NCAAF  > General NCAAF  > What We Learned From UDub
October 2, 2012, 10:27 AM
We had some pretty heated playoff debates over the last few years here at FN, but the overwhelming fan-favorite (and the one most conducive to television scheduling) is the single-elimination playoff, much to my chagrin. I have long held that the ability of a four-team, single-elimination playoff to determine the superior team among teams of similar caliber is, at best, 50%. Along comes the Washington Huskies to show us that even a mid-tier team can come out on top of a 4-team, single-elim.

Here's my point. If the PAC-12 season were instead a single-elim tournament, Stanford would have eliminated USC and UDub would have eliminated Stanford. Two of the conference's top teams would be gone.

Furthermore, if they were part of a 4-team playoff, UDub just won the playoff, fans would perceive them as the best team, and the pollsters would vote them #1, with Stanford #2 and USC #3. Check back at the end of the season to see how well that matches their rank based on a full-season's performance.

Granted, UDub's first round opponent in this de factor 4-team playoff was Portland State, but the point is the same: a sequence of upsets in a single-elim tournament can quickly eliminate the best teams.
October 2, 2012  12:11 PM ET

En fran??ais, s'il vous pla??t.

October 2, 2012  01:33 PM ET

This is football. The transitive property does not necessarily apply. Talk to us about UDub after Saturday.

October 2, 2012  01:33 PM ET

didn't really think this was so hard to follow.

I am comparing Stanford and Washington's last two games to a 4-team playoff. Consider that a 4-team field of Stanford, Washington, USC, and Portland State was created for some reason. Which team would you expect to win the tournament? Well, the last two weeks showed us that Washington won such a tournament.

I'm merely offering this as proof that a single-elim tournament is not very good at determining the best team.

October 2, 2012  01:39 PM ET
QUOTE(#2):

This is football. The transitive property does not necessarily apply. Talk to us about UDub after Saturday.

I am not stumping for UDub. This is not rocket science, folks.

Ya want a hypothesis?

Given 4 randomly selected teams in a 4-team, single-elimination tournament, the confidence that the champion is the best team is about 50%.

Voila!

October 2, 2012  01:51 PM ET

I feel your pain, but seeing as those in charge (of the main four team single elim tourney that we all care about the most, the one that will be but isn't yet) could give a rip about our pain or anything but $$$, I have decided to quit worrying about it, recognize it for what it is, and just enjoy the rest of the season.

BTW, recognize that an even worse scenario is a 120 team single elim tourney with teams not facing each other. For most teams in most conferences, lose a game and you are out. So have a key player injured against a very good team and you're forked. Not a good way to run things, but that's what we got like it or not (and many DO like it, I am happy for them).

October 2, 2012  04:12 PM ET
QUOTE(#4):

I am not stumping for UDub. This is not rocket science, folks.Ya want a hypothesis?Given 4 randomly selected teams in a 4-team, single-elimination tournament, the confidence that the champion is the best team is about 50%.Voila!

I think your mistake is in assuming the desired outcome is to determine the best team. That's just the pretense. The desired outcome is to make more money. To that end the 4 teams don't matter. And you were going to watch anyway.

October 2, 2012  04:21 PM ET
QUOTE(#6):

I think your mistake is in assuming the desired outcome is to determine the best team. That's just the pretense. The desired outcome is to make more money. To that end the 4 teams don't matter. And you were going to watch anyway.

And what is the desired outcome of the fans when they ask for a single-elim playoff?

October 2, 2012  08:12 PM ET
QUOTE(#7):

And what is the desired outcome of the fans when they ask for a single-elim playoff?

More bread and circuses of course.

Pay me no mind BuffHole, I'm being extra cynical today. The fans want to know if their team is the best team. Unfortunately that can never be definitively established because they can't play every other team. In that sense it's no different from the basketball tourney. I'm on board with UITroyFanII; I'm just going to enjoy the games and not care if there's one "best" team.

October 2, 2012  09:49 PM ET

Be cynical all you want, Orac. We live in a cynical world. A cynical world

October 2, 2012  10:59 PM ET

BuffHole - I am assuming this conversation is about the national title. You are forgetting one critical factor: LSU had already eliminated Washington with the 41-3 win.

If it is about the Pac12 conference title, go back to 10 teams where every plays each other. If it is about national titles, clearly the conference title game is a launching point for a BCS title. Also a conference title game will also be a launching point for a 4 team playoff.

October 3, 2012  12:17 AM ET

Well-written BuffHole.

This is all about probability .. and you are spot on.

October 3, 2012  05:22 AM ET
QUOTE:

We had some pretty heated playoff debates over the last few years here at FN, but the overwhelming fan-favorite (and the one most conducive to television scheduling) is the single-elimination playoff, much to my chagrin. I have long held that the ability of a four-team, single-elimination playoff to determine the superior team among teams of similar caliber is, at best, 50%. Along comes the Washington Huskies to show us that even a mid-tier team can come out on top of a 4-team, single-elim.Here's my point. If the PAC-12 season were instead a single-elim tournament, Stanford would have eliminated USC and UDub would have eliminated Stanford. Two of the conference's top teams would be gone. Furthermore, if they were part of a 4-team playoff, UDub just won the playoff, fans would perceive them as the best team, and the pollsters would vote them #1, with Stanford #2 and USC #3. Check back at the end of the season to see how well that matches their rank based on a full-season's performance. Granted, UDub's first round opponent in this de factor 4-team playoff was Portland State, but the point is the same: a sequence of upsets in a single-elim tournament can quickly eliminate the best teams.

The premise for this discussion is just nuts. Using the results of the entire season, Stanford probably would not host USC, and UW probably wouldn't host Stanford. Both games, therefore, would likely yield different results. That's why we use the whole season to pick the 4 playoff teams, not just one head to head result.

October 4, 2012  09:59 AM ET
QUOTE(#12):

The premise for this discussion is just nuts.

And what do you think the premise is? I tried to clarify in comment #4.

 
October 4, 2012  10:08 AM ET

Every year I watch Andy Staples take head-to-head results as gospel and I can't help thinking, "this man has to be the dumbest AP voter in the land." His AP vote has...

16. Washington
17. Stanford
18. USC



In the past he has blamed his heavy weighting of head-to-head on instruction from the AP. To that I say, "rules are for stupid people who can't think for themselves."

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