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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Flex Tournament for College Football

I spelled out my position on a tournament in college football a couple of weeks ago, but college football fans seem to be rather stubborn and bullheaded, bound to their myopic misunderstandings and deaf to my omniscient wisdom. Consequently, even though the popularity of a tournament isn't new--big names and small have been calling for an infernal tournament in college football for over a quarter century now--I think we may be one big fiasco (like the Auburn, USC, and Oklahoma trifecta in '04) from seeing change imposed on us.

Facing that reality, I've tried to design the best possible tournament format to satisfy three requirements that are dear to my heart: 1) It must have fewer than 4 rounds. College kids (outside of Florida State) have to go to class some time. Three rounds could be wrapped up in 15 days from start to finish, but with each additional round the size of the field and the number of games to be played would increase exponentially (literally, not figuratively, the field and number of games increase exponentially). This capped the field at 8-I will actually limit it to 6 teams. 2) No fluke champions. A team has to have a legitimate claim at the title to make it into the field. This, in my mind, means they need to win their own conference as well have a good record against solid opposition. 3) Notre Dame gets no special treatment (the Irish are already getting a break in that they don't have to win their conference). I have nothing against the Domers, persay, but I also don't understand why a group of rich Catholics should get special treatment outside of the Vatican.

I developed a format that satisfies all of those requirements and called it, in very climatic fashion, the Rlex Tournament format.

Flex Tournament Specifications:

1) All undefeated teams that finish in the top 10 of the BCS rankings are automatically granted a spot in the flex tournament unless the number of qualified, undefeated teams exceeds 6, in which case the top 6 are admitted into the flex tournament.

This is rule is where I show some love to the undefeated non-BCS teams. In the last two years, Hawaii and Boise State would have been admitted on this rule while they otherwise would not have qualified. Call it "its not my fault the rest of my conference sucks" loophole (gold lettering).

2) Only conference champions are allowed to participate in the flex tournament.

Also known as the "Michigan, you should have taken care of business when you had the shot in '06" rule, or the "you gotta not get whipped by K-State before you get a shot at LSU (and further embarrass your conference)" rule. Seven teams since 2004 would have been eliminated on these grounds, Michigan, at #3, being the highest ranked (red).

3) Teams must meet some statistical standard which gives them a meaningful claim to the title.

For the example below I have used an 80% confidence interval. In other words, based on the results from the BCS poll, if we are less than 80% confident that a team is not the best team in the country than they are invited to participated in the flex tournament. Otherwise, they are qualified to be invited (conditional on rule #4) (green). The confidence is based on a p-value (in the far right column) calculated based on some standard deviations and such.

4) No more than six teams are invited to participate.

This rule would not have come into play in the last four years if we'd been using the Flex. I have added it because I believe the top two teams should only have to win at most two tournament games to be national champions and it dramatically increases the probability of us getting the more desirable 1 vs. 2 match-up

The beautiful part of it all is that the number of teams invited to participate will vary from year to year, so only those teams that played like champions all season get a chance to play for the national championship. The fields in 2006 and 2007 would have included 6 teams, but in 2005 we would have had only three teams still in the running at the end of the season. No '07-'08 Giants, no George Masons and no Fresno States.

Below I have laid out the results from the last four season and the hypothetical brackets for those seasons.

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