Sunday, November 21, 2010

Checking in on the week 12 polls; Voter manipulation of the BCS?

As we get closer to the end of the regular season, the polls become increasingly important given their impact on the BCS rankings, so the skeptical amongst us may start to be suspicious about what voters might be doing to manipulate the rankings to get the result they want.  So, it is fun to do a little analysis to see how the votes change from week to week and what might be the reason.

In the AP poll, Oregon and TCU lost a first place vote each and Auburn and Boise picked them up.  Oregon lost two points though so at least one other that had them #2 or lower also dropped them a spot, or the person dropping Oregon dropped them multiple spots.  Similarly, Auburn picked up three points so either they were farther back on the poll that added a first place vote or they were moved up on some other ballots too.  But Boise is the big gainer, picking up 17 points, mostly at the expense of TCU which lost 21.

These changes don't seem severe, but given that only one of the teams played, what is going on here?  Boise's move up is certainly understandable given their 51-0 win over a good Fresno State, and the likely culprit for that would be TCU so that is fine.  But what about the swings in first place votes?  Boise getting one is understandable, but how does an idle Auburn pick one up from an idle Oregon to TCU?  Especially when my computer had the impact of other games improving TCU's rating higher than that of Auburn and Oregon's about the same?  It is only one vote, but something is slightly fishy.

Another check is to see if the four teams that are a clear #1 thru #4 are getting all of those votes.  The answer right now is no with a 9 point gap.  So there are either 9 ballots with one of the top-4 teams at #5, one of the top-4 teams is as low as #13, or something in between.  So clearly someone thinks a one-loss team is better than an undefeated team (likely Boise State or TCU).  My computer believes Stanford is better than Boise State and TCU so I can't argue with that.

But the AP doesn't matter as far as the BCS goes, so let's look at the Coaches Poll.  There, Boise and TCU hold their first place votes while Oregon picks up two from Auburn.  However, even while losing at least two points because of that, Auburn picked up a point in their total.  They didn't get those from Boise as they gained 12 points, instead they likely got them from TCU as they lost 18.

The Coaches poll however, has far more voters with the top-4 at #5 or lower on their ballots.  The gap here is a full 48 points meaning there are a lot of coaches that think a one-loss team is better than the undefeated teams.  Again, I can't argue with that, but that is sure a lot of them since there are only 59 voters.  Nearly ever voter has an undefeated team behind a one-loss team, or a few coaches have quite a few one-loss teams ahead of an undefeated.  Anyone interested in transparency here?

The Harris Poll is the other poll used by the BCS, and here Oregon gains 3 first place votes and 5 points, Auburn loses 4 first place votes and 6 points, Boise picks up 3 first place votes and a whopping 29 points, and TCU loses 2 first place votes and 26 points.  Boise's change is understandable, but it is interesting that Auburn loses ground here while they gained ground in the other two polls.

In the Harris poll, despite there being about twice as many voters (114), the top-4 all being #1 thru #4 gap is just 20 points.  This would seem to indicate these voters respect an undefeated season more than the coaches do.

So, is there a conspiracy?  One certainly can't say so from just analyzing the totals.  There are some oddities, and I suspect some voters making changes this week they wish they would have last week as the reason, and while that is unfortunate and may indicate they didn't do their homework before voting, it is better to get it right before it really matters.

It is interesting that a far higher percentage of the coaches are apt to vote a one-loss team ahead of an undefeated team though.  If you think the voting is stacked towards a particular conference though, the answer is no with the following representation:

  • ACC - 6
  • Big-Televen - 6
  • Big-12 - 6
  • Big-East - 4
  • C-USA - 6
  • Independent - 2
  • MAC - 6
  • Mtn-West - 4
  • Pac-10 - 5
  • SEC - 6
  • Sun-Belt - 4
  • WAC - 4
Basically, all conferences have roughly 50% of their coaches voting.  You could argue the Big-Televen and Independent's are over represented (6 of 11 and 2 of 3) and the MAC, Mountain West, Sun-Belt, and WAC are under (6 of 13, 4 of 9, 4 of 9, and 4 of 9) but it is pretty close.  It is probably safe to say that the coaches from the SEC and Big-Televen are most likely to have one of their one-loss teams ahead of one or both of Boise and TCU, but if it is limited to these conferences all 12 of those voters would have to have two of their one-loss teams ahead of both Boise and TCU.  Actually, that exact scenario would make the 48 point gap I mentioned above.  Might these coaches drop TCU and Boise further down if required to keep them out of the championship game?  Interesting to think about.

Wouldn't it be great if all the voting was transparent?