Hey, I’m a Screenwriter!

Posted By on July 27, 2009

Today I watched The Blue Eyed Six documentary on DVD. The Blue Eyed Six were a group of six men, all of them coincidentally blue-eyed, who were arrested and indicted on first degree murder charges in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, in 1879. The motive for the murder was an insurance scheme which relied on life insurance policies which some of the men had taken out on the victim. All six were found guilty of first degree murder. Eventually, one of them was acquitted on appeal, but the other five men were hanged. The story, in fact and legend, is well-known in the local area and is still a favorite tale to be told around campfires.

I became more aware of the story several years ago while doing research for my North Annville Genealogy project. Several of the Blue Eyed Six had children, and many of their descendants still live in Lebanon County. While researching my North Annville neighbors, I traced several families back to that infamous group. My interest was piqued. I read Edna Carmean’s 1974 book of the same name and did some other reading at the Lebanon County Historical Society, where I am a member.

Around this time I was adding content to the Wikipedia, based on my other areas of research, so I decided to expand the article on the Blue Eyed Six. In Carmean’s book, she spent about six pages discussing the aftermath of the trial as it related to insurance reform. In my contribution to the Wikipedia, I summarized that concept with this sentence:

Apart from the actual murder trial, the whole proceeding turned out to be an indictment of the murky business of assessment life insurance, which led to major changes in insurance law, particularly with regard to the practice of insuring people in whom one had no legal interest.

For anyone familiar with how the Wikipedia works, you can see that I submitted that sentence, along with other additions and corrections, to the article in February, 2006.

Bruce and Brian Kreider produced their stage play of the same name in 1994. The play was immediately popular with local residents, and the brothers soon began work on creating a video documentary. It took some doing, but they finally released the film to sellout crowds in 2007. Since I don’t live in the area, I never had opportunity to see the play, nor had I seen the film. When I saw the DVD for sale at the Lebanon County Historical Society gift shop last week, I purchased a copy.

Near the end of the film, I heard the narrator say,”Apart from the actual murder trial, the whole proceeding turned out to be an indictment of the murky business of assessment life insurance, which led to major changes in insurance law, particularly with regard to the practice of insuring people in whom one had no legal interest.

I nearly jumped out of my seat. THAT’S MY SENTENCE! I WROTE THAT!

I stopped the DVD, backed it up and replayed it. I went online and pulled up the article. I played it again. I was right. They took that line, verbatim, from the Wikipedia.

I am fully aware that contributions to the Wikipedia are publicly licensed, and that I have no official stake in its usage. My satisfaction is just the knowledge that my creative writing was deemed worthy of inclusion in the documentary.

Reviving a Dead Computer

Posted By on June 8, 2009

The other day I was going through some stuff, and I came across my old IBM Thinkpad 600E. The 600E is a relatively small 1999-era laptop, which was considered a solid and reliable business machine in its day. I had purchased it on eBay around 2003 as a second computer and as my first laptop. I had always been satisfied with desktop computers, and at the time I think I was using my fifth one, upgrading about every 3 years or so since my first computer. My main computer was a high-end Compaq running Windows XP, but I thought it was time to jump into the laptop fray.

I did some research and found this Thinkpad being sold by a reputable seller at a reasonable price, so I bought it. To this day it is the only thing I’ve ever purchased on eBay. Anyway, the seller had done a good job of wiping the hard drive and installing a clean copy of Windows 2000 SP4. He had also upgraded the RAM to 92 MB. It didn’t come with a boot installation disk, but he did send a CD with the Windows 2000 SP4 self-extracting file.

The only complaint I had about the Thinkpad was its long boot time. But since I was using it as a truly mobile computer, and not my main machine, it wasn’t a big deal. As I recall, what had prompted me to buy a laptop was a family project I was working on, to scan old family photos, and I wanted to be able to take my scanner on the road. It was fun at home, too, to be able to sit on the front porch and surf the ‘net, or even VPN into my office network.

