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Let's get the “HAL” out of the BCS
by Richard Linde, 11 December 2001

We all remember HAL, the omniscient computer from Stanley Kubrick’s, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Instead of being an adjunct to the space venture, HAL began to run the show. Later in the movie, it serenely said, “I can feel my mind going.”

By picking Nebraska to play in the Rose Bowl, the eight computers incorporated in the BCS formula have seemingly lost their minds as well. Their collective version of “HAL” has given Oregon and the Pac-10 the shaft. So what’s new?

Last season, an 11-1 Washington team got the shaft in the championship series. Annually, the Pac-10 gets overlooked in the Heisman Trophy balloting as well. It’s been 20 years since a player from the Pac-10 has won the trophy, when Marcus Allen from USC won it.

There’s a lot of bias going on, perpetrated by humans and computers. Given a choice, I'm more likely to trust a human than a computer program. None of us know what’s going on in those  programs that pick teams to play in the BCS. Who knows how many Trojan Horses (unintended artifacts clandestinely inserted into the code by an intruder) are in them? Like Sadaam Hussein, a computer program can’t be trusted--as well intentioned as its author may have been. 

Where am I coming from?

I’m an alumnus of Washington, an avid fan of the Dawgs, and not a fan of the Oregon Ducks. So I have no axes to grind as far as the Ducks are concerned. But Oregon should be playing in the Rose Bowl, not Nebraska. Oregon, the undisputed Pac-10 champ, plays in what is arguably the strongest conference in college football. The Pac-10 has sent more players to the pros than any other conference, and this year among the Division I-A conferences, it has the best out-of-conference record, winning 80% of its intersectional games. In other NCAA sports competition, where there is a playoff system, the Pac-10 has won more championships than any other conference.

The computers are picking the wrong teams; otherwise by now--a priori--a team from the Pac-10 would have played in one of the championship games.  


Table 1. How they finished sans computer polling (lowest point total wins); that is, the BCS total minus the computer polling averages:

1 Miami 1.72
2 Oregon 4.24
3 Colorado 5.08
4 Nebraska 5.56

We should either abolish the BCS or use it as a tool for a playoff system.  

But if we go to a playoff system, let's make it simple and not get too clever by half. A simplified format, such as matching up this year's winners of the Fiesta Bowl and Rose Bowl, would be far better than the system currently in place.

In any case, let’s get rid of all those black boxes that pick a champ. In other words, let's get the “HAL” out of the BCS.

Acknowledgement:

Picture of Saddam Hussein taken from caricature zone.

 

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