Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Literally Pointless or Any Given Sunday Syndrome

Well, that was boring and pointless. I mean, LSU went literally point-less yesterday. I'm not sure there's a top ten team that couldn't have beat LSU last night. I certainly would have taken money on any of the other BCS winners, including Michigan and West Virginia, and some of the losers. Would they  have beat Alabama? That's not the point. In the current system it was only ever about who could beat LSU. Do you really think perennial Heisman runner-up Andrew Luck and Standford or 28-year-old wonder-kin Brandon Weeden and Oklahoma State would have lost to LSU last night? I don't think so. The Fiesta Bowl, that was your title game. I don't mean it should have been those teams as #1 and #2, but the game played in the Fiesta Bowl was a game worthy of being a Title Game. The game played last night in New Orleans was a joke.

The inherent problem with football, with any sport really, is the Any Given Sunday Syndrome. It's typified by the NFL. The saying goes "any given Sunday any team can beat any other team." It doesn't matter what their records are going into the game, if the personnel match up right, if the coaching matches up right, if luck matches up right, any team can win. Every sport has their way of dealing with that. Every sport, that is, except College Football.

Baseball is the most susceptible to this because so much depends on starting pitching. Even teams with the best winning percentages over a season in baseball history still lost 25% - 30% of their games. (By contrast, the BCS team with the worst record this season lost less than 30% of their games.) Baseball solves this by playing series, even in their regular season. The NHL and NBA do the same when they get to their post-season. If you can win a best-of-five or best-of-seven series head-to-head with another team, you're the better team. Even that's still a little arbitrary and subject to the whims of luck, but it's a sufficient gauntlet to run.

The NFL can't do that. The physical demands of the sport make that impossible. They use the regular season to narrow things down to a pool of mostly winning teams, and then make them win 3-4 more games against opponents in that pool and crown a champion. Sure Any Given Sunday Syndrome still applies, but if you can run that gauntlet and win those 3-4 games, you've proven yourself a champion.

College Basketball does the same thing. The regular season narrow things down to 68 teams (one team more than there were AQ schools last season in football), and then you give them all a chance. The team that runs that gauntlet proves themselves a champion.

College Football has no answer to the Any Given Sunday Syndrome. It's a little less of an issue to be sure. Northern Illinois could play a whole season against South Carolina and never win a game. But in the higher level programs it's certainly true. If you took the top ten BCS team and made them play each other once, you'd be hard pressed to find an undefeated team at the end of it.

College Football has no gauntlet. Or rather, the regular season is supposed to be the gauntlet. Except that the regular season isn't a basketball tournament where the opponents get more difficult as the season progresses. Instead you have Alabama playing Georgia Southern in mid-November. And before you start hyping the SEC as a gauntlet unto itself, remember that Vanderbilt, Kentucky, and Mississippi State are all SEC teams.

That's why the "plus 1" system is getting so much talk now. That would be a gauntlet. A mini one, but one nonetheless. It would keep fluke wins like Iowa State over OSU from ruining a season, and it would test your unbeatens. If LSU had taken down Stanford before losing big to Alabama, I'd have no complaints.

Instead College Football just takes an arbitrary top two teams and makes them win one head-to-head contest that is completely subject to Any Given Sunday Syndrome. Last night's game was proof of that. On November 5th, LSU won. Last night Alabama won. Play a third game and then you'll know who was really the champion.

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