In 1994, after reading about the Ratings Percentage Index (used
to help decide what teams make the NCAA Tournament) in a magazine,
Jerry Palm, then a systems analyst for a bank in Chicago, decided
to replicate the formula himself. The Purdue graduate, computer nut
and avid sports fan created collegerpi.com, and the site
flourished. He then created collegebcs.com in 1999 to break down
the BCS formula. Palm is currently one of most popular sports talk
radio hosts around. Palm spoke with Michigan Daily football writer
Bob Hunt about the BCS.
The Michigan Daily: What should Michigan fans be hoping
for besides a Wisconsin loss as far as playing in a BCS bowl?
Jerry Palm: I would think the biggest thing would be
somebody beating Texas along the way. Oklahoma getting into the
Orange Bowl would be good because Michigan has a chance to be the
highest-rated one-loss team. The best chance is if Oklahoma goes to
the Orange Bowl, which opens up a spot in the Fiesta Bowl (the Big
XII champ goes to the Fiesta Bowl if it is not selected for the
title game) and Texas has a loss, so it really doesn’t have a
good Big XII team available, and Michigan becomes a nice option for
Probably the biggest surprise in the rankings last week is that
Michigan didn’t get more of a boost for beating Purdue.
I’d really thought they would move up at least past Utah.
TMD: Who do you think the recent changes in the formula
JP: We may not know really until the end of the year. I
think teams that play a bad schedule are going to benefit because
strength of schedule has been minimized. So, like Auburn, you may
say, “How could they play an easy schedule, it plays in the
SEC.” (But) they play a bad non-conference schedule, and
it’s in the weaker division of the SEC. Really, Michigan may
end up benefiting — they’re non-conference schedule
wasn’t all that good, and it misses Wisconsin in the Big Ten.
That’s kind of hurt it in the computers, but the computers
don’t have as much emphasis in (the BCS standings) this year
and there is no strength of schedule factor. So teams that
don’t play a tough nonconference schedule won’t be hurt
One thing to keep in mind about this new formula is that it does
not fix any of the perceived problems of the past. Everything that
people have perceived to have gone wrong in the past can still go
wrong again in this formula. You can have a team that doesn’t
win its conference play for the title. You can have No. 1 vs. No.
3. You can even have No. 2 vs. No. 3 if there is not enough
consensus among the top three teams. If that happens again,
you’ll see reaction, which is what they do.
TMD: How has the stripping of the margin of victory in
these computer rankings affected things?
JP: It’s ironic. They haven’t stripped it.
They took it out of the computers, but now that they have more
influence on the polls, the polls don’t care about strength
of schedule, but they do care about margin of victory. If you play
a bad opponent, and you don’t beat them bad enough, you could
get hurt in the polls, which is two-thirds of the formula. After a
couple of years ago when they took it out of the computers, that
really reduced its impact on the formula. Now, they give the polls
so much influence, they’ve gone more with margin of victory
than they have with strength of schedule.
TMD: Do you think the recent changes in the formula have
been for the better?
JP: No, I think it’s worse. I don’t think the
voters do a good job ranking teams. I don’t think they should
be comfortable with the level of authority that they have.
There’s just so many ways that it’s wrong, and
you’re giving two-thirds influence over these formulas.
Voters just don’t have the time to do a proper job of it.
TMD: Do you think the powers that be have become a little
paranoid of computer rankings after what happened last year (with
the No. 1 team in both polls not making the title game)?
JP: They don’t understand them. The BCS honchos get
in trouble every time No. 1 and No. 2 in the polls don’t play
each other. And so they kept changing things to the formula, adding
things to the formula to try and fix the previous year’s
problems. They’re reactive, not proactive. And this is yet
again a reaction to what happened last year. They figured out that
by adding more to the formula, you’re giving each factor less
influence. So, if they want more influence for the polls, they have
to take things out of the formula. It’s closer to what they
want as far as getting No. 1 and No. 2 in the polls, but they
can’t just go with the polls, because they know the polls
don’t do a good job, and the AP considers that too much
making news and not enough covering news. They’re really
uncomfortable with the ethics of that.
Now, the way they are calculating the votes, one guy could
decide whether Utah gets $15 million or not. One guy could vote
Utah sixth instead or seventh, and that could be the vote that puts
them into the $15 million game. Ethically, that’s a big
problem for the journalists. It makes it an even bigger problem for
the coaches, but they just don’t care.
TMD: How are the rankings incorporated in the BCS
JP: When they first did it in 1998, Roy Kramer (former
BCS and SEC commissioner) he picked a few, and they went and looked
at old results for these rankings, and they picked three. In 1999,
they went from three to eight. They actually asked me at the time
about using the RPI, so I gave them some data for the RPI, and they
ultimately didn’t pick it. They looked at various ratings
systems that you can find on the Internet, and they looked at
results. But they don’t know the formula. It’s not like
they know what these guys are doing.
TMD: So the BCS doesn’t have access to the actual
formulas for these rankings?
JP: Yes. They basically ask the computer guys “So,
what goes into your formula.” And, he’ll say
“Well, home-and-road, wins and losses, strength of schedule
and margin of victory.” (The BCS) is basically taking their
word for it. I guess there’s no reason not to take their word
for it, but they’re taking their word for it.