So the Thinkpad served its purpose until it was demoted to the shelf when I bought a shiny new Dell XPS in 2008.

Then with all the talk lately about netbooks, it occurred to me that maybe I could turn that old Thinkpad into a functional netbook. To my disappointment, when I turned it on, it refused to boot. There was some error which indicated a case of bitrot… some missing file or damaged hard drive. The first thing I tried was to re-install the OS from the CD, but that didn’t help. I could have tried a hard drive recovery utility, but I decided to go a different route. I decided to try Linux.

After doing some research online about my 10 year old computer with limited RAM, I decided to try Fluxbuntu, a stripped-down derivative of Ubuntu. So I went through all the steps of downloading the distro file and burning the install disk. I put it into the CD drive and turned on the Thinkpad. Everything went as expected. It re-formatted the drive and installed the new OS. I rebooted, and ta-da! I had a Linux box.

The next step was getting my Linux box online. I had previously been using a Linksys Wireless-G PCMCIA card, so naturally I wanted to use the same thing. Again, I went online and researched the possibilities. I found a blog which described the steps for using the Windows drivers for this model of wireless card with Ubuntu. Now, my experience with Linux is extremely limited. I had previously converted an old Windows ME computer to Ubuntu, which I had connected via Ethernet to my broadband router, but I never really did anything with it, other than to show myself, “Hey, it works.”

So here I was trying to follow the directions for installing a non-Linux driver on Linux. With virtually no Linux experience, even the simplest task was a roadblock. For instance, “Copy the files from the install disk.” It took me awhile to figure out that I couldn’t access the CD until I first mounted the CD. “Change all the file names to lower case.” Okay, I know how to rename a file in DOS, but what is the command line for renaming a Linux file? Eventually I got to the point where I realized that the directions I had did not apply to the version of my model of wireless card, and probably not to Fluxbuntu either. So I gave up.

Next I popped in my PCMCIA Ethernet card. I still have the installation disk, which said it was compatible with Linux, so I was fairly confident I would be able to install it. To my amazement, Fluxbuntu immediately recognized the card and installed the drivers itself. I plugged in an Ethernet cable and ta-da! I was online. But that really wasn’t a solution. There’s no sense in having a little netbook if you have to keep it tethered to the cable. So I reconsidered my Windows options.

In my box of stuff I have an OEM copy of Windows 98 SE, so I decided to try it. I thought that if I could get the Thinkpad working with Windows 98, maybe I could then upgrade it with my Windows 2000 disk. It turned out to be a series of dead ends and frustration. I got Windows 98 up and running, albeit with low graphics, but I still couldn’t get it to run the Windows 2000 installation. When I tried to run it, I immediately got an error message that it was missing a particular dll file. Of course, experience teaches that fixing one missing file often just leads to another missing file, and then another…

So I decided to try to get it online. It recognized the Ethernet card, it installed the driver, it said it was working, and when I plugged in the cable, all the lights on the card lit up, and the connection light on the router lit up. But I couldn’t get online. I went over and over every setting and advanced setting I could find, but still couldn’t get a connection to the router.

So then I decided to try the long shot of using the wireless card. I ran the install disk and immediately got an error message: “Internet Explorer 5.5 or later required.” Are you kidding me? I checked, and the active version was 5.0. Okay, so I’ll install a later version. Wrong. I had no way to copy data to the computer! The Thinkpad has a USB port, but when I plugged in a thumb drive, it said it needed a driver! The Thinkpad obviously has a CD drive, but I couldn’t get it to read any of my CD-R disks… probably a conflict between the old standard format and the new higher capacity CDs. The Thinkpad has an external floppy drive, and I found a floppy disk in my box of stuff, but none of the other five computers in our house has a floppy drive or floppy drive connection port!

