Thursday, December 15, 2005

A Modest Proposal on Bowl Selections

While my own personal preference for the ideal college football postseason would probably be to have the teams settle it on the field in a playoff (and I'm still not 100% on that, just inching that way), I recognize that for the foreseeable future, it jsut isn't happening. The BCS and bowls are here for a while now, and I'm on record as saying it's not a good system, and the methods of selecting teams for the bowls are backwards and ill-advised.

We have to determine what the most important factor is in terms of selecting teams for bowls. If you ask the majority of the bowls, it's selling tickets and getting high TV ratings, to be followed (I'd guess distantly) by tradition. That's why I think the automatic bowl tie-ins with conferences should be done away with in favor of a centralized selection process. The conference tie-ins serve to provide the bowls with certainty. But too often certainty ends up leading to mediocre or boring bowls. Or the same teams ending up in the same bowls year after year, leading to dwindling ticket sales. Simply stated, conference tie-ins do not result in better bowls, in my opinion.

So what to do instead? My suggestion is a purely American system. Meritocracy and free market economics.

Here's the system: You use a system of ranking teams (rank them all, or at least 60+ in order to fill every available bowl slot). Create a ladder. Then pair up opponents based on that ladder, starting at the top. 1 vs. 2. 3 vs. 4. If a team would be scheduled to play another team it had played in the regular season or is in the same conference, skip down the ladder, then with the next bowl game, go back up. Then you've got your bowl matchups.

The next step: slotting the matchups into actual bowls. This is simple. Just rank the bowls based on monetary payout guaranteed. If the Music City Bowl wants to step up its game and get a better matchup, promise more money. Better for the teams, more control for the bowls.

Here are the pros on this system:

  • 1 vs. 2 guaranteed.
  • If a #3 team is locked out, they're still playing a top opponent, which the BCS cannot guarantee now.
  • Nobody gets "screwed" by dudes in bad sportcoats. Simple and clear system.
  • Opportunity for fans to travel new places, for bowls to get different teams.
  • Dual edged sword on payouts: Chances are some bowls will increase payouts to move up and get better matchups. Other bowls will either remain at the bottom or fold due to the inability to keep up with the Joneses. More $$$ to teams or conferences, possibly cuts down on unneccessary bowls.
  • Matchups are similarly situated teams, unlike the current system which matches up teams of sometimes grossly disproportionate talent.

Here are the cons:

  • The selection system (polls, BCS, etc.) has to be foolproof, or it throws off the entire thing. Coming to a decision on what system to use to determine the ladder would be near impossible.
  • Loss of traditional bowl tie-ins (though most of those traditions have gone the way of the dodo).
  • Geographical considerations not taken into account.
  • To some idealist holdouts, more money isn't a good thing for college football.
  • Gets us no closer to a playoff.

As to whether this system would work, we'll have to try some hypotheticals and compare it to the current system. The problem here is that there are few widely accepted ranking systems that rank 56 teams (enough to fill every slot in the 28 bowls). Using the BCS would only fill 12 bowls, while the AP and Coaches polls would fill 19 bowls. We could use computer rankings (some folks don't care much for computers telling them things they can see with their own eyes) or the CFN or CBS 117 rankings (which suffer from human error and possibly bias - would you trust Dennis Dodd?). If the BCS were extended to rank all teams, I could see that system as acceptable, though flawed. For purposes of this meaningless exercise, I'll just use the Lebowski Rankings, since they are based solely on on-field results and no bias or any other kind of undue influence or overcomplicated formulae are injected.

So here's what the Bowl Matchups would look like. The Bowls are ranked by payouts, and in the event of a tie, I've given the later (by date) bowl priority. I'll discuss the matchup and compare it to the existing matchup. Then I'll rate it as a better matchup, worse matchup, or about the same, based on competitiveness, the potential for ticket sales and TV ratings. Finally, I'll see whether a system based solely on merit and payouts would result in a better or worse system than the current flawed one.

1. Rose Bowl ($15M payouts):

  • Texas vs. Southern Cal.
  • Original matchup: Texas vs. USC.
  • Same matchup, same quality of bowl.
  • Rating: Same

2. Orange Bowl ($15M):

  • Penn State vs. Oregon
  • Original Matchup: Penn State vs. FSU
  • More competitive on paper, TV ratings might increase because a better matchup. Ticket sales likely lower since no local draw. Better reward for Penn State, much better for Oregon.
  • Rating: Better for teams, slightly better for bowl.

3. Sugar Bowl ($15M):

  • West Virginia vs. TCU
  • Original Matchup: WVU vs. UGA
  • Much worse matchup of teams. TV ratings would decrease. Ticket sales much lower. WVA doesn't get as tough an opponent, on paper. TCU, however, deserves a better bowl than the Houston Bowl. That much money for a mid-major team that isn't undefeated is too much.
  • Rating: Worse.

