The BCS Standings and Logical Positivism

The BCS Standings and Logical Positivism October 25, 2004

For the second week now, some college football teams and fans have their panties in a wad over the BCS Standings. The BCS is a complicated, computer-generated system of ranking the top teams. And it’s no wonder why coaches, teams, and university presidents get so worked up over the rankings: if a school finishes in the top six, they’re sure to get a New Year’s Day bowl game and a payout of over $14 million.

The problem with the BCS system is that it doesn’t work. Several times since its inception, the computer program has been modified to make it even more “fair” and even more “accurate.” But that’s like medieval mathmeticians and astronomers using even more complex equations to support Ptolemy’s geocentric cosmos. No matter how good the math, no matter how good the program, some things can’t be measured “perfectly.” In fact, one might go so far as to say that “perfect” measurements are not possible.

“The best college football team in the country” is a phrase that’s designed to be debated. Strength-of-schedule, margin-of-victory, and other indicators simply cannot perfectly measure two teams that haven’t played one another. And, in fact, superior teams often lose to inferior teams when, for instance, the better team has an “off day.”

Yet the BCS system shows how beholden we are to empiricism, logical positivism, and the scientific paradigm in general. We are still tempted to believe that everything, even matters of opinion, can be quantified and measured.

The church, theology, the Christian life: Friedrich Schleiermacher said that these are governed by “rules of art,” not by iron-clad laws, equations, or computer programs. Methinks that’s a nice phrase; one that each of us might use as our scrolling banner screen saver.

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  • Bill Bean


  • Anonymous

    We have created a culture that is terrified of unmeasurable elements. If we don’t quantify and “FIX” our doctrine it might “move” on us in uncontrollable ways. This perspective fails to address the fact that WE, in our position of ‘measurer’ are in constant flux. That the unchanging Gospel might look different from different perspectives/mindsets/world-views/generations and our milestones were set coming at it from a different perspective than today’s.A deeper issue is the very intent of “fixing” our doctrine: “uncontrollable”…ABSOLUTELY what the Word of God is! Any attempt to pin it down and make it serve our purpose is doomed at best and “another gospel” at worst.- matt

  • Brian

    I think this is why baseball, and sports in general, can be so fascinating. Read a book like “Moneyball” and you figure anyone with a stat sheet should be able to put a winner together, and sur, stats do help. But then you read an article about the probablity of the best team winning and you kind of shake your head. For example, “Keeping Score: Winning Team and Best Team? It’s a Flip of the Coin”By Alan Schwarz (New York Times October 24, 2004 ) How can you quantify the better team? Baseball, with its never ending statistics, seems like the sport most given to being quantified, but the fact is, you still can’t do it. The article referenced above sites some attempts that start, in my opinion, with faulty premises, but that doesn’t matter. What I’m really saying is perhaps sports resonates with people because there is mystery…and the more our churches embraced that mystery, rather than trying to explain it away, the more the message would resonate with people.