Eventually I was able to figure out how to burn a CD using the legacy “mastered” format that the Thinkpad could read. So I went through the steps of downloading the complete IE 5.5 package, burning it to a CD, and installing it on the Thinkpad. This time I was able to install the Linksys wireless card drivers and software. Next I went through the steps of configuring the settings for my home network. It all went well until I clicked on “Save” configuration. I got an error message, “Unable to save configuration.”

That was it. I was done. I wiped the hard drive. The Thinkpad goes back on the shelf. Maybe I should just send it to the recycle bin.

Internet Video on your TV

Posted By on February 16, 2009

Watching TV on your computer is becoming more and more commonplace, but the next step in home entertainment is finding a way to get Internet video, including streaming programs, video podcasts, and paid downloaded shows and movies, to play on your actual television. While it is possible today with a variey of hardware and software manipulations, none of the solutions are simple and some are rather expensive. It is the promise of tomorrow when even high-def video can easily be delivered on demand over the Internet, to be watched at your convenience on your high-def TV. Let me repeat: All of these methods require a level of expertise that most casual home users do not possess. This article is not intented to be a tutorial, but rather a manageable explanation of some things you may have heard.

Direct Connection

The simplest solution is a direct connection between your computer and your television. The connection itself depends on the available ports on your computer and your TV. The newer models of both provide the most options. For example, the best connection would be an HDMI cable. With your computer attached to the TV, it is then a relatively simple process of playing the video on the computer with the TV acting as the monitor. The disadvantage of a direct connection with the computer, of course, is that you have to have the computer right there, and you have to control it with the keyboard and mouse — not very convenient. Some newer versions of Windows PCs have a special software package called Media Center, which is an enhancement of the regular Windows Media Player. The Media Center is designed to control all sorts of digital media on the computer, and even uses a remote control.

Game Consoles

Modern game consoles — the X-Box 360, PlayStation 3, and the Wii — all have the capability to play Internet video. As a Microsoft product, the X-Box has built-in software which makes it a Media Center Extender, which means that you can stream video from your Media Center computer to the X-Box and then onto your TV. With the Wii, it’s possible to purchase a premium browser, Opera, from which you can play Internet video.

Apple TV

The Apple TV is not a television set. It is a device which is designed to play videos — which you purchase and/or download from the iTunes store — on your own TV. It seems strange that Apple would call it an Apple TV, since they might actually decide to build televisions in the future. Nevertheless, the idea is that it allows you to play the video on your regular TV instead of just on your video iPod. Although it was designed solely for iTunes, it is possible to modify the Apple TV to play other types of Internet video as well. To be sure, it is a rather expensive solution intended for media savy customers.

Popcorn Hour

Popcorn Hour is device that describes itself as a networked media tank. It can download video from the Internet, but its best feature is that it can stream video from other computers in your home. Like the Apple TV, it is an expensive option.

Roku

Roku is another digital media player. It has been around for awhile, dealing mostly with music and displaying digital photos on your TV. Recently, however, it became more popular when they partnered with Netflix to stream movies intantly for Netflix subscribers. The Roku box is less expensive than other choices, and it has the potential to expand its service to other types of Internet video.

Twitter your Life Away

Posted By on February 13, 2009

Twitter.comTwitter is a relatively new social networking tool of the Internet which popularized micro-blogging. The main purpose is to keep friends connected, by letting everyone know where you are and what you are doing. Like other services, it depends on a technology known as SMS (short message service), which is basically a text message that can be sent and received via most modern cell phones, in addition to the website. The difference is that twitter messages, called tweets, are sent to a server, which forwards the messages to multiple receivers at once. To receive a particular person’s tweets, you must first sign up to follow them. This mass message system is called a feed.

The term feed is a general description of the process whereby a website or Internet service automatically sends data to you, rather than you going and getting it from them. Another example of a feed is a podcast subscription, where the website feeds the podcast out to the subscribers, using a technology called RSS.

As with many new technologies, Twitter made its first inroads with tech enthusiasts. Twitter became popular at technology conferences, where groups of friends could see where everyone was, and make plans to meet, without having to make multiple phone calls or to send multiple text messages.

