Commentary

Rage against the machine

The BCS computer rankings aren't working, but there may be a better way

Updated: December 15, 2011, 2:32 PM ET
By Peter Keating | ESPN The Magazine
 Brandon WeedenBrett Davis/US PresswireOklahoma State finished a close third to No. 2 Alabama in the BCS standings.

IT'S BEEN CLEAR FOR A WHILE that the BCS is a mess. (A rematch in the title game? Really?) Fans want something as straightforward as a playoff system, but until that happens, we can turn to a statistical system that offers true clarity on the nation's best teams.

No, we're not talking about the BCS computer ratings. That's nearly as big a mess as the BCS itself, for reasons we'll explain in a bit. We're talking about the Simple Rating System (SRS), which uses a concept so, well, simple that nobody knows who invented it. But Doug Drinen, a mathematics professor at the University of the South, popularized it about five years ago in his blog posts for pro-football-reference.com. The Simple Rating System is now listed as a basic team statistic at Sports Reference's college football site (sports-reference.com/cfb/).


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Peter Keating is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, where he covers investigative and statistical subjects. He started writing "The Biz," a column looking at sports business from the fan's point of view, in 1999. He also coordinates the Magazine's annual "Ultimate Standings" project, which ranks all pro franchises according to how much they give back to fans. His work on concussions in football has earned awards from the Deadline Club, the New York Press Club and the Center for the Study of Sport in Society.