Jens 'n' Frens
Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

"A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures."
  -- Daniel Webster

Wednesday, December 28, 2011 :::

Some responses to Stewart Mandel's mailbag:

Hi Stewart. I've been reading a lot about how wrong it is for a team that didn't win its conference to be able to win the national championship and I must say I agree. I mean, the ninth place Big East team (UConn) is the national champion? Really? Oh, they are talking about football and Alabama? Sorry, wrong sport.
-- Chris Anderson, Shreveport, La.

Touche. College football's unique postseason system makes for some unique pet peeves. Teams that didn't win their conference or division constantly emerge as champions in other sports. In fact the reigning NFL (Packers), NBA (Mavs) and baseball (Cardinals) champs did not win their respective divisions. UConn was ranked 14th in the final RPI standings last year. The BCS equivalent this year would be No. 14 Oklahoma -- fourth in the Big 12 -- winning the national championship.

But of course we accept these results without hesitation because they stemmed from a playoff.

Which "we" are is Mandel talking about here?

I don't know about UConn per se, but I'm not sure the #14 team winning the NCAA tournament should necessarily be considered to clearly be the best team. A single-elimination tournament that large means that a good team can get unlucky early, leaving an easy path for a middling (in a comparative sense) team.

It's something of a curiosity to me that professional leagues tend to have longer post-seasons, making it more likely that the best team will win — I take that as a good measure of their being more "fair" — while college playoffs tend to be more heavily tilted toward single-elimination, which is probably more exciting. (Football is the big exception here.) On some level the entertainment business should skew more in the latter direction; the countervailing factor, perhaps, is that professional athletes can be asked to play more games than supposed and actual student-athletes can.

Given that only two teams get that opportunity in college football, I understand why some fans would find it uncomfortable that one of them did not even win its conference. However, it's not like in the NCAA tournament we make sure every conference champ is seeded before rewarding any at-large teams. If the two best teams in the regular season were ACC champion Duke and ACC runner-up North Carolina, they'd be given the top two overall seeds, thus ensuring the best possible chance to play each other in the title game. If the Tar Heels beat the Blue Devils, no one would object to their being declared national champion. That's essentially what's happening here, albeit with five fewer layers between the seeding and the title game.

I would note that a national title system that insisted on having only "conference champions" in it would have good reason to exercise its own discretion as to how those champions are determined. If Arkansas had beat LSU late in the regular season, the SEC West's representative in the conference championship game would have been chosen by a tie-breaker that can only be described as pathological. As it was, the SEC East was represented not by South Carolina, which was undefeated in its division but lost an interdivision games against Arkansas, but by Georgia, which lost to South Carolina but won an interdivision game against Florida. The SEC can determine its champion, but a national championship game shouldn't be expected to manacle itself to that decision.
I was wondering if any of you sports writers realize that BAMA won every statistical category when they played for the first time in Tuscaloosa expect for the one on the scoreboard and yet "all" of you talk about how LSWho beat BAMA. Score wise, yes they did, but on the stat sheet they DIDN'T. For that very reson you are WAY off on your BCS Championship prediction. BAMA will Rolllllll into New Orleans on Jan 9th ranked #2 and ROLLLLLLLLL out National Champions!!!!!
-- Michael, Corinth, Ala.

I couldn't wait for the first game to get here because I so badly wanted to see the teams play. I can't wait for the second one to get here to put an end to 36 days of this.

There is a certain prevalence of really stupid commentary in sports, and yet I find this mail remarkable. It's one thing to say "The team that won had these big breaks," another to say "All the statistics I look at give the wrong result as to which team should have won, so reality is wrong." Alabama missed four field goals, while LSU missed none; LSU punted four times more than Alabama, for an extra 150 yards of field position. Alabama's offense gained 56 more yards against LSU's defense than vice versa, while turnovers were the same, but if you ignore special teams then, yes, you're ignoring one of the reasons LSU is so good this year. After reading this, I'm hoping for another defensive battle of field position, hopefully with another 73 yard Brad Wing punt.


::: posted by dWj at 3:09 PM

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Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

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