The tweets themselves are limited to a length of 140 characters — about one sentence — which is why it is often described as micro-blogging. Users become adept at conveying their thoughts in short sentences and phrases. Twitter is often derided as a waste of time because the service encourages a lot of inane conversation, like telling your followers what you had for lunch. However, it has also been lauded for its dissemination of information during breaking news stories.

Besides the public feed, Twitter also has an instant message feature for private conversations.

Unlike some other social networking sites, creating a Twitter account is very simple on the Twitter.com website. The original intent was to connect groups of friends and acquaintances, both in personal life and in business. However, with Twitter, the connection process is not mutually inclusive. In other words, its possible to follow a person’s twitter feed, without them following yours. As a result, when famous people create a Twitter account, their intent is to have as many followers as possible, because it’s free publicity. Of course, they have no intention of ever following your tweets. In the tech world, it became a bragging contest to see who could get the most followers on Twitter.

Eventually Twitter was noticed by mainstream media, and soon all the national news services, interactive TV shows, and political campaigns decided to create their own Twitter accounts. Entertainment and sports celebrities, too, jumped in. By 2009, Twitter had become pervasive in all aspects of mass media. You can’t watch a news broadcast without someone or something reminding you to follow their Twitter. The difference is that, in the original design, the appeal was that the tweets were actually being typed by the actual person. So even if you didn’t know someone personally, you felt as though you were getting a personal communication from them. With celebrities and mass media, you never know who is actually doing the typing.

Ironically, to the original techie users, the rapid growth means that Twitter has lost its luster. Whereas it was once a secret club for people in the know, now that it’s been accepted by the masses, and by mass media, it’s lost some of its cool-ness factor.

The basic service on Twitter.com has spurred the creation of an abundance of third-party applications which use the Twitter feed to make it searchable, more manageable, and compatible with other web services like Facebook.

Does Anyone Know the Rules?

Posted By on December 15, 2008

This afternoon, the Pittsburgh Steelers took the lead and won the game over the Baltimore Ravens on a touchdown at the end of the game. However, there was considerable controversy over whether or not a touchdown was actually scored.

The play in question proceeded in the following manner: The receiver ran his route in the end zone. The quarterback threw the ball in his direction. The receiver had his feet in the endzone, but he had to reach back out onto the field of play to catch the ball. At essentially the same time, the defensive player tackled the reciever, forcing him even further back into the field of play.

Two officials on the field marked the ball down just outside the goal line, where the receiver made the catch. Since the game was inside the 2-minute warning, Pittsburgh could not challenge the call. Instead, they called time out, to give the officials the chance to make an official instant replay review, which they did. When the referee came back out onto the field, his official explanation was that “the receiver had both feet down in the end zone” when he made the catch, and it was therefore a touchdown.

There are two thing wrong with that outcome.

First of all, the referee never said that the call on the field was reversed. The whole concept of instant replay is based on the assumption that the call on the field stands, unless there is indisputable video evidence to the contrary. Instant replay does not replace the responsibility of the officials on the field to make a call. But in this case, the referee never even acknowledged the call on the field. Instead, he made it seem as though the video replay was used to determine whether or not it was a touchdown. There’s a significant difference.

The second thing wrong with the call is that the referee never even described a touchdown! Everyone knows that a touchdown is scored when any part of the ball, while in possession, touches/crosses the plane of the goal line. But the referee made it sound as though it was a touchdown simply because the receiver’s feet were down in the end zone. He never said anything about the ball reaching the end zone, and the video evidence was far from indisputable that it did. Now, the “two feet down in the end zone” thing often comes up with catches along the side of the end zone or the back of the end zone, but it doesn’t apply to the front of the end zone. If it did, then a runner with the ball could score a touchdown merely by sliding his feet across the goal line without ever getting the ball to the goal line!

After the game, the officials back-tracked on the explanation and stated that the football had reached the plane of the goal line. Nevertheless, they’d still have a hard time defending that conclusion with indisputable evidence.

