Time To “Drain The Swamp” In Sports Thinking

A Blog by Andrew Brown

I’m going to start things off by saying I’m a huge fan of numbers. I’m a baseball writer/enthusiast and I have an analytical/statistical background and I adore the world of Sabermetrics. I believe numbers, used in the correct manner, can be the best and most accurate representation of performance in the world of sports. 

Why am I stating all this you ask?...let me take you to this past Sunday morning in the discussion on who should earn the number four seed in the 2017 college football playoffs. There were two individuals who I have adored for a long time in Booger McFarland and Paul Finebaum but unfortunately both took a big step back in my book. With Ohio State defeating Wisconsin in the BIG 10 Championship game, the big discussion centered around whether Ohio State or Alabama deserved the last playoff spot. 

When the question turned towards Finebaum and McFarland I was flabbergasted as they showed their SEC bias by way of, get this…the eye test and only the eye test in favor of Bama! Question marks flew through the air when Booger McFarland said college football should go away from the metrics, and we need to simplify it down to the eye test. 

What moronic thinking!!!!!!! If you were like me, Sunday morning you were screaming at the TV and tweeting faster and more furiously than President Trump. They eye test, what a weak excuse just to get your favorite team in the playoffs. 

Again, I’m a baseball fan and for those who don’t remember, baseball in general had a hard and long time accepting sabermetrics into its world…much longer than it should’ve been. Heck, there still are writers, coaches, and fans who believe in outdated, metric-less ways of thinking. Now as Finebaum and McFarland showed, it is now just as evident in college football as well. 

Now we’ve all heard of the phrase “draining the swamp” in politics but with this recent display of idiocy, this now should be applied to sports. This is the type of thinking needs to be eradicated from not just football but all sports. This type of metric-less thinking is driving the value and progress of sports down. Metrics and statistics are crucial components to the game as they are true/unbiased numerical representations of performances on the field. Numbers don’t lie and numbers cannot be swayed by “flashy” plays. 

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s more to the “eye test” and the eye test does hold some value but it is far from the most important component in deciding the college football playoffs. Strength of schedule in my mind is the most important factor but other items like the football power index and more are ahead of the eye test as well. The fact that both Finebaum and McFarland, who have both referenced some form of metrics and statistics in the past, avoided any form of numbers when favoring Alabama clearly showed the highest level of stupidity and that they had no statistical numbers to stand on to favor the Tide. 

The biggest number that Finebaum and McFarland avoided with the “terrible metrics” was strength of schedule. Over the years college football has witnessed Alabama travel through gauntlet after gauntlet of tough schedules but in 2017 it was quite weak. Their schedule included a declining Mississippi State team and their best win came against an inconsistent LSU team at best. Alabama’s schedule was beneath the likes of East Carolina, Boston College, Iowa and even Syracuse. 

Again I stress that while the eye test holds some value it is the most flawed and biased and if looking flashy is all a team has to do to be favored in college football then why aren’t the Oregon Ducks perennial powers every year? The numbers paint the truest picture on the college football landscape. Scouts, coaches, and players have accepted the metrics which bring a more modern and accurate depiction of the game so why can’t analysts see that and join? I’m not asking analysts to become (no offense) computer nerds at a desk all day, all I’m asking for is for analysts like Finebaum and McFarland to lose the SEC bias they have and actually look at the numbers and more importantly, look at the truth. The metrics aren’t there to make things look pretty, (although if they were then I think McFarland would surely favor them) they are there to prove who’s better than the rest. USC had a far tougher schedule than the likes of Bama or Ohio State and had much better performances against RPI top 40 teams but nooooooo…the biased eye test still holds the pageantry of Alabama over actual performance. 

Now before you start yelling at your computer screen trying to get to me and tell me to look at who made the top four and tell me I’m wrong please just hear me out. If you’ve dug even an inch into the reasoning why Alabama got the nod over Ohio State and USC, then you would’ve discovered that the committee clearly devalues big losses like Ohio State’s thirty one point loss to Iowa over a weak schedule from Bama. I can tell you for sure that the decision was NOT based on the eye test. 

It’s this misguided notion to hold on to the past that won’t let progression take hold. We as more than just sports analysts and fans need to embrace the fact that the likes of Alabama may not be the best all the time and that the status quo needs to be challenged. We as sports lovers need to rid the swamp of this outdated type of thinking and embrace the numbers, embrace the modern era, and embrace the future in sports.

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