Improved BCS model begging to be recalled

Don't be too dazzled by the new-and-improved model of the Bowl Championship Series coming to a newspaper or TV outlet near you. It will have to go back to the dealer soon enough.

If not in the coming months, then in the not-too-distant future. And it will be going back over and over until there is a playoff.

The BCS model unveiled today is the fifth version from the guys who hijacked college football's postseason in 1998. Even though they took over the business promising to reduce the human element, this latest version does just the opposite.

In the past, the votes from the Associated Press media and the coaches poll were averaged, then combined with such redundant factors as losses, strength of schedule and quality victories. Now the formula is much simpler: The AP poll counts for one-third of a team's BCS points, the coaches poll counts for a third and an average of six computer rankings makes up the final third.

It's an improvement, to be sure. But like the "Windows" program on most computers, it's become a work forever in progress. The BCS system is still flawed, and always will be. And the latest somebody to say so has already done the math.


His name is Bradley P. Carlin, and he is a professor of biostatistics and Mayo professor in public health at the University of Minnesota. Suffice it to say that Carlin can crunch numbers, and this is what he concludes in an op-ed piece Sunday in The New York Times:

"No matter how you arrange the formula, the BCS remains nothing more than an elaborate seeding system for a two-team tournament. Its sole benefit is to create one game that precludes all but two powerful contenders from a legitimate title shot. More to the point, it will always run a high risk of crowning the wrong champion."

Kind of restores your faith in things, doesn't it?

What Carlin did was take the top 16 teams from last season, based on the ranking of one of the BCS-approved computers, and seeded them like an NCAA basketball tournament regional bracket. Then, anticipating the argument of college presidents that the season is already too long, he cut the field to eight, finding that it reduced the probability of anybody in the field winning the national championship by only 18 percent.

Finally, he proposed using seven existing bowl games to play out an eight-team tournament, even allowing for the current BCS practice of rotating among the title game among them. While this last part isn't substantially different from a number of plans that have been floated in the past, what Carlin has done is provide the justification for doing it as soon as possible.

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. He can be contacted at

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