Sunday, December 03, 2006

Weighing in on the Florida/Michigan Imbroglio

As you might imagine, I have LOTS of thoughts on this one:

The first and most important is that it requires a serious splitting of hairs to pick between the teams. Both teams have one loss against fairly tough schedules. Florida has more quality wins, as they went 5-1 against Sagarin's top 30, whereas Michigan was 3-1, so it's fair to say that Florida played a slightly tougher schedule, although for a national title contender, there are tough games and then there's playing the #1 team on the road, which Michigan did and Florida didn't. On the other hand, Florida didn't blow anyone out all season. Compare the team's performances in their biggest games. Michigan beat Notre Dame by 26 on the road and Wisconsin by 17 at home before losing on the road to the wire-to-wire #1 by three points, the one result that can legitimately justify a rematch. Florida lost to an Auburn team that twice got blown out at home, benefitted from LSU's "shoot yourself in the foot, the Les Miles Way!" exhibition, and they eked past Tennessee, Georgia, Florida State, Vandy, and South Carolina. In fact, they were outgained by both South Carolina and Vandy. In contrast, Michigan beat Vandy by 20 and outgained them by 210 yards. It's Michigan's dominance in its wins that's the basis of Vegas having the Wolverines as a six-point favorite on a neutral field, per Chris Fowler. In any event, it's legitimate to say that Florida is #2 because of a better resume and it's equally legitimate to say that Michigan is #2 because they have looked like a better team this year.

That said, I doubt that the coaches or the voters in the Harris poll will make their decision based on the resume and/or having seen the two teams in question on a number of occasions. Instead, they are going to make decisions based on a series of cop-out, invented rules that will allow them to avoid the heavy lifting of deciding which team is more deserving. The voters will use the following canards:

Michigan didn't win its conference - this is not a BCS rule. In fact, it was suggested as a rule following the 2001 and 2003 seasons and on both occasions, the BCS declined to create a requirement that a title game participant win its own conference. The BCS solely exists to determine who the two best teams are in the country so they can play in the title game, full stop. If the two best teams are in the same conference, then so be it. You think that SEC fans wouldn't clamor for an all-SEC title game if it was clear that, say, Florida and Tennessee were the two best teams in the country and they played a three-point game earlier in the year?

Michigan got its shot at Ohio State - yes, and they lost by three on the road, which is essentially a draw since homefield is worth at least three points. Florida had their shot to end the debate, but they lost to Auburn. The "Michigan got its shot" argument penalizes Michigan for having played the best team in the country and it rewards Florida for having lost to a good, but not great Auburn team that finished 10-2 instead of 12-0. If Auburn was #1, then this argument would penalize Florida because they "already got their shot."

Rematches are bad - G-d must really have a sense of humor to put Florida fans in the position of making this argument.

I'd like to see Florida-Ohio State more than Michigan-Ohio State - You're not Roone Arledge, so just pick the two best teams, m'kay?

[Update: here is Terry Bowden, who is far more educated than the typical voter in the coaches' poll or Harris poll and who has certainly seen the two teams more than the average coach, illustrating this flawed reasoning: Michigan is a better team, but Florida "deserves" to play for the title. If a Rhodes Scholar is making a decision this way...?]

What I think is really going on is a classic illustration of recency. Florida played last and played well and that's all the voters remember. After the Michigan-Ohio State game, a number of writers poured forward to say that they had not been in favor of a rematch before, but after seeing Michigan and Ohio State stand toe-to-toe and trade blows, they had changed their minds. Now, Michigan has been out of sight and out of mind for the past two weeks and Florida has beaten Arkansas to win the SEC, so they're fresh in the voters' minds and voters, especially glorified gym coaches like the voters in the coaches and Harris polls, will always overrate the importance of the last piece of evidence.

Michigan fans are very familiar with this phenomenon, as they watched dozens of coaches change their mind and vote Nebraska #1 at the end of the '97 season in the aftermath of the Huskers' demolition of Tennessee. They forgot the fact that Nebraska had cheated to beat Missouri in overtime, or the fact that they beat 5-6 Colorado by three points, the same Colorado team that Michigan destroyed 27-3 at the start of the season, and they made their decision by massively overrating the importance of the Orange Bowl, especially in light of the facts that: (1) Peyton Manning had an injured knee; and (2) Tennessee had nothing to play for after Michigan had won the Rose Bowl.

