330 days of monitoring activity by the feds, which one assistant US Attorney noted Thursday was “a voluminous amount of material.” That includes wiretaps from 4,000 intercepted calls and thousands of documents and bank records obtained from raids and confiscated computers, including those from notorious NBA agent Andy Miller.
“This goes a lot deeper in college basketball than four corrupt assistant coaches,” said a source who has been briefed on the details of the case. “When this all comes out, Hall of Fame coaches should be scared, lottery picks won’t be eligible to play and almost half of the 16 teams the NCAA showed on its initial NCAA tournament show this weekend should worry about their appearance being vacated.”
I say blow it all up.
The only thing new about this investigation is the scope, involving looking at 380 matches in Europe and another 300 in the rest of the world. Fifty people have already been arrested.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- Organized crime gangs have fixed or tried to fix hundreds of soccer matches around the world in recent years, including World Cup qualifiers, European Championship qualifiers and and two UEFA Champions League games, Europol announced Monday.
DoubleB and I were/are engaged in a spirited debate under Brian's post regarding the home site concept being dead. Our debate is about whether or not to require entrants in the national title game to win their conference.
I believe the conference championship requirement is an important one for fairness and for preservation of the regular season. If you take a straight top four, you render many of the best regular season games (like Alabama-LSU last year, Michigan-Ohio State in 2006, USC-Notre Dame in 2005, etc) meaningless. Instead of being the biggest moments of the season, they are the least important. That, to me, is a crime against college football, where the regular season is more exciting than the playoffs of most sports.
DoubleB has made some good points against that idea, but he inadvertently introduced a piece of evidence that completely destroys the position: The 2008 college football season.
Here is the final BCS top ten from 2008:
1. Oklahoma (11-1)
2. Florida (11-1)
3. Texas (11-1)
4. Alabama (12-1)
5. USC (11-1)
6. Utah (12-0)
7. Texas Tech (11-1)
8. Penn State (11-1)
9. Boise State (12-0)
10. Ohio State (10-2) Terrell Who?
The final tallies of the AP and Harris polls had the same top four; the coaches poll ranked USC ahead of Alabama.
A four-team playoff constructed using BCS ranking criteria, taking the top four teams only, would give us a semi-final round featuring only Big 12 and SEC teams. It would probably look like this:
#1 Oklahoma vs. #4 Alabama
#2 Florida vs. #3 Texas
This would be met with cries of injustice, bias, and corruption. And the first two critiques would be spot on. In this scenario USC and Utah are left out in the cold so that the "cool" conferences can get their second members. The problem is that the rankings here are just plain wrong. How do we know?
2008 is a classic example of poll bias; pundits that know about as much as you and me watch football, think they know who looks good and who doesn't, and fill out polls that reflect their opinions. In 2008 everybody believed that the Big 12 and the SEC were the two best conferences. There seemed to be no question about it.
And everybody was wrong.
Now it may be that Florida was the best team in the country, but it's impossible to know for sure--Utah beat Alabama more convincingly than Florida did, and USC was absolutely unstoppable by the end of the season, as they were every year at the height of the Pete Carroll era. Unfortunately, we never saw the USC dynasty play a top SEC team during the mid-'00s. They did humiliate Auburn at home in 2003, but that Auburn team was a serious disappointment.
For all we know, USC was the best team in the country that year. Their only loss was early, on the road, to a talented Oregon State team; the next week they beat Oregon 44-10 in a game nobody noticed at the time, but looks a lot better now that we see that Chip Kelly was (as OC at the time) building Oregon into a powerhouse. This is the USC team that crushed Ohio State in Los Angeles 35-3; Texas needed every minute of the Fiesta Bowl to escape the same team. They defeated Penn State handily in the Rose Bowl. They were very good.
In the other direction, the Big 12 was already well on its way to becoming the defense-free league that nobody respected when Oklahoma State was begging for a Championship Game bid. It was a lot weaker than anybody wanted to believe, because they didn't have all the information.
And, of course, nobody believed Utah was good because they didn't even play in a "major" conference. No way they'd be able to handle the Big, Bad SEC.
Here's why it matters: There is no way to fairly rank teams based only on results, because there simply aren't enough results in a season where each team plays four non-conference games. There are biases that are present in the mind of every selector, every voter, every pundit.
Right now, for example, everybody believes that the SEC is far and away the top league; that may be right now, but it's not necessarily always true. And as much as they believe that, they have looked down on the Big Ten for decades. Even seasons when the B1G demonstrates its superiority on the field (1999, 2002) the story is buried because it doesn't fit in with current biases.
By requiring entrants to be conference champions, you help insure against those biases by preventing a love affair from a single conference from infecting the selection.
Would it work? Any time you test a theory like this, it's useful to apply it to past seasons to see how they would resolve. Let's apply it to the final 2008 standings and see what we get. Teams are selected based on ranking with teams that aren't conference champions disqualified:
1. Oklahoma (11-1)
2. Florida (11-1)
3. Texas (11-1)
4. Alabama (11-1)
5. USC (11-1)
6. Utah (12-0)
For a final seeding of:
That's much better. Fair. Just. Accurate. Compelling.
DoubleB adeptly provided a counterexample to the conference champion argument, that if LSU lost to Georgia in the SEC championship last season it's possible that neither of the best teams would be in the playoff. That is a legitimate criticism, but to fix the problem the SEC needs only to reform its championship structure to eliminate divisions and allow Bama and LSU to play each other. Alternatively, a compromise is available: Exchange the "Conference Champion" requirement for a "One team per conference" rule. That rule would preserve 2008 as I have adjusted it.
Verdict: In a four-team playoff, only conference champions should be admitted; or, at the least, only one team per conference.
Tonight as I was heading home from work, there was a pretty interesting story on NPR. Part of it was talking about Ohio State but the other part was talking about the general direction of college sports. One of the people they talked to said it was basically time for us to answer a basic question. Do we really want student-athletes or just athletes?