Saturday, November 27, 2010

College Football Playoffs

Here is my proposal for a playoff in college football.

First let me discuss some of the issues that prevent a playoff from happening:

1) It would prolong the season too much. Some people propose 32 team playoffs or say they want something similar to March Madness without realizing how impossible it would be in football. Particularly because you can't play back to back football games. A 32 team playoff would take longer than a month to run, if each round is held a week apart. It is just not realistic.

2) It would lessen the importance of the regular season. I believe that this is really an empty argument. Every other sport with a playoff still has important regular seasons. If teams are playing for a playoff spot, those games are still important because their playoff hopes are on the line. A game between two crappy teams would be unaffected. It is not important now, and it would still be unimportant. The difference is that more teams would be in a playoff hunt, whereas in the current system, only the top few teams have truly NC-meaningful games.

3) The bowl system as they are set up make too much money for the bowls. This is true and probably the biggest reason against a playoff system, there is too much money to lose. The big boys don't want to give up a good system for one with unknown implications for their wallets. From their point of view, it isn't broken, so it shouldn't be "fixed".

4) The importance of certain bowl games will be lost. For example, the Pac10 and Big10 have historically been against anything new which changes the set up of the Rose Bowl. It is understandable because the tradition of the Rose Bowl is a good one, and I do like the whole Big10-Pac10 thing. I do think that these traditions are important. Eventually though, they have caved in little with the +1 system, which does not guarantee a Pac10-Big10 match-up (for example, this year, you will most likely not see the Pac10 in the Rose Bowl, because Oregon will be playing in the NC game instead). All the other minor bowls may lose their "importance" as well, although I am not sure how "important" the Bowl or the Humanitarian Bowl are right now. In any case, there is no reason not to continue their current practices in an NIT-sort-of-way.

I will try to address all of these issues throughout my proposal.

Essentially, my proposal is for an 8-team playoff tied to conference champions. Another issue is that the AQ conferences will not want to lose their guaranteed tie-ins, but my proposal would maintain them. At this point, I really do believe that the MWC deserves AQ much more than the Big East, but it is how it is, and you have to convince the big boys that they will improve their lot, not degrade it.

So if the AQ conferences keep their AQ, that will guarantee 6 teams in the playoff, with 2 spots remaining. It will be up to each AQ conference to have system to determine their champions. Just to refresh, AQ conferences are ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Big East, Pac 10, and SEC.

The 2 remaining spots will be determined as such: all schools in all of FBS will be considered. Any 0 loss team will be taken before any 1 loss team, any 1 loss team will be taken before any 2 loss team, and so on. Tie breakers between same-loss teams will be determined by any BCS-type system. Last rule, both wild cards cannot come from the same conference.

Next, the 4 main bowls will be the sites of all playoff games (Fiesta, Orange, Rose, and Sugar). The tie-ins will be maintained as well as possible. The quarterfinals will play very similarly to how the main 4 bowls currently play:

Fiesta Bowl - Big 12 Champ versus Wild Card

Orange Bowl - ACC Champ versus Big East Champ

Sugar Bowl - SEC Champion versus Wild Card

Rose Bowl - Pac 10 Champ versus Big 10 Champ

Which wild card plays in Orange/Sugar will be determined as such. Firstly, the SEC champ cannot play an SEC-nonchamp, and the Big 12 cannot play a Big 12-nonchamp. Secondly, travel distance to the bowl site should be minimized for the 2 teams.

The Semi-finals and Championship games will rotate between the same 4 sites in such a way that each year, one site will host the NC-game, two sites will host the 2 semi-finals games, and 1 site will host only the quarterfinal game. For a 4 year cycle the system would work as such:

Year 1:
1) Rose Bowl Champ versus Fiesta Bowl Champ plays Rose-Semifinal
2) Sugar Bowl Champ versus Orange Bowl Champ plays Sugar-Semifinal
3) Rose-Semi Champ plays Sugar-Semi Champ in Fiesta-NC game
4) Orange Bowl hosts no additional games

Year 2:
1) Rose Bowl Champ versus Fiesta Bowl Champ plays Fiesta-Semifinal
2) Sugar Bowl Champ versus Orange Bowl Champ plays Orange-Semifinal
3) Fiesta-Semi Champ versus Orange-Semi Champ plays Sugar-NC game
4) Rose Bowl hosts no additional games

Year 3:
1) Rose Bowl Champ versus Fiesta Bowl Champ plays Rose-Semifinal
2) Sugar Bowl Champ versus Orange Bowl Champ plays Sugar-Semifinal
3) Rose-Semi Champ plays Sugar-Semi Champ in Orange-NC game
4) Fiesta Bowl hosts no additional games

Year 4:
1) Rose Bowl Champ versus Fiesta Bowl Champ plays Fiesta-Semifinal
2) Sugar Bowl Champ versus Orange Bowl Champ plays Orange-Semifinal
3) Fiesta-Semi Champ versus Orange-Semi Champ in Rose-NC game
4) Sugar Bowl hosts no additional games.

Here are some issues with my system that may be problematic:

In the current system, each of these sites hosts an additional game once every four years. I am hoping that hosting an additional game 3 times every 4 years will not be too much of a strain.

Teams must play additional games and it may be a strain to players who are actually college students. This is a given with any playoff system, with an 8 team playoff, you minimize the additional games. Each year, 2 teams will play 2 additional games, and 2 teams will play a single additional games. This is out of 120 schools, so indeed, I think the strain of additional games is minimized.

Teams may potentially have to travel between 3 locations on their playoff run. This really can't be helped in any way that I can imagine. The situation with March Madness is even worse, so I hope that it is reasonable to ask a single team to travel from Pasadena, to Glendale, AZ to New Orleans, for example. The Semis are set up to host the winner of its bowl game particularly to limit travel. The Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl are always kept on the same side of the bracket to minimize travel, and the same goes for the Sugar and Orange Bowls. The conference tie-ins and wild-card rules are also maintained to limit travel.

