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I originally posted this blog on www.irrationalmusings.com on 3 Dec 2010.

 I hate the head-to-head (HTH) tie breaker rule. It gives the impression of selecting the superior, more deserving team when statistics show it does no such thing. And sports fans in general, and college football fans in particular will cite it as unequivocal evidence that their team is superior. And FBS conferences use it like it is an all-knowing Magus to select the superior team and their championship representative. I am here to preach that it is a biased rule, it is no more accurate than flipping a coin and it has no place in selecting among co-champions. When teams are tied, it is very difficult to determine the more deserving team. An objective selection, such as eliminating the most recent representative, seems much more appropriate to me. I would even prefer a flat use of BCS rank to select the representative. The illusion that HTH selects the superior team simply irks me.

Many college football conferences are content with co-champions. There is no need to decide which of two or three tied teams is better, they have the same record and so they are co-champions. But these conferences don???t have to decide who goes to a championship game, or a bowl game.

In the College Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) Conferences, the HTH tie breaker has emerged as the gold standard among tie breakers. Among the 11 FBS conferences, 5 of them (ACC, Big12, C-USA, MAC, and SEC) are split into two divisions whose champions meet in a conference championship game, and three (BigTen, PAC10, BigEast) are AQ conferences with simpler tournament play. Each of these 8 conferences must use tie breakers to determine either a championship game representative or a bowl game representative. (The remaining three conferences are content with co-champions and any bowl invitations that may follow.)

In an attempt to select the most deserving team to send to the conference championship game or to the contracted bowl game, these conferences employ a complicated algorithm or tie breaker rules that typically center around HTH and end with BCS rank, except if two of the teams are within 5 ranks of one another in which case HTH victor of the top two ranked teams is the representative unless the HTH game was played under the lights on the first Friday following the first full moon following the autumnal equinox. The implication that HTH is superior to BCS rank and that BCS rank should be used merely as a filter before application of HTH makes me want to choke somebody.

The teams are TIED. They are both deserving. Any algorithm to determine the more deserving team gives only the illusion of fairness. If conferences would simply apply the legacy rule of eliminating the most recent representative, we would have the simplest and fairest tie breaker.

The HTH does not determine the most deserving team, merely the lucky team. The basic premise is this: if State and Tech are co-champions with the same conference record and State beat Tech in the HTH game, then State has a quality win over a co-champion, but, necessarily, State has a loss to an inferior conference team. The paradox of the HTH is that the winner has a better win, but it also has a worse loss. With equal logic, one could argue that the HTH loser is the more deserving team.

Here's a breakdown of tie breaker activity in the 11 FBS conferences in 2010.

ACC
No divisional tie this year (Virginia Tech (8-0) vs. Florida State (6-2) in championship game). HTH is 1st tie breaker. Falls to BCS rank unless highest two are within five ranks of one another, in which case it reverts to HTH.
HTH: 0 for 0

BigTen
3-way tie, head-to-head is 1st tie breaker, falls to BCS rank (Wisconsin). Interesting to note that the BigTen started the trend of referring to tied team as co-champions and uses the tie breaker process simply to select the Rose Bowl representative. Many conferences have followed this trend. For 3-way ties in the BigTen, the first tie breaker is "If three teams are tied, and if one team defeated both of the other teams, then that team shall be the representative." In other words, if Wisconsin had beaten both Michigan St. and Ohio St., but lost to, say, Penn St., thereby creating the tie, Wisconsin would be the Rose Bowl representative. In my book, losing to Penn St. is a bigger blemish on your record than losing to co-champ Wisconsin. Fortunately, HTH does not apply this year.
HTH: 0 for 0

Big12
3-way tie in south division, 2-way tie in north. HTH is first tie breaker. North goes to Nebraska over Missouri by virtue of HTH. Missouri lost to Nebraska and Texas Tech. Nebraska lost to Texas and Texas A&M. Colley has Missouri #7 and Nebraska #15. BCS has them #12 and #13. This one is pretty close, so HTH may have it right but it is certainly not indisputable. Let's be generous and say HTH got this one right.
HTH: 1 for 1

We have several conferences (Big12, SEC, ACC, C-USA) with two divisions in which division champs meet in a conference championship game. Teams play everyone in their divisions, but that is only 5 or 6 conference games. And so conference play includes 2 to 3 cross-division games that count equally in determining division champ. The problem with this is that a team may face the best teams in the cross division while another faces the worst. This happened to Kansas in 2008. That year, Kansas beat Missouri beat Nebraska beat Kansas. But Kansas also played all three Top 10 South Division teams Texas, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma while Nebraska played only two of them (Oklahoma and Texas Tech) and Missouri, one (Texas). All were losses for the respective North team. (Missouri added a loss to Oklahoma St.) While Nebraska and Missouri each had 5-3 conference records and Kansas was 4-4, they all had a 4-1 record in the division. Kansas was unfairly eliminated from tie breaker consideration. Missouri was the North representative in the Big12 Championship game by virtue of HTH over Nebraska. HTH probably got that one right, but Division champ should be determined by division record only.
HTH: 2 for 2

South tie breaker reverts to BCS rank. Condition on BCS rank is if top teams are within one rank of one another, HTH decides. HTH does not apply.
HTH: 2 for 2

Big East
Big East football consists of an 8-team, round-robin. Currently there is a 3-way tie and there is still potential for 5-way co-champions. HTH is the ruling tie breaker to determine the Big East's BCS representative. It falls to BCS rank with no conditions when HTH cannot resolve the tie. This year, the HTH tie breaker chooses Connecticut. Colley (http://www.colleyrankings.com/) has WVa #23, Pitt #55, and UConn #57. I'd say HTH failed this one.
HTH: 2 for 3

My biggest issue with the HTH is coming true in the Big East. Its likely to end in a 3-way tie. UConn beat both West Virginia and Pitt. West Virginia beat Pitt, which of course means Pitt lost to both. UConn will get the BCS bid by virtue of the HTH. But they lost to Big East Cellar Dwellers Rutgers and Louisville, teams West Virginia and Pitt handled without issue. (ok, WestVirginia plays Rutgers this weekend, but they're likely to pound them).