4. Fiesta ($15M)

  • Virginia Tech vs. Georgia
  • Original Matchup: Ohio State vs. Notre Dame
  • Good matchup, but probably not near as good. TV decreases, Ticket sales lower. A better matchup for both VT and UGA than who they are playing.
  • Rating: Worse.

5. Capital One ($5.125M)

  • LSU vs. Ohio State
  • Original Matchup: Wisconsin vs. Auburn
  • Considering that LSU and Ohio State finished ahead of UW and AU in their respective conferences, it's arguably a better matchup. TV probably increases very slightly. Ticket sales about the same. This matchup is about the same or maybe slightly worse for LSU and OSU as compared to their actual opponent.
  • Rating: slightly better

6. Cotton ($3M)

  • Texas Tech vs. Auburn
  • Original Matchup: Texas Tech vs. Alabama
  • Auburn blew out Alabama, so this is a slightly better matchup for Texas Tech. For Auburn, it's about a wash, but a more interesting matchup. Ticket sales about the same, TV about the same.
  • Rating: very very slightly better.

7. Outback ($2M)

  • Miami (FL) vs Notre Dame
  • Original Matchup: Iowa vs. Florida
  • Payday for Tampa. Local draw, national interest, traditional rivalry. Better TV ratings, guaranteed sellout. Also, both ND and the U are playing teams not much better or worse then their actual apponents.
  • Rating: Much better

8. Holiday ($2M)

  • UCLA vs. Alabama
  • Original Matchup: Oregon vs. Oklahoma
  • Alabama is a better choice than Oklahoma, UCLA is slightly worse than Oregon on the field, but probably as good a draw for the bowl because of local interest. Probably a more competitive matchup and good contrast of styles.
  • Rating: Better

9. Gator ($1.6M)

  • Louisville vs. Wisconsin
  • Original Matchup: Louisville vs. Va. Tech
  • No change for the Cardinals. Wisconsin isn't as good a team as VT, but probably would bring more fans, considering how VT played in J'ville just this month. Similarly competitive to the actual matchups.
  • Rating: Same

10. Peach ($1.6M)

  • Boise State vs. Florida
  • Original Matchup: LSU vs. Miami
  • The Peach struck gold with their existing matchup, so this is significantly worse. Boise State's already travelled to Georgia once this year, and Florida has played in the Peach recently. Perhaps an interesting matchup because of offenses, but not near as good as LSU/Miami. Florida wouldn't be playing as good an opponent, while Boise State would be playing a team about as good.
  • Rating: Worse

11. Sun ($1.35M)

  • Boston College vs. Toledo
  • Original Matchup: UCLA vs. Northwestern
  • A much more deserving bowl for the Eagles, but the opponent isn't quite as good as Boise State. Toledo faces a better team, but might not deserve it. Not as competitive, worse TV ratings, fewer tickets sold.
  • Rating: Worse

12. Alamo ($1.35M)

  • Nevada vs. UTEP
  • Original Matchup: Michigan vs. Nebraska
  • For the teams, they'd be playing an opponent about as good as they are anyway. The bowl would take a big hit in TV ratings, though it's probably a more competitive game and UTEP would sell a good amount of tickets because of the local interest. Not quite as bad as it might seem, but still not 2 of the best traditional programs.
  • Rating: worse

13. Liberty ($1.3M)

  • Florida State vs. Fresno State
  • Original Matchup: Tulsa vs. Fresno State
  • Just having the Noles there makes it a more interesting game, more competitive, better ticket sales, and better TV ratings. Florida State doesn't play as good an opponent, Fresno State does.
  • Rating: Better

14. Independence ($1.2M - I'm kind of surprised that it was this much... why does the SEC give a preference to Music City every other year?)

  • Tulsa vs. Michigan
  • Original Matchup: South Carolina vs. Missouri
  • Michigan is about as good a draw as South Carolina. Tulsa and Missouri are probably comparable. TV and tickets are about the same, probably.
  • Rating: Same

15. Emerald ($800K)

  • Central Florida vs. Oklahoma
  • Original Matchup: Georgia Tech vs. Utah
  • This is getting harder. Guessing Oklahoma might draw slightly better than GT, but Utah would draw better than UCF. No more or less competitive a game. Probably might draw slightly better ratings because of the Sooners (a surprisingly -like near ND sized- big draw nationally).
  • Rating: About the same.

16. Fort Worth ($800K)

  • Northwestern vs. Nebraska
  • Original Matchup: Kansas vs. Houston
  • A much better slate for the bowl, while both teams would be playing slightly worse opponents than they actually are (though it'd probably make for a more entertaining game). Ticket sales and TV ratings would likely be much better.
  • Rating: Better

17. Las Vegas ($800K)

  • Minnesota vs. Iowa State
  • Original Matchup: Cal vs. BYU
  • For both the Gophers and Cyclones, it'd be a different part of the country from where they've played recent bowl games, so it might draw more interest than the bowls where they're currently slated to go. Both would probably be more interested in their opponent (though both probably wouldn't be playing as good an opponent). The bowl would be giving up two regional draws, and BYU travels well (but to Vegas?). TV ratings would probably be about the same, ticket sales might drop.
  • Rating: Very very slightly worse.

