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Bias and Self-Interest in BCS Rankings

Today, the BCS (Bowl Championship Series) published its final ratings.  The rankings determine which college football teams play in the top bowl games.  Millions of dollars turn on the rankings.  My team, Oregon, is in “The Natty,” the national championship game.  Nevertheless, I thought I’d examine for bias one of the polls that factored into the final rankings, the USA Today Poll.


I decided to look at Stanford, the team I will bet on against Virginia Tech, regardless of the spread.  Stanford lost only one game, to Oregon. Fifty-nine active coaches voted in the USA Today poll.  As a group they voted Stanford the number 5 team, with a range of 3 to 7.   So who voted Stanford 3?  Who voted it 7? 

Four coaches voted Stanford the number 3 team, including Stanford’s own coach.  Two other Pac-10 coaches put Stanford near the top.  They studied and played against Stanford, and they have an interest in promoting the Pac-10 reputation.  Also, their own losses against Stanford don’t look as bad if Stanford is rated highly. 

Baylor’s coach also voted Stanford ahead of undefeated Texas Christian University.  I’m guessing that Baylor’s coach visits some of the same Texas homes to recruit student-athletes as does the coach for TCU. 

Five coaches voted Stanford number 7.  Two of them had a personal, financial interest in knocking Stanford down to raise their own one-loss teams:  Wisconsin and Michigan State.  BCS rankings broke the tie among Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State for the Big 10 title.  (Jim Tressel, of Ohio state, ranked Stanford 6th, just below his own team.) 

Anybody think Stanford would go 0-3 against Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State? No fair-minded person would.  However, the other three who voted Stanford No. 7 ranked all three Big 10 schools above Stanford.

  • Illinois coach.  As a Big 10 coach, Ron Zook had the same personal interest, as did the Pac 10 coaches who voted for Stanford as No. 3. 
  • Maybe the coach for Miami of Ohio showed some regional pride.
  • Which brings us to the coach for Middle Tennessee State.  Maybe next year, when the Internet and cable T.V. reach Murfreesboro, TN, he’ll know better. 

Okay, maybe I’m totally ignorant about Tennessee, but that’s the problem when we force people to express opinions on topics about which they are not familiar.  Middle Tennessee’s coach did not watch any film of Stanford, but he lost to Minnesota, which placed 10th (out of 11) in the Big 10. 

So what have we learned?  On the margins, coaches, like all people, vote their self interest and for whom they know and respect.

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