The Big Ten sets itself up to be victims of the recency phenomenon by ending its season the week before Thanksgiving, while the other conferences, whoring themselves for TV dollars and knowing the short memories of voters, extend their seasons by two weeks thereafter. A Big Ten fan likely views this as a nice nod to tradition, ending the season when it has always ended and not letting TV and unseemly political motivations rule their schedules. A fan of the SEC probably views this as an unrealistic, hidebound refusal to change with the times. (Strangely enough, I thought that Southerners were big supporters of tradition.) I don't think it's a coincidence that Big Ten teams have lost every close decision in which they've been involved in the past 15 years:

1994 - Penn State goes unbeaten and fails to win either poll.

1997 - Michigan becomes the first team ever to go into the bowls at #1 in a poll, win its bowl game, and then finish #2 in that poll. (In my heart of hearts, I think the right resolution would have been for split titles in '94 and '97, but it was certainly galling for Nebraska to prevail using a "we went unbeaten in a major conference; we have to be rewarded!" argument that failed for Penn State three years earlier.)

1998 - Ohio State finishes 10-1, but loses out to 10-1 Florida State for a spot opposite Tennessee in the title game. Ohio State was obviously a better team, given that they weren't starting Marcus Outzen under center, but Florida State beat Florida at the end of the year and that's what voters remembered.

If someone can recall the last time a Big Ten team won a close vote to place a team in the national title game or to win the national title, I'd appreciate the reminder.

Michigan, as a representative of the Big Ten, is further traditionalist in its refusal to campaign for votes. Lloyd Carr got the platform to do so on SportsCenter last night and elected not to set forth the arguments in favor of Michigan getting the nod for the rematch. Personally, I liked that move because it made him seem classy in comparison to Urban Meyer's daily hyperventilating about how the whole system should be blown up if Florida doesn't make the title game. I started the year comparing Lloyd to George McClellan because of his refusal to go for the throat even with total superiority in men and material, but I'm going to end it by comparing Lloyd to Abraham Lincoln because Lincoln did not campaign for the presidency in 1860, but instead, he stayed in Springfield and wrote letters while Stephen Douglas campaigned relentlessly against him. Lloyd's refusal to whore himself or his program makes me proud of him. (I'm again sounding like a Lost Cause Southern historian. Lloyd is going to be Robert E. Lee in a few seconds.)

While I'm on the subject of politicking, Gary Danielson's performance last night was an absolute disgrace. I understand that he's reputedly a human being who is paid to have opinions, but I've rarely seen an announcer turn the fourth quarter of a football game into a 30-minute advertisement for one school. The fact that Danielson (a) was not recruited by Michigan (and thus went to Purdue) and (b) is working for the one network that exclusively covers the SEC surely had nothing to do with his open rooting for Florida and his subjective, idiotic comparison of the two teams' schedules. Regardless of the result of the vote this afternoon, Danielson is going to go down in Michigan lore along with Sean McDonough, who performed a similar role in 1997 during CBS's broadcast of the Nebraska-Tennessee Orange Bowl to facilitate the Huskers picking up part of the national title.

Baghdad Bob

Gainesville Gary

I'm going to steal from Jonathan Chait's post on The Victors Board for illustation:

If you don't think the CBS campaign last night was a huge factor, you live in a different world than I do.

People are enormously suggestible. Every voter sat for an hour and a half watching a network drill an agenda into them, priming them with context and repeating propaganda points over and over again.

I don't have any psychology research in front of me, but there is a library full of studies showing that sort of thing has unbelievably powerful effects on people's thinking.

My wife, a psychologist, agrees with this description, so there! Personally, it reminded me of something that Professor Tom Collier said in 20th Century American Wars during my sophomore year at Michigan when we were discussing Truman's decision to drop the atomic bombs: it all depends on the question being asked. (This is the second time today that I've invoked the decision to drop the bombs; the first was this morning when I told Orson that LSU's receivers versus Notre Dame's corners would be an "atrocity-producing situation," which is a term I lifted from Hiroshima in America.)