The fact that the HTH winner has the best record against the conference's top teams necessarily means it has the worst record against the worst teams.That's the paradox; your wins are better but your losses are worse.

C-USA
Conference USA has two divisions and a conference championship. Teams play two inter-divisional games. UCF is the clear winner in the East Division. SMU (6-2, 7-5) is going to the championship game against UCF by virtue of HTH over Tulsa (6-2, 9-3). Tulsa's losses are to East Carolina (from the East Division) and SMU. SMU's are to Houston and UTEP, both lesser teams in the West Division. The Colley Rankings has Tulsa at #29 and SMU at #53. The common East Division game was against East Carolina, whom SMU beat and Tulsa lost to. The non-conference record reveals little because SMU has losses against tough teams in Texas Tech, TCU, and Navy. Tulsa has a loss to Oklahoma St and a marquis win over Notre Dame. Looking at overall body of work, it seems to me HTH's attempt at selecting the superior team failed.
HTH: 2 for 4

MAC
No ties this year. Clear divisional winners Northern Illinois and Miami (OH) will face each other in the championship game. As with all other similarly structured conferences, the HTH tie breaker is the ruling tie breaker.
HTH: 2 for 4

Mountain West
No ties this year. 9-team round-robin. Tied teams are simply co-champions.
HTH: 2 for 4

PAC-10
The PAC 10 consists of a 10-team round-robin. There is still a potential for co-champs, although Oregon is the clear favorite and has the HTH edge over Stanford. The HTH tie breaker determines the Rose Bowl representative. BCS rank is used when HTH cannot resolve the tie.
HTH: 2 for 4

SunBelt
Football in the Sun Belt Conference is a 9-team round robin. There is still a potential for a tie, but I found no tie breaker rules. Tied teams are simply co-champions.
HTH: 2 for 4

WAC
As in the Sun Belt Conference, WAC football is a 9-team round-robin. There will likely be a 3-way tie this year between Hawaii, Boise St., and Nevada. Tied teams are simply co-champions. Let the bowl invitations fall where they may.
HTH: 2 for 4

So the final tally for HTH is 2 for 4. Sorry folks, HTH appears no better than flipping a coin. And I think I was generous by giving HTH to two successful calls, especially since one of them isn???t even from the current season.

January 13, 2011  10:35 PM ET

For me personally HTH is the best way to determine the tie breaker. Unless its a three way tie then HTH shouldn't be the first tie breaker unless one of the teams beat both of the teams. You put a lot of thought into this and did good work so I won't bash you for a difference of opinion. Though on one issue, I'm pretty sure the conference doesn't decide who to send to bowls when there is a tiebreaker. The bowl picks which team they want.

January 14, 2011  10:19 AM ET

Thank you for reading. I'm just glad someone found it worthy.

Only the Big 10, PAC 10, and Big East decide their BCS bowl reps with tiebreakers. However, the Big 12, SEC, and ACC decide their championship game reps with tiebreakers, so the tiebreaker rules do affect BCS selection. Next year it flips a bit - the PAC 12 and Big 10 will use a championship game and the Big 12 will use a round-robin and tiebreaker rules to select the Fiesta Bowl rep. Non-AQ conferences let the bowls choose as they will.

Regarding my opinion, more people disagree with me than agree. That happens to me a lot, so I'm used to it. And your case of a 3-way tie in which one team beat both the others, I think is an even bigger travesty. That happened with UConn this year, and I think WVa would have been a smarter Orange Bowl selection.

January 16, 2011  07:04 PM ET
QUOTE(#2):

Thank you for reading. I'm just glad someone found it worthy.Only the Big 10, PAC 10, and Big East decide their BCS bowl reps with tiebreakers. However, the Big 12, SEC, and ACC decide their championship game reps with tiebreakers, so the tiebreaker rules do affect BCS selection. Next year it flips a bit - the PAC 12 and Big 10 will use a championship game and the Big 12 will use a round-robin and tiebreaker rules to select the Fiesta Bowl rep. Non-AQ conferences let the bowls choose as they will.Regarding my opinion, more people disagree with me than agree. That happens to me a lot, so I'm used to it. And your case of a 3-way tie in which one team beat both the others, I think is an even bigger travesty. That happened with UConn this year, and I think WVa would have been a smarter Orange Bowl selection.

I'm not as sure about WV being a better rep simply because they took a beating from what the 3rd or 4th best team in the ACC. I don't think there was a good choice from the Big East that would have mattered. I believe had you swapped WVU and UConn nothing would have changed. Either one would have taken the beatings they did regardless.

 
January 16, 2011  07:08 PM ET

I do agree with you in the regard though that in the case of the tie which should carry more weight the quality win vs. the team your tied with or the loss that you had. That is an interesting perspective. I think though more times than not if two teams are tied like that then the loss probably isn't going to be to a team that in the cellar record wise but probably a middle of the pack type team in the conference.

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