Why Chris Fowler Is Wrong

(November 1, 2009)

This Week's Rankings

On ESPN SportsCenter on Saturday night, Chris Fowler criticized the Iowa Hawkeyes for their close wins and labeled the BCS decision not to include margin of victory in its computer rankings as “stupid.”  The adjective applies, but not to the BCS decision.  Here are four reasons why:

(While I am not an official representative of the BCS, I have been involved in the discussions of this matter through the years.  The following are my opinions and not those of the BCS leadership.)

1. The object of the game is to win.  Iowa may not be winning in the manner that Mr. Fowler wants, but that’s somewhat beside the point.

2. The BCS Standings are not trying to mirror Las Vegas in projecting who would win in a (hypothetical) future matchup. They are trying to reward the most deserving teams.  In terms of accomplishments on the field, to date, Iowa has achieved quite a lot.  The Hawkeyes are the only team in the BCS top-10 that has beaten two current BCS top-25 teams on the road, and they’ve also beaten #18 (in the BCS) Arizona.  Penn St. is 8-0 when not playing the Hawkeyes, but lost to Iowa in Happy Valley. None of this is to say that the Hawkeyes will or will not continue their success. But there's no denying their success to date.

3. Unquestionably, including margin of victory in the computers would encourage teams to run up the score in an unsportsmanlike way.  If teams instead showed good sportsmanship, they would be penalized. 

Some have proposed including margin of victory but capping it at, say, 21 points.  But this wouldn’t solve the problem.  A team that’s winning by 10 points and is deep in its opponent’s territory with less than a minute to play would still be faced with the choice of trying to score and being rewarded in the rankings, or being sportsmanlike and running out the clock.  Who really wants to see teams calling time-out with 30 seconds left to set up that final scoring pass to bump the margin to 17?  And who really wants to see teams be penalized in the rankings for not inflating the final margin?

4. If margin of victory is going to be considered at all (and, for reason #1, we don’t think it should be), then it should be considered by subjective voters who can better appraise subjective style points.  Iowa’s come-from-behind win versus Indiana produced an 18-point final margin of victory.  If the computer rankings included margin of victory like Mr. Fowler wants them to do, then Iowa would have been rewarded for a lopsided, 18-point win — not penalized for having trailed through three quarters.  In fact, if margin of victory were capped at 21 points, the Hawkeyes would have been rewarded with nearly a maximum-margin win.

Far better to reward teams for winning against good competition and leave the style points to diving and gymnastics.

--Jeff Anderson

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