CBS and Danielson framed the debate by focusing on the points that favor Florida - more good teams on their schedule - and ignoring the points that favored Michigan, such as the critical "not outgained by Vanderbilt" category. Thus, you ended up with voters hearing the Florida talking points drummed into their heads for the final hours before casting their ballots. The voters who stayed up for ESPN2's College Football Final then had those points repeated by Lou Holtz and Mark May, so they ended up going to bed with the impression that there was consensus that Florida was #2. Groupthink, anyone? You think these people wouldn't have sung along with "Throw Lloyd Carr down the Well" if May and Holtz were singing it? (In the realm of points against Florida's claim to #2, May and Holtz's support for the proposition ranks right up there. Herbstreit and Fowler, the two ESPN studio analysts with a shred of intellectual ability, both seemed to favor Michigan, but weren't nearly as explicit about it as the pro-Florida crowd was.)

Of course, all of this would be irrelevant if we had a plus-one system. The whole unseemly process of announcers and coaches blathering on like Carville and Novak would be less important if we didn't have a system that required impossible tasks such as differentiating between two one-loss teams with very similar credentials. With a plus-one system, we would have Ohio State vs. LSU, Michigan vs. Florida, and the debate would be a far less important one over who is #4, rather than who is #2. In the end, Florida is going to get the nod over Michigan because of the short memory of simple-minded voters, which seems a wee bit inferior to the two teams meeting in Pasadena or New Orleans to settle the matter like men.


Anonymous said...

Thoughtful, well-reasoned post. You guys have fun in the Rose Bowl, m'kay?

Anonymous said...

I like it that any coach that is an advocate for their program (Meyer this year; Tuberville in 2004) are "whoring" themselves. Why can't they all be as classy as Lloyd Carr?

Anonymous said...

In regards to Penn State (and thus the Big Ten) getting snubbed in 1994.
NO Big Ten coach voted for PSU to be #1. They ALL voted for Nebraska.
I agree that UM is the second best team in the country. They would beat Florida, probably even in Gainsville.
But the memory of 94 is still bitter, even after 10+ years. I can accept other conference coaches voting for Nebraska. Not the Big Ten coaches. That was pure spite.

Anonymous said...

A few points of difference...

"I don't think it's a coincidence that Big Ten teams have lost every close decision in the past 15 years."

Just a modifier missing: The Big Ten may have lost every close decision in the past 15 years that they have been involved in, but they have not lost every close decision. Auburn 2004, USC 2003, Oregon 2001 just to name a few.

"While I'm on the subject of politicking, Gary Danielson's performance last night was an absolute disgrace."

Perhaps this is true, and indeed, his schedule comparison was poorly done and totally subjective. But Danielson's performance was not the only shameful one by a TV host. John Saunders' comments during halftime of the Oklahoma-Nebraska game were every bit as terrible. First he semi-referreed a debate between functional retards Craig James and Doug Flutie, where no salient points were made. The end result was James saying Florida isn't the best team but OSU had their chance, Flutie saying that Florida doesn't deserve it because they lost bad to Auburn (showing that he hadn't watched the game), and Saunders finishing with this quote: "There may be some debate raging across the country, but there is NO DOUBT among EVERYONE who has watched college football this season as to who the #2 team is, and that team is CLEARLY the University of MICHIGAN". All the "network shows this conference exclusively" arguments can be equally made against Saunders, and I'd argue that a large percentage of the voters were watching Saunders' comments, since the Florida game was already over, and the Rutgers-WVU game was at halftime as well (as in, no other games were on, and that's the only reason why I was watching him). His comments were probably seen much more by voters than the Gameday Final.

Regardless, I wrote about how this all played out two weeks ago. It's a terrible system. And I can only hope that a high-profile program like Michigan getting screwed can only serve to bring this BS down more quickly. It's one thing to screw over Oregon or Auburn, but another when it's the Maize and Blue.

Anonymous said...

