Thursday, October 17, 2013

How BCS Works, and Why It's Going Away

After 16 years of existence, the Bowl Championship Series will be ushered into the ash heap of history following the completion of this season. The College Football Playoff will replace the BCS starting next season, discarding almost the entire infrastructure of the old system.

But for one last time, we still must contend with BCS's rules and protocols. For the past nine years, the setup has been actually quite consistent and without any significant changes. As a result, the process is fairly easy to understand and there is a decent degree of transparency.

The first piece, of course, is the BCS standings. The formula was altered in 2004 and has remain unchanged other than in 2005 the Harris Interactive Poll replaced the AP Poll in the standings. The 2004 remake shifted the weight of the standings to the human voters to such a degree that at least for the purpose of creating the BCS championship matchups, the computers have been rendered irrelevant.

The Coaches Poll and Harris Poll each account for one-third of the standings and then the computers the other one-third. The poll numbers are tabulated not by the teams' actual rankings but by the percentage of vote shares. The computer score comes from the average of six computer rankings—with margin of victory forbidden to be used as a component—after the highest and lowest rankings are thrown out.

Since the adoption of the current formula in 2004, every team that finished either first or second in the polls have played in the BCS title game because of the preponderance of human polls. Alabama finished third in the computer rankings in both 2011 and 2012 (behind Oklahoma State and Florida, respectively), yet played and won both BCS title games because it placed second in the polls both years.


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