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Thursday
Jun152006

Refocusing the Debate

Good, good, good...

Heisman Pundit added a good post today about the ever-present scheduling arguments taking place on here and elsewhere in the college football world.

In it, he argues that face value judgments on a conference based on ranked teams and bowl berths is beyond flawed and not to be introduced as legitimate justification in these conference squabbles fans, pundits and bloggers have engaged in.

[I]t seems to back up the point that I have been making all along about how some conferences use scheduling to pad their records.

When a conference is filled with teams playing easy schedules, it produces more wins, higher rankings and better bowls.

Therefore, when people justify a conference being the best based on how many ranked teams and bowl teams it has, they are using a flawed methodology.

That there is not a level playing field when it comes to schedules can no longer be denied or ignored. Estimation of the conferences should be adjusted accordingly.

Maybe the SEC and the Big 12 ARE the best conferences. That conclusion should not be reached, however, because of the number of highly-ranked teams or bowl berths from those leagues.

We now know one of the main contributors to that--it's the scheduling.

Inevitably, the main argument is betrayed as everyone wants to engage in a Pac-10 vs. SEC argument.  That's fine, and it's stimulating and fun, but the real issue is correcting years of habitual reliance upon that flawed method.

Where HP and I split is his call to parity.  He argues that tougher scheduling practices in leagues like the Pac-10 and Big Ten have led to greater parity within their ranks.

I think that parity is good for college football. For some reason, there seems to be a link between tougher scheduling and parity within a conference.

I think reforming how teams schedule would go a long way toward making parity a reality in every league.

I enjoy the uneven quality of teams within college football.  Parity isn't of great concern, but I understand its merits given college football's uneven scheduling practices.  The NFL has become a bad product in my eyes because the league is so terribly even.  When that occurs, the game boils down to its most base elements and we as fans lose a lot of the creativity and styles of play on both sides of the ball that make college football so great.

However, scheduling parity is of great interest here.  So long as people use these old crutches like HP mentioned (number of bowl appearances and inflated records) to evaluate conferences and their members, there is going to be an unfair advantage for some teams and conferences when it comes to bowl appearances, high rankings, recruiting, television exposure etc.

It isn't right and is particularly egregious given college football's regional and provincial ways.

My greatest concern is in finding a better way to evaluate and rank teams.  What that best way is, I don't know.  There could certainly be more discussion on that.

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Reader Comments (11)

Playing a hard schedule or an easier schedule may contribute to a team having a better record and getting a bowl bid? But, it really has nothing to do with how good that team is. How that team faired against quality competition and in the bowl games is a better measuring stick.

In 2004, Auburn was a great football team. They beat many quality teams. They also played 2-3 cupcakes which ineventially cost them. What also cost them was being rated low in the preseason polls.

I think it's also hard to determine what defines a "quality" opponent. I've seen many references concerning teams playing non-BSC, and D1AA teams. In general that's probably sounds like a cupcake and, in general they probably are. I know that to someone looking from the outside in, Georgia playing D1AA Georgia Southern was a schedule padder. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not to mention the intense rivalry, Georgia Southern has won (6) D1AA National Championships. A quality program which many years was much better that a lot of BCS programs. Not the same as playing the Citadel. Ask Stanford about playing a D1AA school.

Let's also look at the money and recruiting issue. There's a lot of pressure for teams to make bowl. It's easy and sounds great for us fans of football to say, I want to see Georgia play Michigan but, the reality is different if you're the AD or coach.

Just some thoughts.
June 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDawgy1
CFR, that's a fair point you've made regarding what actually makes a good conference.

For my money, I would never base it on the rankings or number of bowl teams. Instead, I base it on wins and losses, relative to schedule strength. Is there a better, fairer measure?

My biggest problem with HP is that he won't accept emperical evidence. You'll have to read my comments on his threads to see most of the exact numbers, but the points are the same.

(Also, the reason it turns into a Pac 10-SEC pissing match is because the SEC is constantly derided as the conference that schedules the weakest (not true, of course, the Big 12 has it beat), and the Pac 10 is constantly hailed as the conference that schedules the toughest. So, those are the most extreme examples, it seems.)

