Halftime Sports

Controlling the Game

November 21, 2014

On Tuesday, the College Football Playoff selection committee released their third weekly ranking. It was, of course, met with harsh criticism from the college football world. Apart from fans of #3 Florida State, who justifiably contend that their undefeated squad ought to be ranked number one until they are defeated, the criticism was not so much pointed at the rankings themselves, but with the manner in which they were unveiled.

Their release was coupled with an increased stress upon the metric of “Game Control.” Many college football fans, myself included, and even Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, according to reporter Michael Bonner, were wholly unfamiliar with the stat prior to this week. Game Control, according to committee chairman Jeff Long, ranks teams based upon the degree to which they led throughout the games they’ve won. It provides the reason why Alabama, who ranks number one in Game Control also sits atop the poll, despite their one loss, while undefeated Florida State, who ranks #34 in Game Control, is currently #3.

The use of game control has raised many questions since the rankings’ unveiling: Why is Game Control just being mentioned now, in the third week of the committee’s rankings? Why do results in the first and second quarter matter if a team wins games? And why is undefeated Marshall, undoubtedly the nation’s game-controllingest team, with an average margin of victory of over 30 points per game, excluded from the top 25?

The metric seems to be an attempt at quantifying the “eye test, ” but why can’t the committee acknowledge outright that they are using non-statistical evaluation of the merits of a team in conjunction with important statistics, instead of making up silly measurements? One of the appeals of shift from the dreaded “computers” running the show in the BCS model to the thirteen-member selection committee was that things like the eye test could be factored into decision-making. People knowledgeable about college football, which I hope the committee members are, should be trusted to observe how a team plays and make informed judgments about who the best teams in the nation are.

The rankings the selection committee has produced do coincide with common conceptions about the nation’s best teams: Florida State probably is not the best team in college football and Alabama may just well be, but the idea that the committee is making up things as they go is somewhat disheartening.

Joe Faraoni/ESPN Images

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