USA Today: BCS Proves Itself An Ineffective System Yet Again

I’ve already posted two columnists from ESPN criticizing the manner in which Michigan was robbed of a chance to play in the national championship game. Jon Saraceno of USA Today also weighs in:

The Bowl Championship Series, armed with polls, printouts and pomposity, declared Sunday that Ohio State and Florida are the best teams in college football. Well, at least the BCS got it half right.

BCS might as well stand for Baloney ‘n’ Cheese Sandwich championship, to go with all those big-name sponsor chips. Because that’s about what it is worth, at least from our seat at the debate table. Maybe I was dreaming, but I would’ve sworn I already was served filet mignon last month. I watched the best teams, ranked No. 1 and No. 2 at the time, play an epic contest. If I remember correctly, Ohio State-Michigan was billed a “Game for the Ages.”

When it was over, everyone called it a “classic.”

Ohio State 42, Michigan 39.

Who would want to see Ali-Frazier in a rematch, right?

As far as I’m concerned, I’ve seen the national championship game. I have seen or heard nothing since to change my mind about the Buckeyes or the Wolverines. Instead, without playing a game in the interim, out-of-sight, out-of-mind Michigan finds itself on the sidelines of history. Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, who refused to lobby for his team, might have muzzled himself right out of a title game and a chance to prove he can find a way to bamboozle Jim Tressel.

I only hope voters vaulted Florida into the second position in the polls because they believe the Gators are the second-best team in the country and not because they didn’t want to see Ohio State-Michigan II.

Certainly, a case can be made for the Gators. Florida is 12-1 after a tough schedule in a brutal Southeastern Conference, including three wins against top 25 teams. They lost to a good Auburn team but scraped by South Carolina 17-16 on a blocked field goal on the final play.

A cogent argument also can be made for the Wolverines, so during the next 35 days you’re going to hear a lot of understandable wailing out of Ann Arbor, Mich. The Wolverines feel cheated, and there is room to argue. Is Florida’s SEC championship more meaningful than conference runner-up Michigan boasting a “quality loss” at the Horseshoe in Columbus?

One thing you can’t debate is this:

The present system remains unacceptable or, in Urban Meyer’s words Sunday night, “imperfect.” No system is foolproof, but there is a better way, and we all know what it is, even if we can’t convince enough university presidents of its feasibility. Perhaps now, from their ivory towers, administrators will rethink the legitimate need to implement a realistic, workable format for a playoff system for Division I-A. It can be accomplished despite some obstacles.

In this day and age, do we really need conference championships? Shorten the season and fashion a December playoff bracket for eight teams or even four. Major college football players are de facto pros anyway, so another couple of weeks aren’t going to prevent the serious student-athlete from earning his degree.

These multiple one-loss scenarios we’ve seen in past seasons are as commonplace as hog snouts in Fayetteville. I don’t care how many times the BCS tweaks its formula. Auburn still burns after going undefeated and being shut out of the title game.

Please, don’t tell us how swell the BCS — once described by Oregon coach Mike Bellotti as a “bad disease, like cancer” — worked last season. The BCS bosses lucked up with USC-Texas in the Rose Bowl. How often does the season produce only two unbeaten teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2 the entire season? Pretty hard to mangle that kind of a party invitation. More often, the BCS has produced controversy.

This season, the anti-BCS howling could have been more strident. Remember Black Saturday last month? BCS bosses weren’t crying when No. 3 Louisville, No. 4 Texas and No. 5 Auburn all lost in the same weekend. How many fans were pulling for upstart Rutgers, then undefeated, to run the table and underscore what a sham the BCS system is? What if the Scarlet Knights didn’t beat (one-loss) Louisville? Bobby Petrino’s Cardinals would have finished 13-0.

I know Pete Carroll feels miserable right now. But I’m glad USC’s offense gagged like a fat cat with a fur ball against UCLA on Saturday. The Trojans controlled their destiny and managed to drive it right off a Malibu cliff against a five-loss team. Nine points with a championship game hanging in the balance?

In a cosmic sense, perhaps the Trojans took one for the cause. Their pain might be college football’s gain. As long as the current system fails to produce an unequivocal champ, there is hope for significant reform.