18. Motor City ($780K)

  • Iowa vs Georgia Tech
  • Original Matchup: Akron vs. Memphis
  • GT would be playing a better opponent and closer. Iowa wouldn't be playing a better opponent, but it'd be a better matchup. For the bowl, it'd be perfect. Semi-regional draw, two better teams, much higher TV ratings and ticket sales.
  • Rating: Much much better

19. Houston ($750K)

  • Clemson vs. Cal
  • Original Matchup: TCU vs. Iowa State
  • Clemson and Cal are playing better teams, and it would be a pretty competitive matchup. But the bowl would lose a regional draw, hurting ticket sales. TV ratings would probably increase though.
  • Rating: about the same

20. Meineke Car Care ($750K)

  • South Carolina vs. Rutgers
  • Original Matchup: N.C. State vs. South Florida
  • USC is better than either of the actual teams, but Rutgers is worse. USC could sell out the game by themselves, and Rutgers wouldn't be a slouch for ticket sales either. Wouldn't be quite as competitive, and the TV ratings would be about the same
  • Rating: Better

21. Music City ($750K)

  • Miami (OH) vs. Louisiana Tech
  • Original Matchup: Minnesota vs. Virginia
  • Smaller schools with smaller fanbases would mean worse ticket sales and TV ratings. Obviously, this is fantastic for the schools, neither of which were invited to play in a bowl game this year.
  • Rating: Much much worse.

22. MPC Computers ($750K)

  • Western Michigan vs. Navy
  • Original Matchup: Boise State vs Boston College
  • Navy's a good draw most places, but even they can't help this bowl, which needs Boise State or a nearby WAC team to fill the stadium. Western Michigan fans, both, would be excited to travel to any bowl. Navy would be going to a worse location to play a worse opponent. Minimal ticket sales and TV ratings.
  • Rating: Much much worse.

23. Insight ($750K)

  • Colorado vs. Akron
  • Original Matchup: Arizona State vs. Rutgers
  • Colorado can't possibly buy as many tickets as ASU. Akron and Rutgers are probably comparable in the number of fans and the interest they'd bring (as well as how competitive they'd be). Fewer tickets, probably worse TV ratings. About the same in terms of competitiveness.
  • Rating: Worse.

24. Champs Sports ($750K)

  • Northern Illinois vs. Kansas
  • Original Matchup: Colorado vs. Clemson
  • No regional draw. Kansas and Colorado are probably comparable, but Clemson is much better for the bowl than NIU. NIU has to be happy to get invited to any bowl. Kansas would be playing a team about as good as they actually are. Better for the teams, much worse for the bowl.
  • Rating: Worse.

25. Hawaii ($750K)

  • NC State vs. Arizona State
  • Original Matchup: Nevada vs. Central Florida
  • Larger schools might bring more fans, even though Nevada and UCF fans might be hungrier. TV ratings would probably be better. NC State and Arizona State would probably play better opponents than in their actual bowls. Similarly competitive.
  • Rating: Better

26. Poinsettia ($750K)

  • South Florida vs. New Mexico
  • Original Matchup: Colorado State vs. Navy
  • Navy is a huge draw in San Diego, and neither team could match that. USF would bring minimal fans or TV interest. New Mexico and CSU are comparable. No more or less competitive, and the bowl would take a bath.
  • Rating: Worse

27. GMAC ($750K)

  • Missouri vs. Virginia
  • Original Matchup: Toledo vs. UTEP
  • Bigger schools, so somewhat more interest. Better TV ratings, though ticket sales would be relatively low in either event. Teams would be slightly better. Neither UVA nor Mizzou would be playing a better opponent than in their actual games.
  • Rating: Better

28. New Orleans ($750K)

  • BYU vs. Central Michigan
  • Original Matchup: Southern Miss vs. Arkansas State
  • Fewer tickets sold because no regional draws. Probably slightly more TV interest though. CMU would be glad to be there, but BYU would be playing in a farther away bowl against a worse team than they are.
  • Rating: Worse.

These bowl bound teams would be locked out of the proposed system: Southern Miss, Ark. State, Colorado State, Memphis, and Utah.

These teams would be invited in their place: Central Michigan, Miami (OH), Western Michigan, Northern Illinois and New Mexico. So the MAC would gain big time.

Under the proposed system (and in my opinion), 11 bowls would be even slightly better, 12 would be even slightly worse, and 5 would be about the same. No real improvement from the current system in terms of improving all bowls, but it would open the doors to different teams and allow teams to travel to different places. Of course, this exercise would be have completely different results if a different system, like the BCS or a computer rankings list, were used to create the ladder. Perhaps I'll run the same scenario with a different system of rankings another time to see if it would work better.

So perhaps my proposal is indeed modest in the Swiftian sense of the phrase: in practice, it's not exactly a good idea. Now I wish I hadn't made the effort.