Blog Entry

What's to be done about 'rogue' AP voters?

Posted on: January 5, 2012 4:51 am

Posted by Adam Jacobi

A report came out Wednesday night that some AP voters were prepared to vote LSU as the national champion even if Alabama beats the Tigers at the BCS Championship on January 12. There are conditions, of course; if 'Bama wins handily, there's not going to be much doubt who the deserving national champion is. But still, if the title game is another close, unconvincing affair that this time tilts in favor of Alabama, there are people on record who are at the very least open to the prospect of sticking with LSU.

"Awarding a championship to a team that loses its final game is beyond counterintuitive and may be un-American," said David Teel of the Daily Press in Hampton Roads, Va. "But if LSU loses narrowly, I will absolutely consider (voting the Tigers No. 1). That's how good the Tigers' regular season -- five wins over the top 25, four away from Death Valley, including at Alabama -- was." Another voter in Albuquerque told's Dennis Dodd that Alabama's win "would have to be like 63-0 or something" before he'd consider voting for the Tide over LSU.

[Doyel: Splitting BCS national championship 'stupidest idea ever']

The conundrum Teel raises along with his supposedly "rogue" compatriots is a real one, and one that cuts to the core of polling as a college football institution. At the end of the day, though, Teel is not only well within his right to wonder aloud about this game's effect on his final ballot -- if the conditions are right, he should follow his gut and go with LSU to win the title.

First, it's important to understand why polling even needs to exist in college football (which it does!) in the first place. The validity of determining a Top 25 in college football is dramatically hindered by two factors:

1) We just don't have much data to work with. Assuming one of the central maxims of college football and the BCS is correct -- that the most important determinant in whether one team is better than the other is what happens when they play each other -- then in order to justify a two-team playoff out of a 120-team league, we would likely need way more than 12 or 13 data points for each team (especially with two-thirds of nearly every schedule dedicated to common games with a highly consolidated group of conference opponents). Baseball uses 162 games in a 32-game league, and this year, it needed all 162 just to determine an 8-team playoff setup.

Now, the point can be made that MLB didn't actually need all 162 games to determine its playoff participants -- nobody was screaming about major league baseball's illegitimacy when the season was 154 games long (or less) for the first 85 years of the league's existence, after all -- but if we extrapolate college football's rate of missing opponents to the MLB, the season would be four games long, three of the games would be dedicated to intra-division play, and the fourth game would be for one non-division opponent. And then two title game participants are chosen. If MLB commissioner Bud Selig proposed this, he would be fired. He would be quadruple-fired. Then the riots would begin.

2) The data we do have is highly contradictory anyway. Even if we had a season with dozens upon dozens of games, upsets are so prevalent that the rankings would still be a relatively poor predictor of future games. We all like to believe that if one team beats the other, it's better than the other team, but here's the full list of the Associated Press Top 25* teams that have not lost to a team ranked below them: LSU, Alabama, Oregon, Arkansas, Virginia Tech, Georgia, and Penn State. In other words, even among what voters have determined to be the best 25 teams, 76% are ranked ahead of a different team that beat them during the season, and it took only 12-13 games to get to that point. For the next 25 teams, the ones with even more losses than 1-3 on the year, there would be utter carnage in trying to only rank teams ahead of the ones they beat. Consider that the next time somebody makes the all-too-prevalent argument of "How can Team X be behind Team Y in the rankings when Team X beat Team Y?" 

Now, even though college football is filled with game-changing factors that hinge on chance (weather, injuries, fumbles) this pattern of teams routinely losing to worse teams is not a phenomenon unique to the sport. Going back to baseball, losses are so prevalent that even the best teams rarely win more than two-thirds of their games. In professional football, the teams with the best regular-season record are barely more likely to make the Super Bowl than the average playoff-bound team. But those two leagues (and every other professional team sport) feature multi-round playoffs, so the contradictions are rendered meaningless through the process of the playoffs -- even as said playoffs routinely eliminate teams that would take a BCS Championship bid if such a system existed in the league.  

College football does not have the luxury of expanding its schedule to adequately address either of the the above factors, especially in light of the FBS' mammoth number of programs -- football is debilitatingly brutal as it is, plus the prospect of trying to turn a profit in the postseason is prohibitively difficult for athletic departments even with a one-week schedule -- so it has to make do with its small, weak set of data in order to determine championship participants. In must step pollsters to interpret that data in their own way, and generally, those pollsters do a very good job of contextualizing the data and putting together a (temporarily) coherent Top 25 -- at least in the poll's weekly aggregations. So given the limitations of college football scheduling, there's really no other way to delineate between specific programs than by subjective ranking.

The rankings are each pollster's individual interpretation of the entire season, and if there's any doubt about that, regard the amount of teams that find themselves ranked second in the season's very final poll without playing in the BCS Championship because they won their bowl games while ranked third while the BCS Championship loser was thumped so soundly it couldn't hang onto the second-ranked spot. Those votes as No. 2 aren't protest votes to suggest that the BCS took the wrong team to challenge the top-ranked team or that a plus-one needs to be enacted immediately, they're reflections of each team's work on the season as a whole.