I expect there will be a league review of this incident. Unfortunately, it will not be the first one this year. In September, a game-changing fumble recovery in the Denver vs San Diego game was disallowed because the official blew his whistle before it was recovered. In November, the whole officiating crew of the Pittsburgh vs San Diego game overturned a touchdown because they mistakenly ruled the ball dead.

Earlier in the same game today, Baltimore punted to Pittsburgh. The punt returner muffed the catch. The ball first rolled forward, then was finally picked up by another Pittsburgh player, who ran the ball about 18 more yards. The announcers said that the ball would be returned to the point at which the player picked up the ball, because you “can’t advance a muff.” Wrong. The kicking team can’t advance a muff, but the receiving team can. In fact, the officials had to huddle and then announce that it was okay for Pittsburgh to advance the ball, as if they weren’t sure themselves.

While I’m at it, I’m still waiting for clarification on the rule about a player coming back onto the field from out of bounds. How many times have we heard the announcers tell us that when a receiver runs out of bounds, he can’t be the “first person to touch it” when he comes back in bounds? Earlier this year (I don’t remember which game) a receiver inadvertently ran out of bounds. The pass came down and hit the defender, bounced up in the air, and then the receiver caught it. He was NOT the first person to touch it. It had obviously ricocheted off the defender. Nevertheless, the officials threw the flag and called it an illegal catch because the receiver had come in from out of bounds. I looked at the rule, and it specifically says the ball must be first “touched by an opponent,” which is was! The rule does not preclude the receiver from making the catch, but the officials did. Oh, well, I’ll probably never see that happen again.

Bradford Wins the Heisman!

Posted By on December 13, 2008

Need I say more? When I wrote about Sam Bradford at the end of last season, I was very optimistic, like others, about his future at Oklahoma. But it was too much to expect that he would win the Heisman Trophy in his sophomore year. But he did.

Bradford followed up last year’s remarkable season with even more impressive stats. Last year he set an NCAA record for touchdown passes by a freshman (36). This year he led the country in TD passes (48), which naturally shattered the record for TD passes for a combined freshman and sophomore year (84), which also set single season and career records for Oklahoma. Led by Bradford, the Sooners set an NCAA record for most points scored in a season (702), while accomplishing something that had never been done: scoring 60+ points in five consecutive games. The team finished the season 12-1 and champions of the Big 12.

And now there is just one game left to cap this magical season for the Oklahoma Sooners and their fans.

The BCS vs College Football Playoffs

Posted By on December 12, 2008

The controversy continues. Little has changed since I wrote my article before the 2007 NCAA football season. This year, we ended up with no less than 7 major college BCS teams with one loss, plus two lesser BCS teams with undefeated records. So, once again, no matter which two teams ended up on top, there would be good cases to be made for other teams to be unjustly left out of the championship game.

The BCS (Bowl Championship Series) has become the college sports equivalent of the Electoral College. If there are two clear-cut top teams, like there were in 2002 with undefeated Ohio State and Miami, then the BCS rankings are irrelevant. If the top teams aren’t obvious, like they are this year, then the BCS rankings are subject to ridicule.

Oklahoma will play Florida for the championship, but that means that [fill in the blank] was left out. The only way to settle the championship would be a playoff. The two systems most often promoted are the “and one” championship game and an 8-team bracket.

I have no idea how they would implement the “and one” system. Ostensibly, after the bowl games were played, the top two teams would play one more game against each other for the the real championship. Are you kidding me? How would that solve anything? Either you’d have to pre-select the top four teams to play each other, or you’d have to select the top two teams afterward. The key word is select. This year, for example, we’re going to end up with at least three (and we could have as many as six) top division teams with no more than one loss after their bowl game. So any selection of two of those teams would be just as controversial as the current BCS rankings system.

