What’s the deal with the SEC! chant?

Now that college football season is over, and FSU won the final BCS Championship, there’s a bit of a college football vacuum to fill. I might as well take a few minutes and explain something that seems to really confuse people outside the SEC: What’s the deal with the “S-E-C! S-E-C!” chant?

The short version

The SEC! chant was a marketing gimmick to get SEC teams more votes and more favorable rankings in the polls, meaning higher BCS rankings and more shots for SEC teams to win the BCS Championship.

The longer version

The BCS era was a transitional regime between simply voting for the national champion and deciding the championship “on the field” with a playoff. It was essentially a two-team playoff whose participants were determined by a computer algorithm that accounted for poll rankings, strength of schedule and some other stuff. The actual algorithm changed often throughout the BCS era as components were dropped, certain polls got more weight, the strength of schedule formula changed, and they made other tweaks here and there. But at its core, the BCS relied very heavily on polls, getting votes, and beating other BCS-ranked teams.

The SEC! chant reminds voters that the SEC is pretty good, so they’ll give SEC teams more votes, leading to higher poll rankings for SEC teams. This has an explicit benefit of nudging SEC teams ahead of non-SEC teams in the polls, and subsequently improving BCS rankings for SEC teams. For the last half of the BCS era, if it came down to a tight race between an SEC team and a non-SEC team in the polls, the SEC team would generally get preference. Sometimes, the preferred team would be a non-UF SEC team, but sometimes it would be UF, and we’d get a shot at a title. So that’s one way it helps UF when UF fans root for the SEC.

There was a nice indirect benefit, too: The BCS formula also included a bump for “quality wins”, so beating a Top 15 BCS team meant a better BCS score, which often meant a better BCS ranking. Most of a football team’s season is played against conference opponents, so if your conference had a lot of BCS-ranked teams, then that was good for your team because there were more “quality win” opportunities available. But if your team was the only BCS-ranked team in its conference, that meant there were no in-conference quality wins available. In this sense, rooting for the SEC was also rooting for UF.

To put a finer point on it, the SEC! chant gave SEC teams a small mathematical edge over non-SEC teams in the BCS formula; since UF is an SEC team, UF got a small piece of that edge. So, at least in the SEC, we could have our cake and eat it too—we could root for our team by rooting for our conference.


The trick with this whole gimmick is the SEC had to show up and actually win games so that the SEC! chant would continue to carry weight. If the SEC had gone to a couple BCS Championship games and lost, the chant would’ve been almost worthless. Of course, the SEC dominated the BCS era with the most appearances of any conference, winning three more BCS Championships than all other conferences combined. So it seems the SEC! chant served its purpose.

Need a story? Blame the refs!

Full disclosure: I’m a psychotic Florida Football fan. I spent almost six years as an undergrad at UF, and I’m there now working on my MBA. I may be biased. But so is everyone else who follows or reports on sports, so I’m not alone. In this article, I will try to be as objective and rational as possible, which means I won’t be trying to write this during any Gator games.

As always, the sports world has been awash in controversy and conspiracy theories this year. After all, who would watch ESPN if it were just a bunch of talking heads reporting scores that could be found freely on the web? Sports journalists’ jobs are to report facts and generate buzz. Buzz generates viewers. Viewers help generate revenue. And while I think that business model is fine, I think maybe sports journalists should be held to a higher standard than they currently are.

True, sports journalists aren’t typically reporting on significant world events — tragedies, politics, technological and medical breakthroughs, etc. — but, as with mainstream journalism, what they report can have real-world consequences. Usually, those consequences can be measured in dollars, and sometimes they can be measured in affected lives. But even without measuring the effects of what sports journalists report, I think it’s important that they report truth (or what they know to be true) and that they do their due diligence and find some evidence to support what they’re “reporting”.

Do Florida and Alabama get all the calls?

“There’s a conspiracy to get Florida and Alabama into the National Title game!” This statement has been made both explicitly and implicitly by many over the past several months. Mike Wilbon very, very strongly implied it. I think he stopped short of actually saying, “There’s a conspiracy theory.” when Tony asked him point-blank if that’s what he thought. Ultimately, Mike fell back on claiming there’s an “environment” that is cultivated that causes this stuff to happen. Other bloggers and sports media personalities have alluded to it as well. And, true, these people aren’t “journalists” per se, but they’re sort of the cyclists of the car-and-pedestrian world: they get all the privileges of being journalists, but don’t have to follow any of the rules.

