Mathletics: How Gamblers, Managers, and Sports Enthusiasts Use Mathematics in Baseball, Basketball, and Football

By Wayne Winston | Go to book overview

49
CAN THE BOWL CHAMPIONSHIP
SERIES BE SAVED?

As every college football fan knows, since 1998 the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) has selected two college football teams to play for the national championship in early January. In this chapter we will explain how the BCS currently (2007 season) ranks teams and chooses the two teams that play for the championship. We will also discuss two commonly suggested alternatives to the BCS: an eight- team playoff or a “plus- one” system that chooses the two teams that get to play for the championship after the New Year's Day bowl games.


A Brief History of the BCS

Starting in 1997, teams were ranked using the following four factors: subjective polls, computer rankings, strength of schedule, and team record.1 In the first BCS Championship game on January 4, 1998, Tennessee defeated Florida State 23–16. In 2001 a “quality wins” factor that gave teams credit for defeating one of the top fifteen ranked teams was added to the mix of factors. During the 2001 season Nebraska made the championship game and was clobbered 37–14 by Miami. Most observers felt that Nebraska undeservedly made the championship game because many lopsided Cornhusker wins against weak teams “padded” their computer rankings. Therefore, beginning with the 2002 season, BCS computer ranking systems excluded the margin of victory from their algorithms. In 2004 the team records, strength of schedule, and quality wins were eliminated from the rankings because the BCS believed the computer rankings already included these factors. Let's take a look at the current (2007) ranking system.

1 See http://www.bcsfootball.org/bcsfb/history for a complete history of the BCS.

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