With an 8-team bracket, you’d be guaranteed to get all the top teams in the playoff. But once again, you’d have to select the 8 teams. In my previous article, I suggested that the qualifying teams should all be league champions. Even that system wouldn’t make sense this year, when clearly the Big East champion Cincinnati and the ACC champion Georgia Tech weren’t even ranked in the top 10. On the other hand, the Big 12 South division alone has three teams in the top 10.

I watched two different sportscasters give their theoretical 8-team bracket this year, and as expected, they had different teams. There’s always the spector of those undefeated second tier teams, Utah and Boise State. And what do you do in years when there are four teams that are clearly above the rest? Do you throw in four other teams just to fill the bracket? One could argue that a controversy over the bottom teams in the bracket would generate less passion than trying to pick just two at the top. My response would be, if they don’t matter, then why are they in the playoff?

We all know that the big Bowl games are here to stay. So playoff promoters always say they would incorporate the bowl games into the playoff series. My question of that scenario is, who would go to the games? The Bowl games are an event unto themselves. Fans of the teams take off from work, make travel plans, and spend lots of money, to attend a bowl game. So if your team has to play two playoff/bowl games before they get to the championship game, which game are you going to plan for? Are you going to go to the first game, in case they lose and their season ends, or are you going to hold out for the more important games to follow?

Proponents of a playoff often cite the lower division college football playoffs and wonder why the major colleges couldn’t do the same. Well, the reason is quite simple. The two things are completely different. In the lower divisions, the teams are seeded and play at the home field of the higher seed. The visiting team certainly has some followers, but it is a home game for the home team in every sense of the word.

How would you fit the bowl games into that scenario? While those first-round playoffs would undoubtedly get high TV ratings, do you think they could fill the stands? Using this year’s example, how many fans of Texas and Ohio State would make the trip to the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona, if they thought they had a good chance to move on to another, even bigger game?

Another aspect of bowl games vs playoffs that rarely gets heard is the perspective of the players and coaches. Certainly those top teams that miss out of the BCS championship by a slim margin are going to wish they were in a playoff, but the truth is that they’d much rather be in the championship game than have to compete for the championship game. That may sound obvious, but I’ve heard former players admit when questioned, that they really enjoyed their bowl game experience because they knew it was a once-and-done deal. Their perspective would have to change if it were merely a playoff game.

If BCS college football is ever going to get to a playoff, I think it will have to be some kind of hybrid play-in system using the same rankings we have now. In other words, the lower ranked teams will have to play each other on a home field basis to qualify for a smaller playoff bracket in the bowl games.

Oklahoma and the Big 12 Championship

Posted By on December 8, 2008

The University of Oklahoma Sooners were chosen to represent the Big 12 South in Saturday’s league championship game. It was a most unlikely scenario which hasn’t happened since… oh, wait, it had never happened before. Three teams in the South division ended the season with exactly the same won-loss record. Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and Texas all completed the regular season with identical 7-1 records in the Big 12, identical 4-1 records in the South division, identical 4-0 records against common league opponents, and identical 11-1 records overall. Of course, this situation is only possible if the three teams beat each other in a triangular fashion. Texas beat Oklahoma 45-35 on October 11, then Tech beat Texas 39-33 on November 1, then Oklahoma beat Tech 65-21 on November 22.

Having three national power teams in the league is a boon for the Big 12, but having them all tied in the same division is a nightmare. While all three teams are officially recognized as division champions, only one team can play the North champion for the league championship.

The final tiebreaker, according to Big 12 rules, was the team with the highest spot in the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) rankings. When the numbers were crunched, Oklahoma barely came out on top of Texas, with Texas Tech a few spots down. Mayhem ensued. Just listen to the sportscasters lament the fate of poor Texas, unjustly snubbed from the championship game. Most of them, like Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN, continued to cite Texas’s victory over Oklahoma as proof that Texas should have played in the championship game. And many other sportscasters blasted the Big 12′s procedure for using the BCS rankings in order to settle the 3-way tie conundrum.

