Suppose you’re looking to buy a book online. You heard about this new site binaryshop.com that lets you comparison shop. After submitting a book name and choosing any two online retailers, binaryshop.com tells you which has the lower price. However, it doesn’t tell you the actual price.
Clearly, this isn’t a very good e-commerce idea. The price of the book and the relative price between different sites makes a big difference in deciding where to buy. It’s kind of like ranking college football teams without using margin of victory. While winning is the ultimate goal whenever a team steps on the field, common sense says a 48 point win in which the starters only in the first half is vastly different from squeaking out a 1 point win on a last second 58 yard field goal. But the Bowl Championship Series cartel says no to common sense. All six computer rankings are restricted from using margin of victory in its calculations.
To see how this impacts college football, consider Oregon and Auburn, the top two teams in the cartel rankings. Oregon has blazed through the season with a string of impressive double digit wins. Their fast paced offense runs so many plays that a Stanford defender faked an injury so the defense could rest. The closest game this season for Oregon was an 11 point win at Arizona State, and the Ducks have 21 point wins over highly regarded Stanford and USC teams.
On the other hand, Auburn has taken quite a different route an undefeated 9-0 record. While they have big wins over Arkansas and Mississippi, the rest of their wins have been by a touchdown or less. That puts them within one bad bounce or one tipped Cam Newton pass returned for a touchdown from losing these games. The Power Rank has Oregon first and Auburn 11th. Peter Billingsly, the creator of one of the cartel computer polls and a staunch defender of not using margin of victory, has Auburn first and Oregon third.
The cartel banned margin of victory in the name of sportsmanship. A big boy from the Big Ten shouldn’t run up the score on its little neighbor in the Mid-American Conference (MAC). But sportsmanship is a funny thing. Should the smartest kid in the class purposely do worse on a final to make his or her classmates feel better? Should Intel purposely sells less computer chips to raise the self-esteem of rival AMD’s CEO?
Use of the term cartel to describe the people who run the Bowl Championship Series comes from the new book Death to the BCS. Still making my way through this fine read.
1. Oregon, 8-0, 43.90
2. TCU, 9-0, 37.03
3. Boise State, 7-0, 32.93
4. Stanford, 7-1, 28.20
5. Utah, 8-0, 26.70
6. Nebraska, 7-1, 26.61
7. Ohio State, 8-1, 26.16
8. Oregon State, 4-3, 26.06
9. Virginia Tech, 6-2, 25.99
10. Iowa, 6-2, 25.63
11. Auburn, 9-0, 25.36
12. Alabama, 7-1, 25.15
13. USC, 5-3, 24.67
14. Arizona, 7-1, 24.62
15. Oklahoma, 7-1, 24.58
16. Missouri, 7-1, 24.47
17. Arizona State, 4-4, 24.44
18. Nevada, 7-1, 24.34
19. Wisconsin, 7-1, 24.03
20. South Carolina, 6-2, 23.37
21. Florida State, 6-2, 22.74
22. Miami (FL), 5-3, 22.03
23. Pittsburgh, 5-3, 21.19
24. LSU, 7-1, 20.81
25. California, 4-4, 20.78
But including margin of victory encourages running up the score! Can’t have that!
Ed Feng says
I always felt bad when you ran up the score in the classroom against me.
Good points, but this is showing a bit too much Pac-10 love for my taste. 4-4 Cal at 25?!?! Even if Oregon is better than Auburn, surely a 9-0 Auburn (11) is better than 4-3 Oregon State (8) and definitely better than ACC top Va Tech (9). Sure Oregon state lost their 3 games by relatively slim margins to quality opponents (except for Washington), and the Pac-10’s non-conference victories help them out, but as they say, “come on man!”
Jeremy Jones says
Thanks for including I AA teams (and Stanford is still the Indians). I love that Nova is 43 (I guess moving up next year wont be so hard) and even Robert Morris is 109, well above some of the big 6 conference schools.
also, Q, I hate the Pac10. But they are far and away the best conference this year. Ed’s Machine doesnt lie.
Ed Feng says
Thanks for replying to Q for me. Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Elizabeth Fengen says
Go Cardinal!!!!!!!!!!! (and the band’s tree!!!!)
R. Samuel L. Stein says
I had the pleasure of attending grad school at Stanford with Ed from 2003 to about 2006. During those years, we didn’t have nearly the team that we do now. Seeing Stanford at #4 is, in the words of the Padre TV broadcasters, “some kind of nice.” But all 4 of our remaining opponents are ranked in Ed’s top 25. Dang. They better be ready.
Props on picking Duke to win the last basketball tourney, BTW.
Ed Feng says
Thanks for joining the conversation. The Pac 10 is tough. Not only will Stanford have it tough, but Oregon’s route to the championship game won’t be easy. I’m really looking forward to the Civil War with Oregon State.
What’s up Jones!
I can agree that the PAC10 is the best this year. But Auburn is way better than any ACC team. Even 2 loss VA Tech.
I’m a big fan of the algorithm too. Just weird to see one of the only two 9-win teams not in the top 10. I think Auburn will be a good test case to see if they can run the table or if their relatively low rank truly indicates their suspect quality.
Ed Feng says
Thanks for joining the conversation. Auburn is indeed a good test case. They have a lower division opponent, Georgia at home and then travel to Alabama. By the time the Iron Bowl rolls around, I believe the Power Rank will have Alabama taking down Auburn and getting back in the national championship picture.
Some cap or gradation on a margin of victory would be nice… just pulling these out of thin air… include marging of victory for winning by 1-21; diminishing returns for 22-30; no further benefit for 30+.
And by the way, nobody would care about margin of victory if there were a playoff. Yeah I said it.
Ed Feng says
There is definitely an aspect of diminishing returns naturally built into the algorithm. I can’t do it justice in a comment, but I’ll try to get together some coherent thoughts about how it works.