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WHAT DO WE NEED THE COMPUTERS FOR?

Oct. 26, 2006

It has been asked about a trillion times. Why are the computers here? Why can't we just get the humans to decide who are the best two teams?

Well, we're glad you asked. Since the BCS history is littered with computer-generated controversies and mistakes, it's only a fair question.

Let's review:

In 2000, Miami finished second in both AP and coaches polls, but fell percentage points behind Florida State, a team that lost to Miami during the regular season. The Seminoles went on to lose to No. 1 Oklahoma for the national championship. Miami was relegated to the Sugar Bowl and trounced Florida.

in 2001, after Nebraska was destroyed by Colorado and failed to advance to the Big 12 championship game, the Cornhuskers somehow made it to the national championship game. Nebraska was ranked 4th in both polls, behind both No. 3 Colorado and No. 2 Oregon. No. 1 Miami took care of business and routed Nebraska for the national title, while the Ducks took the consolation prize by overwhelming Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl.

Of course, in 2003, it finally happened -- the first split title in the BCS era. Consensus poll No. 1 USC was shut out of the title game and ended up beating Michigan in the Rose Bowl to win the AP title. LSU won the BCS title by defeating Oklahoma, which lost to Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game but still stayed No. 1 in the BCS rankings.

And the computers, rightly or wrongly, took the blame for all three debacles. Without the interference of computers, the 2000 title game would've pitted Oklahoma against Miami; 2001, Miami-Oregon; and 2003, USC-LSU. In all three instances, those matchups would've been preferred (not to mention more just) over what had taken place.

Which brings us to the original question: Are the computers necessary?

The answer is, yes, in spite of past controversies. The BCS formula today is better -- thanks to the reform after the 2003 season -- than its predecessors. The old formula, mostly the brainfart ...uh, brainchild of former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer, was a toxic brew of strange combinations and redundant usage of the same information, despite several facelifts.

If today's formula had been applied in 2000, 2001 and 2003, the "correct" matchups would've been produced. Although this still doesn't answer the critic that asks: If those matchups could've been produced by humans alone, what do we need the computers for?

The final answer, ironically, finds itself from the chaos this year. Keep in mind that the BCS formula not only produces national championship combatants, but also eight other teams scheduled to receive huge checks from the big money bowl games.

Human biases are frequently found in the lower rankings and also involving either obscure or extremely high profile teams. Case-in-point:

Boise State would never come within a whiff of the BCS if it were totally up to the humans. Many voters probably would never see the Broncos play one down all season and then question their legitimacy. And also, a lot of coaches have a vested interest in helping their teams/conferences and they have something to gain by keeping Boise State low in the rankings. In this case, the computers are much more neutral and objective.

Notre Dame. Love them or hate them, the Irish will get people worked up one way or the other. That's why Notre Dame has been historically overrated by the AP (writers, suckers for the ND mystique) and underrated by the coaches (jealous that they are not coaching ND). The Harris mix is somewhere in between.

The SEC. With Tennessee, Auburn, Florida each having one loss, the voters are utterly confused about who should be where. In the Harris poll, Tennessee is ahead of Florida, even though the Gators won in Knoxville. In the coaches poll, the Gators are just five votes ahead of the Vols.

For these reasons, and many others, the computers should be here to stay. It's just that they have to be kept in their place -- and right now, having one-third of the influence, it's just about right.

That's the kind of balance of power we can appreciate. It's the American Way.


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