In my professional life, part of my job involves writing policies and procedures which impact healthcare, so I have a greater appreciation for policies which have real consequences and for the responsibility to account for every possible scenario. With that is mind, let’s examine the arguments in the Big 12 South fiasco, and see how their selective logic fails.

The first one, as mentioned above, was the fact that Texas beat Oklahoma 45-35. This argument completely ignores Texas Tech, who beat Texas. Proponents justify their snub of Texas Tech by citing Tech’s embarrassing 65-21 loss at Oklahoma. As one sportscaster said, “Anyone who loses by 40 points doesn’t deserve consideration.” In other words, since Tech’s loss was by so many points, you can dismiss them and just consider the other two teams head-to-head.

Oh, so points matter? If that’s the case, exactly how many points matter? If Oklahoma had beaten Tech by only 10, would Tech still be in the mix? Does that mean that Oklahoma would have been more deserving if they had beaten Tech by fewer points? If points are going to be a criterion, then the criteria have to be stated. By this logic then, you’d have to consider the point differential for all three teams in the three games. So here Tech came out at -38, Texas at +4, and Oklahoma at +34. No contest there. Oklahoma was clearly the winner.

A related argument was that Texas beat Oklahoma on a neutral field, while Tech and Oklahoma’s wins came on their home fields. While voters can always consider home-field advantage when ranking teams, this argument has no merit whatsoever in the league policy, because Texas and Oklahoma are the only teams in the Big 12, and in all of college football, who play on a neutral field every year. You can’t have a policy which discriminates for or against certain teams.

Another argument for Texas was that Texas’s only blemish in this triangle was a “last second” loss to Tech. This argument is probably the most laughable. I would question anyone who makes it if they even watched the game. The fact is, that Tech held the lead during the whole game until Texas scored a touchdown with less than two minutes remaining. Texas didn’t almost win, Texas Tech almost lost. But just for fun, let’s entertain the concept that “almosts” count for something. And the only way to measure “almosts” is by calculating the time that a team has the lead in a game.

In the game just cited, Texas held the lead for 1:32, and Tech held the lead for 47:46 and the win. Oops, not much of a contest there. In the Texas-Oklahoma game, Oklahoma held the lead for 35:30, and Texas held the lead for 12:59 and the win. In the Tech-Oklahoma game, Tech never held the lead, while Oklahoma held the lead for 51:01 and the win. The totals aren’t pretty. In the three games, Texas held the lead for exactly 14:31, Tech held the lead for 47:46, and Oklahoma held the lead for 86:51. So for Texas’s sake, I wouldn’t bring up the “last second” loss thing.

The only way to discredit the “lead time” criterion is to acknowlege that only the final score matters. In other words, it only matters who wins the game. So that puts us right back at the 3-way tie.

An argument for using the BCS ranking to determine the division representative was often countered that something more concrete should be used. I heard at least one sportscaster suggest using performance against common opponents. Well, let’s see. Won-loss record against common opponents is already part of the tie-breaker system, so the only other measure of performance would be score. Really? Score? Aren’t these the same sportscasters who bemoan the fact that teams in the Big 12, and these three teams specifically, routinely score more than 50 points a game?

If you’re going to throw score into the mix as an official tiebreaker, then you can’t object to a coach keeping the first team on the field in the fourth quarter when the score is 52-14. But just for fun, let’s check out the score differential. In the other division games plus Kansas (whom all three teams played), Texas was +96, Oklahoma was +104, and Tech was +106. Just imagine what those numbers would have been if points really did matter. Nevertheless, Texas came out at the bottom of that one, too.

Maybe it’s not fair to consider those blowouts. So let’s just look at the other highly ranked team in the South division. Oklahoma State was an undefeated Top 10 team as well, until they lost to these three teams. So how did the big three fare? Texas beat them at home by 4 points, Texas Tech beat them at home by 46, and Oklahoma beat them at Oklahoma State by 20. So against the highest ranked common opponent, Texas came out at the bottom again.