You're going overboard with the "whoa is the Big 10!) angle. Ever heard of 2004 Auburn? Michigan isn't the first team to get "snubbed" by the BCS nor is the Big 10 the only conference "victimized" (Miami 2000 and Oregon 2001).

Secondly, you can't be serious about Danielson? Sure, he was stumping, but that's precisely what ABC and ESPN do for the Big 10 24/7 and they would have been doing it with just as much gusto if they had a platform (a Big 10 Championship game). John Saunders and Dorf Flutie gave it their all.

It sucks, but that's why there needs to be a playoff.

Michael said...

Anon #1 - that hurts.

Anon #2 - I didn't have any problem with Tuberville in '04; his team got screwed worse than any other team since the '94 Penn State team. I did have a problem with him making idiotic statements this year about how SEC teams can't make the BCS title game because their schedules are too tough. Gee, that seems hard to defend now, doesn't it? As for Meyer, he's spent two weeks crying about the fact that the whole system should be blown up if USC, Michigan, or just about any other team made the title game other than Florida. Something tells me that Dooley, Bear, or Woody wouldn't have done things that way. I miss the old days when coaches weren't used car salesmen.

Anon #3 - Was that voting pattern on '94 Penn State ever confirmed? If so, then that seems like some bitterness by Big Ten coaches.

LD - I corrected the first statement that you pointed out. I just meant to say that a Big Ten team has never gotten the benefit of the doubt.

As for Saunders, at least he was counter-balanced by James, who went on and on about how Florida should get the nod. There was no counter-balance to Danielson's diatribe. Furthermore, the entire Gameday Final crew (Holtz, May, and Davis) was advocating for Florida, which sorta punches a hole in the argument advanced by you and Anon #4 that ABC/ESPN are always shilling for the Big Ten, doesn't it? The best that Michigan got was Herbstreit saying that voters should solely make their decisions based on who they think the two best teams are (an oasis of sanity in a desert of idiocy) and Fowler mentioning that Florida would be a six-point dog on a neutral field. (What, an actual fact?) Speaking of which, Vegas had Michigan as a seven-point dog against OSU in Columbus and they have Florida as an 7.5 point dog on a neutral field against OSU. Hmmm...

Fox, I disagree with the notion that a rematch isn't appropriate. There are two instances in which is makes sense. The first is when the road team loses by a narrow margin that is within the realm of homefield advantage. If homefield is worth three points (the generally accepted notion by oddsmakers and Sagarin), then Michigan essentially showed that they're even with Ohio State. The second instance is when there is a key injury or some other factor that makes the result of the first game questionable. In this instance, the dreadful field in Columbus could be that factor, but I'm not wild about that argument. Anyway, this is an instance in which rational people should be fine with a rematch.

I also disagree on the closeness of the Michigan-OSU game. Michigan was about to get the ball back down four with six minutes to go if not for an unfortunate penalty that had nothing to do with the play itself. They had a great chance to win the game. Also, I disagree that OSU was in their prevent defense on UM's last drive. It isn't as if Michigan's success throwing on that drive was that different than their success throwing for the rest of the game.

I disagree on Nebraska '94. The '95 team was outstanding, but the '94 team trailed an average Miami team in the Orange Bowl until the 4th quarter. Their offense hadn't reached the levels that it would reach in '95. In any event, it's extremely odd for there to be two major conference unbeatens with comparable schedules and for one team to take both polls.

peacedog said...

LD, I agree about the Saunders/James/Flutie commentary. Wretched stuff. Really, it was a poor display by both that crew and Danielson. I'm sick of this stuff, frankly.

Anonymous said...

Danielson works for CBS, its his job to state Florida's case. You don't think Brent Mussburger would have been doing the same thing?Kirk Herbstreit was almost in tears pleading with the voters to choose Michigan on Saturday night. Give me a break. And he is the only one with a shred of intelligence? Remember how well he evaluates teams - Miami for the National Championship in '06.

And using Vegas' line for the game has nothing to do with who deserves to be there, I find that to be a silly comment by Fowler. Wasn't USC at 2 TD favorite last week? How many points was Ohio State getting v. Miami in '02?