The mostly commonly cited indicator of the alleged conspiracy is that Florida and Alabama “get all the calls” in order to give them an edge against their opponents. In other words, the refs are either blowing calls, or making the wrong calls in order to give Florida an edge. I have yet to see any real evidence to support this claim. And yet the claim itself could have some very real consequences for people. For example, the refs for the Arkansas vs. UF and LSU vs. UGA games were suspended after the LSU vs. UGA game. That means they didn’t get paid. And it means their reputations have taken a hit. And it means their careers as refs could be shortened substantially. After all, if they’re trying to rig games, they’re responsible for defrauding a LOT of people, and they’ll likely end up in jail like Tim Donaghy. So, they’ve given up quite a bit to get UF and Alabama into the BCS Championship game picture, haven’t they? And what have they gained by giving up all that? Nothing that I can think of. It seems like the only possible compensation they might’ve received for assuming all that risk is cash. But where’s the paper trail? In the end, I think the onus is on the conspiracy theorists to gather some kind of evidence to back up their claims. Without any evidence, it’s just speculation. And that’s not “reporting”, is it? Even sports journalists are responsible for following some kind of “good reporting standard”, aren’t they?

Statistics is 99% certain it knows the answer

Let’s take a look at some rudimentary analysis of the claim that Florida and Alabama “get all the calls” to help them win games.

It’s actually really easy to see who’s getting all the calls in the Florida and Alabama match-ups this season. I did some basic statistical analysis of the penalties called against Florida and Alabama relative to their respective opponents. I looked at total number of penalties called against, and total penalty yards assessed against each team. Here are the numbers (all of these are averages) through the end of the regular season:

UF: 6.5 penalties called against for 49.5 yards per game.

UF Opponents: 6.17 penalties called against for 50.17 yards per game.

Alabama: 5.25 penalties called against for 46.25 yards per game.

Alabama Opponents: 6.08 penalties called against for 51.33 yards per game.

So, on average UF is flagged .33 fewer times per game and is penalized .67 yards fewer per game. And, on average Alabama draws .83 fewer flags per game and is penalized 5.08 yards fewer per game.

It turns out that these differences are not statistically significant. Specifically, we I can say that I’m 99% confident that neither UF nor Alabama have fewer penalties and yards assessed per game than their respective opponents due to real world factors such as bias or skill.

I’ve been running the numbers for both teams every week since Week 6 of the season, and there has never been a statistically significant difference between either UF or Alabama and their respective opponents with respect to aggregate number of penalties and yards called against.

Ultimately, I think there are two factors at play here: first, the media feels compelled to generate stories; second, there is some observer bias and that is clouding the media’s judgment. I don’t think my first factor really needs any explanation. It’s pretty obvious that the media in general, and specifically the sports media, thrive on controversy, tragedy, intrigue, etc. They actively look for these types of stories and, occasionally, they manufacture them to keep viewers interested. But the second one isn’t explored very often. For example, after the Arkansas vs. UF game, there were many cries of conspiracy to get UF into the Championship game. But where were the cries when the refs blew four big calls in the Tennessee vs. UF game earlier in the year? That game was close all the way (at least on the scoreboard), and the refs called an excessive celebration penalty against Florida that they didn’t call in a similar situation against UT later, and they wrongly called intentional grounding against Florida and totally blew an obvious intentional grounding call against Tennessee later. But those plays are never mentioned when the conspiracy theories are being discussed. Only plays that support the theorists’ hypothesis are discussed.


More traveling for the holidays

Well, I’ve been back in Dallas for almost nine days now and it’s almost time to hit the road again. On Wednesday, a good friend will be flying in from Atlanta to accompany me on my drive back east. The plan is that we’ll leave on Thursday afternoon and head to Atlanta via Shreveport, Louisiana. What’s there? Casinos! That’s what’s there! We’re gonna’ crash in Shreveport for a couple days and do some gambling. I’ll spend most of my time playing poker (which, in my opinion, isn’t gambling in the traditional sense) and maybe some blackjack (which most certainly is gambling in the traditional sense). I plan to play some $4/8 or $5/10 Limit Hold ’em. Hopefully, I’ll make a big pile of cash that I can use to finance my Christmas traveling.

