Saturday, November 5, 2011

Thank You BCS

First, congratulations to the St. Louis Cardinals for winning the 2011 World Series. Second, general opinion is that this year's World Series between the Cards and the Texas Rangers was one of most dramatic of all World Series. I agree that this was definitely an exciting series, but I do not think it was the best ever. In my opinion, the best World Series was the 1991 edition between the Atlanta Braves and the Minnesota Twins. That is even though Atlanta, my personal favorite team, did not win. Many people also rank as the best the 2001 World Series which had the Arizona Diamondbacks overcoming the New York Yankees. I really can not argue with that selection.

I have covered this particular rant before, but I still do not understand why playoff systems are considered the best method for choosing champions of sports leagues. A playoff tournament is really only useful for determining the best team over the month (or whatever duration) of the tournament. However, I do not think that playoffs are particularly useful for determining the best team over the length of the whole season. In the case of this baseball season, the Cards were tied with the Boston Red Sox for the eighth-best record with 90 wins and 72 losses. If instead of teams from the American and National Leagues being seeded separately in the postseason tournament, teams from both leagues were seeded together, St. Louis would have had to played Boston in a tiebreaker game.

The Cardinals only sneaked into the playoffs on the last possible day because Atlanta lost their last game. If Atlanta had won their last game, a play-in game between them and Cardinals would have been required. Of course, the Cardinals were only in position to claim a postseason berth in the first place due to Atlanta's epic late-season collapse. In early September, Atlanta had an 8.5-game lead over the Cardinals in the Wild Card standings but managed to miss the playoffs.

The current Super Bowl champions of the NFL are another example of not the best team winning the league championship. To clinch the bottom seed on the NFC side of the playoff bracket, the Green Bay Packers had to win their final regular season game against their archrivals, the Chicago Bears. As a sixth seed, the Packers had to win three consecutive playoffs games on the road to make Super Bowl XLV. As an aside, Super Bowls are held at neutral sites, and Super Bowl XLV was played at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. In the game, the Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers who were the second seed from the AFC. The best teams during the regular season and thus number one seeds in the playoffs were the New England Patriots from the AFC and the Atlanta Falcons from the NFC. Neither of those two teams survived the playoff tournament in order to play in the Super Bowl.

On the other hand, the highest level of college football has a process where the two best teams meet in the championship game at the end of the season. Instead of a playoff tournament, the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) has postseason bowl games. The top four bowl games plus the championship game are included in what is called the Bowl Championship Series (BCS). With the BCS, teams are ranked using a formula that combines human voting and computer-based algorithms. The BCS rankings along with some other considerations are used to decide the matchups for each of the four major bowl games with the two highest-ranked teams guaranteed to play in the BCS National Championship Game. This process ensures that one of the two best teams will be crowned the champion for the season.

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