So given that, it's particularly backwards of the BCS and Coaches Poll to require that the winner of the BCS Championship be voted as national champion while allowing the loser to be ranked lower than second if need be. The season as a whole is what it is, and if AP voters determine that a potential slim Alabama victory over LSU at a (semi-) neutral site in the BCS Championship doesn't constitute enough of a reason to like Alabama's season more than LSU's, those voters should absolutely rank LSU first in their final ballots. They should be prepared to defend the decision, of course, but they should do it; otherwise, what's the point of being granted a vote in the first place?

*The AP Top 25 was chosen because the Coaches Poll and BCS exclude Southern California for reasons that are not germane to this particular topic.

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Since: Nov 15, 2008
Posted on: January 8, 2012 5:08 pm

What's to be done about 'rogue' AP voters?

The right teams are there, for what will go down as the most viewed BCS NC game in the history of the BCS. Numbers don't lie and the cost of a few seconds air time during the game is thru the roof. Your going to watch and you know it so give it a rest already. You know the time has come and its time for the big boys to come out and play. We have put up our toy Cowboys and our pet Ducks in anticipation of the National Championship Game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the LSU Tigers.

I just hope that this game has half the excitement of the first, one of the best I have ever seen. If nothing else just watch the hits in this game, these defenses hit each and every play. Enjoy the game....RTR

Since: Jan 5, 2011
Posted on: January 7, 2012 10:22 pm

What's to be done about 'rogue' AP voters?

I mean it is about getting the best two teams isn't it.

Yes, yes it is. Call me when they do that.

Since: Jan 5, 2011
Posted on: January 7, 2012 8:35 pm

What's to be done about 'rogue' AP voters?

So this game literally doesn't matter then. Either way LSU is still number one? Why do we have this system again? I'll tell you what my tv tomorrow night will be on and ready. However i'll be watching family guy. **** this joke of a game. 

Since: Aug 18, 2010
Posted on: January 7, 2012 12:08 pm

What's to be done about 'rogue' AP voters?

Bama did beat Arkansas, and they will probably finish #5 in the country.  That should count as a quality win, so, so much for that argument.  What better quality win does OSU have?

Since: Oct 17, 2010
Posted on: January 6, 2012 4:32 pm

What's to be done about 'rogue' AP voters?

Good point. Yes the SEC tried to put a plus one in place but it was only accepted by the ACC of all conferences and turned down by the other big boy schools. However I believe your point about why they voted against it is only partly true because I think the other part was so that teams from non AQ schools couldnt play for a title like Boise and Utah and TCU who these conferences were working so hard to keep out they ended up shutting themselves out. I still say there is a playoff in every division of college football except this one and I dont know why other than money.

Since: Oct 17, 2010
Posted on: January 6, 2012 4:15 pm

What's to be done about 'rogue' AP voters?

Once again this proves that the AP voters are just lost. They are the ones who made this game and now that the reality of it has set in they are going tp prove why they dont deserve a vote in anything. When Alabama beats LSU in the least watched bowl game of the year the true NC wil be wait for it Oklahoma State who should have been in the game anyway. Before this game Alabamas only quality win was against Penn State who also got throttled by Houston so which leaves Bama with no quality wins this year and a case of the Boise State Blues wishing they had a consistant kicker.

Since: Jan 6, 2012
Posted on: January 6, 2012 7:21 am

What's to be done about 'rogue' AP voters?


Only Conference Champions should be allowed in the Title Game!

That would be the closest thing to the BCS Playoffs that most people feel is necessary, even Bama fans!

Saban is right, two NFL teams can play a single game in the regular season, then meet up in the Super Bowl!

Those teams are known as Conference Champions!

The SEC has a valid Championship system, teams win games to become Division Champions, then those Division Champions play a game to determine the Conference Champion!

The BCS is a voting system, where people who dont play, vote on who they think is best! The BCS allowing people to vote for a Champion after the Championship game is played is ironic justice for people who think... "The BCS got it right!"

Its the SEC who got it right!

Since: Jan 5, 2012
Posted on: January 5, 2012 11:51 pm

What's to be done about 'rogue' AP voters?

I'm a WVU fan so I'm not taking any sides. I'm surprise I haven't heard anyone make the case for the following if LSU loses a close game to AL the second time around. LSU can say they beat the Pac12champ that beat the BigTenchamp and they beat the Bigeastchamp that beat the ACCchamp. Has any FB team ever done this before? In other words, I could see the AP giving LSU#1 if they lose a close game to AL.

Since: Oct 15, 2006
Posted on: January 5, 2012 7:10 pm

What's to be done about 'rogue' AP voters?

The rematch itself means that head to head results don't matter.  So what's the big deal.  The game is already diminished.  Who cares?  If Bama wins, all it means is they are 1 and 1 against LSU and have no more claim to the title than LSU has or for that matter Oklahoma State.  Heck, Southern Cal is probably better than eiher of them anyway.

Since: Jul 21, 2008
Posted on: January 5, 2012 10:18 am

What's to be done about 'rogue' AP voters?

What's to be done? Nothing. AP voters are not contractually obligated to vote the BCS Championship Game winner as #1 in the nation. Only the coaches are required to do that.

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