TMD: What would you say to someone that says, “At
least the polls are the opinion of 65 people, whereas the computer
rankings are the opinion of one?
JP: The thing about a computer ranking is that it will
have the authored bias, but that standard is applied to everybody.
Voters don’t necessarily apply their standards evenly to
everybody, and it can vary from week to week.
TMD: Do you think some of the computer rankings are
better than others?
JP: It’s hard to say, because we don’t know
their formulas. The one that we do know the formula for is OK; I
don’t like how it’s implemented. Only two of them have
a strong home-road factor, Sagarin and Wolfe. I think when
you’re not using margin of victory, you have to account for
home-and-road in some way or another. It’s too big in college
football. Even if you do something arbitrary, which isn’t
great, it’s better than nothing. Colley does not include
games against teams outside (Division) 1-A. So Mississippi
State’s loss to Maine, it’s like the game was never
played. That’s not good because it impacts strength of
schedule of everybody Mississippi State plays. I think you have to
account for that.
TMD: What do you think could happen to the BCS formula if
three, four or even five teams go undefeated? Do you think there
might be any changes?
JP: None, there’s isn’t any way to put more
than two teams in one game. It’s the problem they had last
year, when you really had three worthy teams. If you have three,
four, or five undefeated teams, you can’t get them in one
game. There’s not a formula that’s going to do
TMD: Where do you see the BCS going five or even 10 years
JP: ABC is offering about a third less than they’re
paying now for the new proposed system (where there would be five
BCS games, and one of the BCS sites would host both a regular bowl
game and the national title game a week later). That system, not
surprising, is drawing less interest with the TV people because you
still have the one championship game. And the other two teams that
are being added to this system, you’re guaranteeing that at
least one, if not both, will be complete dogs for television
— the Big East champ and a team like Utah. In spite of what
Utah fans think, the Utes are not good TV.
So when you’re talking about the less money among 10
teams, you’re talking about a lot less money per team. So the
story this week is that ABC has an exclusive negotiating window
that ends next week, so they’re going to open up the bidding
to other networks. You may see this whole plan move to another
network, you could get less money for it or it could get blown up
all together. When they introduced the plan, they said they would
only do it if the market would bear it. Well, the market is not off
to a good start there.
TMD: If they blew up that plan, do you have any idea what
they would do?
JP: No. I don’t think they know. I don’t even
think they have a Plan B.
TMD: What do you think the chances of Utah being in the
top six if they go undefeated?
JP: About 50-50. It really depends on what other teams
do. It’s a very unusual year in that the top nine teams in
the AP poll are going to be favored every time they take the field
the rest of this year, or until someone upsets one of them.
That’s very unusual for mid-October. So, it’s going to
take an upset for Utah to move up in the polls. And, because of the
nature of Utah being Utah, they have to watch their back. Michigan
could jump them. If they get the wrong upset, say Virginia beats
Miami, Virginia very likely jumps Utah in the polls, but Miami
doesn’t necessarily fall back behind them. Utah has to get
higher in the polls, eighth at least, maybe seventh, to have a
chance at finishing in the top-six.
TMD: Are there any other stories you see people talking
about come January?
JP: USC and Oklahoma are really so far ahead in the polls
that Miami, Auburn and Wisconsin have nothing to say about it. They
can’t do anything to cause the voters to change their minds.
Only USC and Oklahoma can do that. Those two teams, pre-ordained in
August, will play in the Orange Bowl if they do win out. That ends
up becoming a story that USC and Oklahoma were pre-ordained in
August and Miami and Auburn never had a shot, because nobody liked
them in August. But that’s the polls for you.
TMD: Because of the strength of schedule, do you see
teams scheduling weaker nonconference opponents?
JP: I don’t think coaches schedule for the BCS. I
think coaches have their own scheduling philosophy. For the most
part, you know who you are playing every year for the next five
years. It’s really hard to schedule for the BCS, so you just
have to deal with what you have.
TMD: If you ran the BCS, how would you set up the
JP: The answer to this will tell you why I will never run
the BCS. There would be no polls at all. There would be one
computer formula. The decision makers would decide what they want
measured and how they want it weighed. That formula would be open,
so that everyone would know how they were going to be measured.
They would know what the standard is, and there would be no
questioning if Wes Colley has got it in for Virginia Tech. It would
be accountable, and there would be potentially no human involvement
during the season.
It’s funny. I was talking to (Big Ten Commissioner Jim)
Delany at (Big Ten Football) Media Day. He said before the BCS, the
poll voters were fried. Everyone was angry at the polls. Well, now
that the BCS has come along and computers have been introduced to
college football, everybody loves the polls again. He said that the
poll voters should be thanking us because we made heroes out of
them. Now, everybody wants to see the top two teams in the
TMD: Do you ever think there will be a playoff in college
JP: I don’t see it happening anytime soon.
University presidents are different animals than college football
fans. They have different goals. The things that are keeping a
playoff from happening have nothing to do with what happens on the
field. What that means is that nothing on the field can cause the
decision makers to change their mind. So, four undefeated teams,
eight undefeated teams, whatever. It’s not going to change
the things that stop a playoff from happening. So until the
political, logistical and economic problems that keep a playoff
from happening are resolved, they’re not going to have a