Remember, I said hope.

E-mail Jon Saraceno at

Libertarians vs. Liberals on Taxation and Entitlements

Yesterday I noted the latest attempt at finding common ground between liberals and libertarians in Brink Lindsey’s article jointly published at The Cato Institute and The New Republic. Kevin Drum finds problems:

It’s a nice try, I guess, but this just has nowhere to go. Liberals are never going to give up on the idea of progressive taxation, and our overall tax system is only barely progressive as it is. Making it even flatter — or even plainly regressive — by cutting investment taxes and increasing consumption taxes is a nonstarter.

Ditto on entitlements. Universal pensions and universal healthcare are bedrock parts of the social safety net, and it’s simply not conceivable that liberals will give ground on these. Nor should we. 13% of the country may be libertarian leaning, but something around 100% of the country likes Social Security and a pretty sizable majority like Medicare too. Universal healthcare will be equally popular eventually, and will also be far more efficient than the pseudo-free market alternative we have now.

And don’t even get me started on growing income inequality. I sometimes wonder if there’s any level of income inequality that conservatives and libertarians would consider high enough to merit an arched eyebrow.

Kevin Drum doesn’t speak for all of us in finding these ideas to be nonstarters. I lean towards the libertarian side on the taxation issue. It was the reduction in top tax rates which made voting for Democrats acceptable for myself and many other small businessmen and professionals. Some adjustments, such as reduction in the huge tax benefits provided to the ultra-wealthy under Bush, are on the table but there is a limit. We can argue all day about what is fairer, but the bottom line is that if the Democrats attempt to finance expensive programs by increasing taxes on the upper middle class, Democrats can kiss the votes of myself, suburbanites recently voting Democratic, and groups such as the “Starbucks Republicans” good-by. So far Democratic leaders such as Pelosi have spoken out against such an approach, recognizing what is necessary to maintain the Democratic majority.

Flat taxes are also on the table, but I’d like to see a good analysis of what rate would really be necessary to achieve adequate revenue, while providing relief for those who really cannot afford that rate. I suspect that many flat-rate advocates have underestimated the tax rate that would result, or include in their estimates unrealistic cuts in government spending. Considering the huge amounts of money which is spent (and perhaps not understood by those not in a position to benefit from such tax shelters) to avoid taxation, bringing that money into the system under a flat tax might turn out to be the most pragmatic approach. If simplification of the tax system reduces my annual accounting expenditures, (along with those of others in the upper middle class) that would also be of considerable benefit.

Drum is correct in continuing support for both Social Security and Medicare on political grounds. As I’ve alluded to in the previous post, there are also pragmatic reasons for continuing  Medicare as opposed to the pseudo-free market alternatives which have failed.

As for income inequality, the real question is not the inequality but how it is achieved.  I have no problem with individuals becoming ultra-wealthy as a result of their entrepreneurial achievements. When they achieve this wealth due to government benefits, that is a different story. I agree that the great discrepancy between pay for top executives and workers in corporations is undesirable, but I also question how government can bring about a change in this situation. Government setting of either executive compensation or employee pay is certainly not on the table.

Passed Ten Thousand

Liberal Values has hit another landmark today, and it is a sign of the state of the blogosphere. Although I use a combination of methods to block spam, the one which has been the most productive, Askimet, passed ten thousand blocked spam posts today. Askimet estimates that 93% of blog comments are spam. At least the ratio here isn’t that bad, but between the ten thousand picked up by Askimet and those picked up by other methods, I’ve seen far more plugs for drugs, insurance, and sexual paraphernalia than I’d like. Askimet reports picking up almost 400,000,000 spam posts throughout the blogosphere since it has been in existence, and over two million spam posts today.

The good side is that spam comments very rarely make it through to clutter up the blog, and the automated mechanisms such as Askimet relieve me of the need to constantly set up manual filters as each new spammer shows up. Such filters have also allowed me to avoid sign-ins and even more cumbersome techniques used at many blogs to differentiate between real comments and spam. The one down side is that occasionally real comments are picked up as spam, but as annoying as that is I still find it a small price to pay for a virtually spam-free blog.