To others, the only reason that Oklahoma came out on top was because their loss to Texas was a month earlier, and Tech’s victory over Texas was late in the season. So let’s consider a different sequence. Suppose Oklahoma’s rout of Tech had occurred at the start of the league games in early October. And then Tech won their next six games before facing an undefeated Texas. So after Tech beat Texas to create the 3-way tie, would Texas still be the clear choice to go to the championship game? If Oklahoma benefited by being the first team to lose, is it better to benefit the last team to lose?

Finally, let’s examine the Big 12′s procedure for using the BCS rankings to finally break the tie. As many people have pointed out, the BCS rankings are designed to determine the top two teams who will play for the national championship. Period. They are not designed to set rankings below the top two teams, and they are certainly not designed to pick division winners. However, that’s precisely why the Big 12 uses it. Dan Beebe, commissioner of the Big 12, appeared on ABC’s broadcast of the championship game and explained it. The fifth tiebreaker uses the BCS rankings as a practical matter, because it gives the Big 12 the best chance to end up with a team in the BCS Championship game!

Apparently, the voters and computer calculations took all these things into consideration, and came up with Oklahoma over Texas and Texas Tech. There’s no point in arguing if Oklahoma was more deserving than Texas. The numbers tell the tale. It was so close to be statistically insignificant. If the league ignored the BCS and sent a lesser-ranked team in this situation, it would be doing a disservice to itself.

At least one other conference uses the BCS rankings, with a caveat, that if the second team is within 5 places of the first team, then head-to-head record determines which of those two teams goes to the league championship game. If that were the case, of course, Texas would have gone over Oklahoma. Once again, it’s easy to say that now, because Oklahoma and Texas were in a virtual dead heat in the polls. But let’s consider another scenario.

Suppose this same three-way tie occurred in the Southeast Conference West, with Auburn beating LSU, then LSU beating Alabama, and then Alabama beating Auburn late in the season. It’s not unreasonable to imagine the final regular season BCS rankings something like this:
1. USC (12-0)
2. Oklahoma (11-1)
3. Florida State (11-1)
4. Alabama (11-1)
5. Missouri (11-1)
6. Utah    (12-0)
7. LSU (11-1)
8. Penn State (10-2)
9. Georgia Tech (10-2)
10. Florida (10-2)
11. Ohio State (10-2)
12. Auburn (11-1)

USC would be done with their season, with a lock on the top spot. Oklahoma would be playing Missouri in the Big 12 Championship. Florida State would be playing Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship. Using the tie-breaker just described, the Southeast Conference would have to send LSU to play Florida in their championship game. They would have to send the 7th ranked LSU Tigers, by virtue of their early season win over 3rd ranked Alabama, which would virtually eliminate the possibility of any Southeast Conference team moving up into the 2nd place spot for the BCS championship. Even if both OU and FSU lost, Missouri would likely jump over the idle Alabama, by virtue of their win over the 2nd ranked Sooners.

On the other hand, if they used the Big 12 tie-breaker, Alabama would go into the league championship game as the top ranked team of the three. Alabama could jump over OU and FSU in the final rankings, even if one or both of those teams won their games less impressively.

If there’s a problem with Oklahoma going to the Big 12 championship game, the problem is with the BCS rankings, not with the Big 12. The fact that Oklahoma was ranked ahead of Texas, even by the slimmest of margins, means that Oklahoma is more likely, even by the slimmest of margins, to be ranked in the top two of the final BCS if they win. And they did, and they were.

If Texas had been chosen, by some other hocus-pocus, to represent the South in the league championship, chances are they would have beaten Missouri as well, and probably would have ended up in the top two of the BCS. But they weren’t, and they didn’t.

I am certainly not advocating that conferences use the BCS rankings to break routine ties. But in this most unlikely of scenarios, with three teams having the exact same record of one loss, I can’t think of any fair way to break it, so it might as well be the most practical.

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