Here are HP's contentions regarding the SEC's inflated perception (all of these examples are for the period from 1992-2005):

(1) The bottom 6 in the SEC are no-hopers who are bad teams--and they are beat up on by the Top 6 in the SEC

They are bad teams against the Top 6 in the SEC, but they actually compare favorably--in terms of Ws and Ls, as well as quality of opponent--the bottom half of any other conference--as long as you define the bottom half fairly (not putting USC in the Pac 10's bottom half, for example). In truth, the bottom half of any conference would struggle against Florida, Georgia, Tenn, Bama, Aub, and LSU.

(2) SEC teams schedule weak teams out of conference

This is true, to an extent. But compared to the Pac 10--who allegedly schedule the toughest of any conference--SEC teams play 1.37 BCS teams each year, while Pac 10 teams play 1.71 BCS teams each year (and, for the most part, each team is playing 3 non-conference games). So, essentially, SEC teams will pick up an extra win in their non-conference schedule once every three seasons, assuming they win all of their non-conference games against non-BCS teams. This is a minor advantage.

(3) The SEC plays an inordinate number of home games

Since we discount the games against non-BCS opponents--since they are automatic wins anyway--when you look at the number of home and road games played by the Pac 10 (the strongest schedulers) and the SEC (the weakest schedulers), it's a slight edge to the Pac 10, but not enough to make a difference. Pac 10 teams have played 106 home games and 109 road games against BCS opponents (58 at neutral sites). SEC teams have played 75 home games and 68 road games against BCS opponents (87 at neutral sites). This 10-game advantage for the SEC (+7 compared to the Pac 10's -3)--even if you assume that home games provide a 100% advantage to the home team--results in less than 1 win a year for the entire CONFERENCE for the SEC. Once again, a very minor advantage.

(4) Because of these scheduling quirks, has inflated records and gets more respect from the pollsters, which perpetuates indefinitely

The available evidence does not bear this out. SEC teams and Pac 10 teams (the conference that most benefits from the quirks, and the conference that is most hurt by them) have finished with the same number of losses and also been ranked in the final AP poll on 32 occasions since 1992. Of these 32 instances, SEC teams have been ranked higher 16 times, and Pac 10 teams have been ranked higher 16 times. Some high-profile edges for the Pac 10--USC over Auburn in 2004, USC over LSU in 2003, and UCLA over Tennessee--who had beaten them on at UCLA earlier in the season--in 1997.

Also, please note that SEC teams have an additional advantage--or, so you would think--in that almost every year, two of their ranked teams have an extra game because of the SEC championship game (the net result is that they each have an extra win, because I am basing the comparison on the number of losses). But, still, they aren't getting ranked higher than the Pac 10 teams.

(5) The SEC set up (good top 6, bad bottom 6) will result in inordinate numbers of bowl teams

Absolutely false. When you operate under the assumption that the Top 6 will win the vast majority of their games against the Bottom 6, the bottom 6 will start off with a record of 0-4 or 0-5 from the jump--and then they will have to pretty much beat everyone else on their schedule to make it to a bowl--and please note that the schedule for Kentucky almost always includes Louisville, and the schedule for South Carolina always includes Clemson. This setup is anything but conducive to creating bowl teams.

On the other hand, the Pac 10 setup--with its great parity--is very conducive to getting bowl teams. As seen above, even Pac 10 teams tend to schedule non-BCS teams--assuming they win these games, finishing 3-5, 4-4, or 5-3 in the conference--which will happen considerably more often when everyone can beat everyone--will inevitably result in more teams with winning records--and, thus, more bowl teams.

I'm not sure what else is left, but if there is anything I'm sure that the available evidence will eliminate it as a reasonable explanation.
June 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSolon
"Playing a hard schedule or an easier schedule may contribute to a team having a better record and getting a bowl bid?"

Yes. Absolutely!

"But, it really has nothing to do with how good that team is."

Yes.