Did anyone catch when Herbstreit attacked Meyer for being everything that is wrong with the system after he admitted that he'd only seen Ohio State play once?

Backstreit - "How can he give an educated vote week in and week out???...(sob sob sob)..."

Reece Davis - "good point Kirk, although right now Meyer does not have a vote in the coaches poll"

I don't have a dog in this fight, (although I have always loathed Herbstreit after sitting next to him at a Braves game and realizing he is 5'11" 180lbs, for some reason that really bothered me) and I feel for Meechigan, but I hate looking at margin of victory to determine who is better. There have been too many champions in every sport (again OSU in '02 and Pats dynasty comes to mind) who if you looked at that as your main factor would never have even been invited to the dance. Some teams just have a knack for winning the game and in the end that's all that really matters. Its retarded that we even have to argue about it, but looking at just W's and L's and strength of schedule Florida has to get the nod.

By the way, I'm not giving UM the Wisconsin game as a big time win. They could have played quite possibly the worst major conference schedule in the last 20 years. I dare you to go look at it.

Anonymous said...

I didn't see Game Day Final, so I can't say too much about what they said (but at the same time, I'd say that the Final show is watched by a significantly smaller audience than watched the SEC or Big XII championships or the College Gameday episodes all year long).

I'd say that if Craig James was the "balance" for the SEC on the ABC halftime broadcasts, he failed miserably. Every argument he made was either factually flawed or completely illogical. Add to it that it was 2 on 1 (Flutie seemed slightly more sentient than James), and that Saunders made sure Flutie had the last word between James and Flutie and Saunders himself topped it off with a firm pronouncement (met with nodding by the other two) as the final say in the matter, tells me that ABC was doing the same BS that CBS was doing. It's wrong both ways.

As for ESPN, there are a few qualifiers needed here. For one thing, ESPN does show SEC games, and a lot of them, actually. ESPN doesn't have the same motivations that CBS and ABC have - they have to protect both products. And the other thing is that let's remember that neither CBS, ESPN nor ABC really have a short-term interest in this. The BCS games are all on Fox. Both CBS and ABC have to protect the long-term contracts they have with each conference. ESPN, on the other hand, has long-term contracts with both conferences.

I also think that there is a distinction between the Gameday Final crew and the regular College Gameday crew - in the approach taken to coverage and in the targeted audience. Gameday Final I think targets die hard fans. College Gameday targets a wider audience and definitely dumbs down things. But College Gameday also gets a wider audience, and because of that, I think they place a larger emphasis on cross-promotion (additionally, the function of being before the games rather than after the games naturally leads to a purpose of promotion instead of "covering the news", which is what Gameday Final does more of). So I think it's more reasonable for College Gameday to focus on games on ABC/ESPN networks, but there's not as much of a reason to focus on them for Gameday Final.

The point is that when Holtz, May and Davis prattle on about teams, the reach is somewhat limited. Much moreso than the drivel during the big games of the day, or that which sets the framework for discussion earlier on. There's no doubt that Holtz, May and Davis should be held accountable for what they say, and I think that they shouldn't have any influence at all - the system is bad. And I think that's the final outcome of all this. What we could see first hand this weekend was plainly how externalities and interested and conflicted parties can influence the outcome of polls. And it's all done without people having to defend themselves (like the dude who rated Florida #1 in the Harris Poll, or the several voters who dropped Michigan to 4 or below). We can all tut-tut Meyer for his last 3 weeks of complaining, but unfortunately, it was in his team's interest to speak up and advocate for his team. Just like it was in Mack Brown's interest to do so two years ago. I honestly don't think Meyer wanted to go out and state his case (I think he'd rather settle things on the field), but I do think he felt like he had to do what was necessary within the flawed system. I definitely think Carr showed class the last two weeks, but it hurt his team. Of course, since we're dealing with a totally subjective and non-standardized (is that a word?) system, had Carr spoken up, he very well may have turned off the same voters who listened to Meyer, because of whatever predilections the individual voters might have. It's a terrible system, and it's not getting fixed anytime soon.

Anonymous said...