After Shreveport, we’re heading to Atlanta where my buddy has a show at 6 o’clock on Saturday evening. Then I’ll hang in ATL until around December 22, at which time I’ll head to Florida. I might try to catch a basketball game before Christmas (the Gators are currently 9-0 and I’d love to go seem them extend their win streak and maybe set the record for best start in our basketball program’s history). Then, of course, I’ll spend Christmas with my family in Jacksonville.

A day or so after Christmas, I’ll leave Florida and head back to ATL to finish out my Christmas vacation. After bumming around ATL for a few days, I’ll start heading back west to Dallas via Shreveport (if all goes well during our first visit).

So, those are my plans for the break. I’m pretty sure my Christmas vacation is just as long as the kids at UF this semester, so I feel almost like a college kid planning a road trip between semesters.


Two-week update

It’s been quite a while since I wrote anything here. Why? I’m lazy.

Ok, so what’ve I been up to? Well, I’ve had two basketball games since my last post and I’m finally starting to play pretty well. Last week, I had 12 points on 4-of-6 3-point shooting. This week, I had 10 points–2 3-pointers, an 18-foot jumper and a couple freethrows. Those are decent point totals since this league plays a 36 minute game with a running clock and a 2-minute half time. Our team is averaging somewhere in the low 30s per game. We lost both games, but against decent teams and both games were pretty close. Last week, we just couldn’t hit our freethrows and this week, we basically didn’t have an answer for their big man.


Well, I have played for about a year online and have seen moderate winnings. Mostly, I’d been playing to get experience and learn more about the game. Recently, I decided to try and grind out some actual steady money, so I started playing Limit Hold ’em cash games. I started at Micro Limits–$.5/$1, 4-tabling–and am gradually moving up. My win-rate was just over 4BB/100 hands for almost 6,000 hands. I just moved up to $1/$2 Limit and I’m up, but I’ve only played a couple hundred hands. Anyway, I’ll play $1/$2 until I’ve won about 300BB, then I’ll jump to $2/$4. Slow and steady.


Since I returned from Europe, I’ve been reading a lot. Mostly, I’ve been reading books on poker, but I’ve also read some good fiction. Right now, I’m reading David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day. Sedaris is just a great author with a unique perspective and writing style. It’s just fun to read his stuff. Next, I think I’ll move on to John Irving’s latest book, but first it has to come out in paperback.

Work’s been rough

That about says it all. When I returned from Europe, I assumed the responsibilities that had previously been two peoples’ jobs. Actually, it seems I’ve taken on even more responsibility than that. Anyway, I’ve been ultra-busy and it’s been keeping me from pursuing acting like I want to. I know I should continue pursuing acting, but my schedule at work is very demanding and volatile and I don’t want to over commit myself. Hopefully, things will calm down by the end of the year and I can get back on the bus.

Headin’ home for football

I will be going to Florida to see the UT vs. UF football game next month. Really, I’ll be hoping to see the game since I don’t have a ticket. Basically, I plan to fly into Orlando, rent a car, drive to G-ville and start hunting for a ticket. I’ll be getting to G-ville on Thursday afternoon, so that’ll give me almost two full days to find a ticket.

I really should find something more interesting to write about.


I can’t believe it

For the first time since 1986, the Gators won at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee. This after we fired our coach in October. After last year at Gainesville, I couldn’t be happier that we knocked up the 8th ranked ‘Noles. Looks like the refs weren’t there to bail them out this year.

Of course, I’m becoming more and more unsure of my support for the school’s decision to fire Zook. At first, I was really supportive (I just felt like we weren’t going forward, even in our third year since we hired him), but now I’m realizing he may have his best year yet… and with a young team that is a dead ringer for SEC Eastern Division Champs next year.

I guess now we’ll have to wait and see what happens. Since Spurrier seems to be headed for South Carolina, it seems likely we’ll get Urban Meyer from Utah. Or at least we’ll pursue him. The guy seems to know what he’s doing and his offense will fit very well at UF. It’s so Spurrier-esque it’s scary.