"How that team fared against quality competition and in the bowl games is a better measuring stick"

Quality competition yes, bowls I'm less sure of because wild things tend to happen in bowl season.

That's HP's argument, and my argument as well. We should not use membership in a conference to judge teams.

We have brought up scheduling over and over to hammer away at the underlying issue in our argument---that the SEC is held up as the great God of college football when they have built their path to recent success upon the backs of easy wins and the two-division scheduling format to sneak in an extra win or two each season.

Then what happens is people go and get into these team vs. team and conference vs. conference arguments, and rankings arguments and say, well, so and so played in the SEC, and the SEC is best because they have more wins per team and more ranked teams---but its EXACTLY because of the schedule gimmick that these teams have often gotten those wins and elevated rankings.

THEREFORE, we cannot safely assume in these arguments that the SEC team has the upper hand based on wins or ranking--->

We have to find a different way to determine what, exactly, a "quality opponent" is, and what a quality team is. That is where those arguments need to go, not this unchallenged assertion that SEC>Pac-10, Pac-10>Big East, Big Ten>ACC or whatever.

I have my ideas on how to go about it, others have theirs, but the main argument is this, restated:

number of wins and poll ranking and conference membership are crutches and futile in making those determinations. Find something else.

One quibble:

"I've seen many references concerning teams playing non-BSC, and D1AA teams. In general that's probably sounds like a cupcake and, in general they probably are."

99% of the time they are cupcakes, not "in general"

Georgia Southern is maybe better than a handful of teams in D-I CFB. Let's not get carried away. It's a gimme win for Georgia, and in an extremely rare off year, Georgia Southern can make a game of it.

Stanford lost to a I-AA team, yes, which was pathetic. It doesn't mean I-AA teams are strong or worth scheduling because one of them happened to beat a D-I BCS conference team.

"Let's also look at the money and recruiting issue. There's a lot of pressure for teams to make bowl. It's easy and sounds great for us fans of football to say, I want to see Georgia play Michigan but, the reality is different if you're the AD or coach."

Its a relevant argument, but bogus at the same time. There are teams out there right now who don't have the best finances and aren't cash cows who continue to schedule quality opponents. They make it happen despite intense pressure from fans, boosters, media etc.

Furthermore, for the more popular teams in the long run the finances will be there whether they schedule a Michigan or a Georgia or a USC or an Ohio State etc. instead of a pushover. These are highly popular, well-heeled teams who find a way to remain profitable. Again, it's another crutch.

I can understand that argument from say, Colorado who is a fairly big program swimming in debt and needing great flows of cash, but for Georgia and Tennessee and others who are making boatloads of money, it's a lame excuse.
June 15, 2006 | Registered CommenterCFR
CFR,
Explain to me why Tennessee has to make and excuse for their scheduling. Thanks.
June 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAndyT
"We have brought up scheduling over and over to hammer away at the underlying issue in our argument....."

CFB Data Warehouse's database shows that all-time the SEC has (5) teams in the top (20) in strength of schedule. The pac 10 has (1) at #19. I agree that if you look at the last (10) years that the data for scheduling may be different. But, the SEC's success as the "god of college football" has been derived from the total history and not from these so-called easy wins. I mean you just can't pick through data to make your wishes come true.

I don't think that you or HP can prove that the SEC is any more guilty of "sneaking in wins" than any other conference. Define a quality opponent?

We will agree to disagree that because a team is a "BCS" team, it qualifies as a quality opponent. I can name you a few programs that year in year out are better than half of the BCS programs, i.e. So. Miss., Air Force, Hawaii, Bowling Green, Miami O. etc.

Ask Cal. about So. Miss who in 2004 played them a much more competitive game than 5-6 pac 10 opponents. You have to be very careful about evaluating team strength. So, while it's important in the evaluation, it's very hard to evaluate.

June 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDawgy1
My bad on that one. Tennessee was referenced more as a cash cow program. Substitute oh, Alabama, Auburn, etc. for them in that sentence.

