When Alabama crushed Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game, Alabama was declared the champion of college football. Of course the AP still releases its year-end poll, and the BCS its final standings, but both still had Alabama at the top, because this is what logically happens when a team wins the BCS National Championship Game.
The BCS and its ranking system is the work of three separate parts – two human, one computer (For a full explanation, go here.) The computer element is further divided up into six computers, all of which have individual calculations for determining the rankings. As with the human polls, 25 points are awarded to No. 1, 24 to No. 2, etc. Then the highest and lowest point totals are thrown out, and the point totals of the four middle computer scores are tallied up (100 being a perfect score – 4 x 25). This final number is divided by 100, and so we arrive at the team’s decimal score.
Except one computer, well, it went a bit rogue. The Colley Matrix ranking, it seems, did not watch the BCS National Championship Game. Or, at the very least, had no idea that the BCS National Championship Game was a thing. Because according to its final rankings, Notre Dame still held the top spot despite losing on Monday in the BCS National Championship Game.
The computer only uses wins and losses as an input, and completely ignores margin of victory. (It does take into account strength of schedule and apparently ignores conference bias.) But that’s not what’s particularly troubling about this computer – just take a look at this portion of the system’s explanation:
“Comparison of rankings produced by this method to those produced by the press polls shows that despite its simplicity, the scheme produces common sense results.”
As far as we know, computers are supposed to eliminate human error and/or misperception, not imitate it. But even worse, this computer couldn’t even do that – it misjudged human error and made an even bigger gaffe. Now maybe Notre Dame really should have been the No. 1 overall ranked team – four teams, including Notre Dame and Alabama, finished the year with one loss. And any arrangement of teams finishing with identical records is inherently partisan. A human chooses for a computer which statistics to weigh more heavily than others, just like a human creates his own 25-team ranking. But we’ve eliminated this judgment call for the final game, leveling No. 1 and No. 2. as equals. Still, the rankings come out as if they mean something, with a possibly new No. 1 and No. 2, even if one computer totally forgot to turn on its television on Monday Night.
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