Notre Dame loses its preferential treatment. I don't care. You still have a shot just like Boise St. does. Deal with it.

For 2008-2009 the match-ups would have been such:
Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma (Big 12 Champ) plays Utah (Wild Card, 0 losses)
Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech (ACC Champ) plays Cincinnati (Big East Champ)
Rose Bowl: USC (Pac 10 Champ) plays Penn St. (Big 10 Champ)
Sugar Bowl: Florida (SEC Champ) plays Texas (Highest ranked 1 loss team, cannot play Oklahoma in Fiesta)

Fiesta Bowl: Texas (Big 12 Champ) plays Boise St. (Wild Card, 0 losses)
Orange Bowl: Cincinatti (Big East Champ) plays Georgia Tech (ACC Champ)
Rose Bowl: Oregon (Pac 10 Champ) plays Ohio St. (Big 10 Champ)
Sugar Bowl: Alabama (SEC Champ) plays TCU (Wild Card, 0 losses)

Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma (B12 Champ) plays Stanford (Wild Card, highest 1 loss team)
Orange Bowl: UConn (BE Champ) plays Virginia Tech (ACC Champ)
Rose Bowl: Oregon (P10 Champ) plays Wisconsin (B10 Champ)
Sugar Bowl: Auburn (SEC Champ) plays TCU (Wild Card, 0 losses)

Power Rankings

I wanted to try my hand at creating a power rankings system. Here is what became of some ideas. The system only takes two things into account, who you played, and what were the scoring patterns of that game. Wins and losses or nothing else of the kind is factored in. Most importantly, my own biases are not factored in. I just ran the data through the machine. It took a pretty long time to enter all the data in by hand, and I am not too sure I will be continuing these rankings.

I was mostly motivated by the fact that wins and losses do not truly reflect how well a team has played. I wanted to build some sort of measure that would tell me how competitive a team has been, regardless of wins and losses. I feel that beating a shitty team by 1 point should not be so much more valuable than losing to a great team by 1 point. When you only look at wins and losses, all that nuance is lost. So intentionally, I have left out wins and losses from the formulation. Instead here is my list of the most competitive teams in the NFL. So for all games up to week 11 (not including Thanksgiving Thursday games), here is how it came out.

The number you see next to the ranking and team name is a sort of "adjusted winning percentage, which is my final measure by which I have ordered these teams.

CAR 0.009

BUF 0.079

ARI 0.083

HOU 0.101

MIN 0.117

CIN 0.220

SF 0.233

JAC 0.238

DAL 0.244

DEN 0.249

DET 0.280

SEA 0.305

TB 0.330

MIA 0.393

WSH 0.426

OAK 0.444

SD 0.484

NYG 0.547

CHI 0.589

ATL 0.657

KC 0.757

NYJ 0.758

TEN 0.758

CLE 0.792

IND 0.800

STL 0.826

NE 0.856

BAL 0.863

NO 0.881

PIT 0.882

PHI 0.921

GB 0.977

I will try to explain how the calculations worked.

I wanted to know how competitive a game was without just looking at the final score, instead looking at the duration of the game. Since the point difference only changes when there is a score, you only need to record each score and the time of the score. With that, you can see each lead throughout the game. By looking at the time difference between scores, you can know how long that lead/deficit was maintained. So for each game, a team was given a score based on its "cumulative lead", which I would define as the sum of its lead at each minute of the game (with seconds as fractions).

However, I also scaled the leads logarithmically, which means that as the lead increases, it's relative value decreases. Try to imagine it like this. The difference between a 8 point lead and a 9 point lead is much bigger than the difference between a 58 point lead and a 59 point lead. Although they are actually both different by only a point, the difference between 8 and 9 is actually valued a lot higher. I did this to actually reflect the value of a score in a football game, and consequently reduce the power of "blowouts". So that additional touchdown late in the 4th to push the lead to 35 is not actually as valuable as the late touchdown which gives you the lead.

So in this way, for each game, each team was given a "raw" score.

Secondly, I wanted to introduce a strength of schedule factor, where the "raw" score was adjusted based on the performance of the opponent in all other games. Admittedly, this could have been much more rigid, but I am not absolutely sure how to go about doing it. The trouble is that "the performance of the opponent in all other games" is also skewed by the opponents' strength of schedule, and you get into this weird web of recursion that I was unsure of how to tackle. I chose only to go one level deep, but seemingly you can just keep going deeper and deeper into strength of schedule, where you have to look at the previous opponents of the previous opponents of the previous opponents of the opponents. And so on.

Additionally, I encountered the problem of how heavily to weigh in the strength of schedule. I tried different percentages and eventually settled for a 10 percent skew, such that the "raw" score was multiplied by the "SOS factor" (90% - 100%) to give the "adjusted" score (losses had to be multiplied in a similar but different way). Changing the percentages (for example having the SOS factor run from 50% - 100%), gave slightly different results.

Finally, I wanted a final score that ran from 0 - 1, so I treated the "adjusted" scores as a normal distribution and returned the percentile of each team's score.

I don't think there were many surprises in the Thursday games this week, but I will keep track of how things pan out with my rankings.

#6 NE beat #22 DET
#4 NO beat #24 DAL
#11 NYJ beat #27 CIN

Anybody would have called those though. Let's see how the Sunday games turn out. If I had a better understanding of how to do these things, I would want to eventually create a system that would somehow return a probability distribution for future match-up, ie 5 percent chance of Team A winning by 10, 4% chance winning by 9, and etc. etc. I have no idea how to do that though.