Marek Warszawski

Formula for sending Bulldogs to Boise State for title game doesn’t compute

If Fresno State played in the American Athletic Conference or Conference USA – the two other FBS leagues that don’t stage their football championship games at neutral sites – the Bulldogs wouldn’t be boarding a plane this week.

Because the conference championship would be settled right here in Fresno, at a re-energized Bulldog Stadium, instead of in Boise, Idaho, on that hideously hued field.

Of course Fresno State doesn’t play in the AAC or C-USA. The Bulldogs play in the Mountain West, which marches to the beat of its own drummer. Often with a cheap-sounding snare drum.

Fresno State may have smothered Boise State on a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon before an appreciative assembly of 31,526, but on Sunday morning we learned the 28-17 victory didn’t count for as much as it should.

That’s because four computer polls (Anderson & Hester, Billingsley, Colley Matrix and Wolfe) churned the numbers and decided the Bulldogs’ résumé wasn’t as strong as the Broncos’.

The computers gave Boise State an average position of 30.25 while relegating Fresno State to an average of 34.25. Meaning the Broncos get to host the conference championship – even though the two teams finished the regular season with identical records (9-3 overall, 7-1 MW) and the Bulldogs were victorious in an actual, honest-to-goodness contest of football.

Head-to-head results don’t mean anything to an algorithm, which is understandable. Computers don’t know winning from losing. But the MW’s athletic directors do. They’re the ones to blame for this lame criteria.

Again, the AAC doesn’t do it this way. Central Florida is hosting Memphis in the AAC championship because it has the better overall conference record (8-0 vs. 7-1). But if those records were equal, head-to-head would be the next tiebreaker.

Nor does C-USA. Just like in the AAC, Florida Atlantic is hosting North Texas in the C-USA championship because of its superior conference record (8-0 vs. 7-1). But again, if those records were equal, head-to-head would be the next tiebreaker.

Not so in the MW, which uses the College Football Playoff rankings to determine the host site. If neither division champion is included in the CFP top 25, the composite computer rankings come next.

Computer polls are symbols of a bygone era, an age epitomized by an acronym (BCS) that drips off the tongue like poison. Even the CFP has ditched them. So why does the MW cling to these relics of the past instead of giving more weight to head-to-head results?

MW commissioner Craig Thompson didn’t have a very good answer. At least not one that would placate Fresno State fans.

“You can’t base it on a single game,” Thompson said. “I know head to head means a ton, and it should. But it’s the full body of work. It’s all eight (conference) games and how they did against the entire schedule.”

TEDFORD
Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford gets congratulated following the Bulldogs’ 28-17 victory over Boise State on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017. GARY KAZANJIAN Associated Press

Here’s what Thompson didn’t say: In years when the MW has a team with a good chance of making a New Year’s Six bowl game, awarding the host site to the team with the highest CFP ranking helps “protect” that team against an upset. Which would likely cost the conference a huge payday.

And, believe me, no MW athletic director wants that.

The MW didn’t wait for Tuesday’s new CFP rankings, or the unlikely chance Fresno State would crack the top 25. (The Broncos were No. 23 last week.) Instead, the conference office went straight to the computers.

Gotta help the host team sell tickets – and Boise State has been selling them for more than a week, just in case.

If Jeff Tedford is irked by having to fly to the Mountain Time Zone for the MW championship, he isn’t letting on.

When asked following Saturday’s game if he would lobby the CFP committee or anyone listening that Fresno State should host, Tedford didn’t choose to start politicking.

“I’m not a lobbyist,” he replied. “I don’t know how to lobby. It’s out of our control. We’ve done what we can do. We didn’t go into this game thinking if we can win this game, we’ll get home-field advantage.

“I don’t even know how all that works. We’ll just play where they tell us to play.”

Fine, then. Leave it up to me to decry the injustice. The Bulldogs are getting hosed by a bad system.

Thompson suggested the conference ADs would look into the matter. Good. And while they’re at it, the MW should also prevent teams having to play the same opponent twice in a row (Fresno State-Boise State), or twice in three weeks (San Diego State-Wyoming in 2016) by ditching cross-divisional games so late in the season.

In the final weeks of November, with the division title possibly on the line, the Bulldogs should be playing San Jose State and San Diego State – not Wyoming and Boise State. Shouldn’t be that hard for the schedule-makers to figure out.

“You make a great point,” Thompson said. “If that’s something the ADs feel is important, and they absolutely want to avoid (playing the same team twice in succession), they can. We only play three crossover games.”

If you told me in September that I’d be saying the Bulldogs deserve to host the MW championship, I would’ve asked you to pee in a cup. But they do. When all else is equal, computer polls should never trump head-to-head results.

Get it right, Mountain West, before someone else gets wronged.

Marek Warszawski: 559-441-6218, @MarekTheBee

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