They have scheduled Notre Dame, Miami and Cal and others and I won't quibble with that. Other than Middle Tennessee, Wyoming, Rutgers and Duke, the last four years have had quality OOC skeds. La Tech gets a pass, but barely since it may have been made when Rattay was there and they were at least a threat.
June 15, 2006 | Registered CommenterCFR
Year in year out? No. In any single year, sometimes some of those teams. But not to where putting them on the schedule infers any kind of great risk to losing.

Southern Miss is an exception that doesn't disprove the rule.

A quality opponent should (in general) be at least a semi-regular contender in a non-BCS conference or a non bottom feeder BCS team.

Vanderbilt? No. Indiana? No. Baylor? No.

Washington State? Yes. Arkansas? Yes. Pittsburgh? Yes.

Any I-AA team? No.

Regional pushovers? No if you're considered a legit top 25 team year in year out.

USC and UCLA should not be scheduling San Diego State (unless the Aztecs get good again) or San Jose State.

Tennessee should not be scheduling Memphis and UAB.

Directional schools=no (Northeast Louisiana Southern State Polytechnic)

Service academies=yes and no. Navy' a tough game right now and if scheduled within a year or so it's not a big deal.

Air Force a few years back was a challenge but not so much now.

Army's sadly a pushover.

You get the idea.

Finally, Dawgy, we quibble about RECENT scheduling because its what matters in the game. I'm not into the historical SEC debate, that's for another day and what they did in scheduling 40 years ago (other than to make a joke about Georgia not leaving the south in 40 years) is not relevant to the current scheduling issue as it relates to the idea that because a team is in the SEC (or B12 or wherever) they are assumed to be good because of wins and number of bowl teams.

That's it.

Again, this is being stretched thin into a SEC/Pac-10 issue, my focus with this post is on the narrow but extremely relevant point that when some commentator or fan says the knee-jerk "wins/bowl teams" conference argument, they should get shot down, ignored, put in the stocks, whatever it takes to kill that reasoning once and for all.

Pretty simple, hard to argue with.
June 15, 2006 | Registered CommenterCFR
Those teams that I mentioned as tough non-BCS teams are indeed up and down. But, that's no different than the teams you say are semi-regular contender in a BCS Conf. Teams like Stanford, Northwestern, Arkansas, etc. Some years those teams are formidable, some years they are just not very good.
June 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDawgy1
CFR,

It seems that you are calling for a stratification of IA, where the "good" teams only play each other, and the "pushovers" only play each other -- conference games notwithstanding. I think that would be bad for college football.
June 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMarty
Well, perhaps a condensed NCAA.

Do we really need 117 (or is it 119?) teams?

Some teams are just unreasonably bad and hopeless.

We need a diversity of teams and styles and having a LOT of teams helps that, but we may have way too many teams. It's like the other end of the extreme of the NFL.

Nothing is gained by Auburn playing say, Temple (hypothetical).
June 15, 2006 | Registered CommenterCFR
SEC OOC scheduling got weaker with the advent of the conference championship game. They were the first conference to have one and the quality of OOC competition plummeted when it began.

It's my personal theory that the '94 Bama season made the SEC backoff even more.

Alabama was 11-0 going into the SEC championship game and lost to Florida. They then beat Ohio State in the Citrus Bowl. If there wasn't an SEC championship game, the Tide was playing for the MNC that year.

I think that did more to scare SEC ADs and coaches than anything else.

Alabama's OOC scheduling throughout the 90s was abyssmal, but it is back on the rise (despite a lackluster last year or two.)

We had recent series with Oklahoma and UCLA at the beginning of the 2000s. We have Florida State next year and then begin series with Penn State and Georgia Tech and are working on one with Ohio State.

The 80s saw Alabama schedule pretty strongly. Alabama played Penn State eight times (and won five), Notre Dame three times (two years they played Notre Dame and Penn State the same year), Boston College twice and Ohio State and Texas A&M once each. That's all regular season.

People have short memories. Like I said, we've had mega-wuss OOC schedules at times recently, but we've also taken on some good teams and are definately toughening up the schedules in the future.
June 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterRBR

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