"Fowler mentioning that Florida would be a six-point dog on a neutral field. (What, an actual fact?)"

That is a fact about what their opinion is. it is some bookie's opinion that michigan is the better team. it is also a fact that herbtreit's opinion that michigan is the better team. but let's not elevate the fact of what someone's opinion is to the same level of facts such as win-loss record or strength of schedule. or use it to imply that michigan just beat florida.

Will Collier said...

Terry Bowden was not a Rhodes Scholar. FSU (like many other US colleges) has a summer program at Oxford, which Bowden attended. Those programs are taught (mostly) by American professors and attended entirely by American students on summer break. They rent space from the Oxford colleges, and are widely (and in general, accurately) derided as "academic tourism" by the actual Oxford community.

There's nothing wrong with going to one of American Oxford summer schools, of course, but Bowden and others tend to overstate their academic merit.

Anonymous said...

As a Michigan fan, I really appreciated your bashing of Gary Danielson's sell job. He should have known better - Michigan fans never forget. Michigan fans are still mad at Brent Musburger (he was overly excited in his Michigan State rooting after being invited to speak to a class there) for something he did almost 10 years ago. When I saw that Brent was calling the UM-OSU game after Bo's death, I couldn't stomach it and instead listened to the call on the radio.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

The fact is that Danielson was right. He never said Florida should be in the game, he merely suggested that it would be wrong to discount Florida so easily and to assume that Michigan is the 2nd best team because Ohio State is the best team. He also put up both teams' schedules and tried to evaluate them.

But I want to address something that has been repeated often and that's that Florida was lobbying against the same scenario that gave them their first "National Championship" in 1996.

Any serious observer of college football knows the situations are not analagous. Under the system being used in 1996 the SEC winner received an automatic bid to the Sugar Bowl. It was FSU that got invited to play in that rematch not Florida. The Sugar Bowl could have selected another team to play against the Gators but the Gators were contractually obligated by SEC committments to play in that bowl game.

Also the Gators didn't play the noles in back-to-back games as would have been the case with OSU/Michigan II. Why is this important? Well because Florida did win its way into its Bowl game because it won a game in between. Michigan wanted to ride a one game losing streak into the championship, going against the precedent that has always existed in college football (if you lose, lose earlier rather than later).

When Oklahoma lost the Big XII championship and backed into the BCS CG it got embarrassed by USC. Not a good precedent.

Lastly, a win in that Sugar Bowl was not a guarantee of a national championship. A second ranked Arizona State team would have been the champion if it would have won the Fiesta Bowl. Since they didn't the Florida/FSU rematch became the de facto "national championship" game.

Michael said...

1. If Danielson wasn't advocating for Florida in the 4th quarter of the SECCG, then I'm Arnold Palmer. He then went on a number of radio talk shows to make the same points over and over again. It was good for him personally because it raised his profile nationally and it made him more popular in the South, but it was also over the line for him to behave like a publicist and not an analyst.

2. When Urban Meyer claims that the national title game should not be a rematch because a new team deserves a shot at #1, that's very closely analogous to the current situation. And your facts are also wrong on 1996. That year was the second year of the Bowl Alliance, which pitted the #1 and #2 teams against one another. The only difference with the current system was that the Big Ten and Pac Ten were not involved. If the BCS system was in place in 1996, then Arizona State would have played Florida State and Florida would have been left out in the cold. The Sugar Bowl was the designated spot for the #1 vs. #2 game. Florida State was #1 and Florida got to be the #2 team. Arizona State played in the Rose Bowl against Ohio State, not the Fiesta Bowl.

3. The intervening game argument is ludicrous. Are you saying that if Michigan would have played Ball State on November 25 (the week after the Ohio State game) instead of November 4, it would have had a better claim to be in the title game? That makes a lot of sense. And on the Oklahoma point, are you saying that the Florida-FSU Sugar Bowl result would have been different if not for Florida playing Alabama in the SECCG?

Subsequent events (read: Rose Bowl and National Title Game) have demonstrated that Florida did deserve the nod over Michigan, but based on the evidence available when the decision was actually made, it's still a tough call.

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