Sign in / Join

"Fuzzy math"

Andrew Finley of The Daily Bruin takes a swipe at the USC Trojans for claiming a national title in college football, 65 years after the fact.

Athletic Director Mike Garrett announced July 26 that the school retroactively would recognize its 1939 football team as a national champion.

It's hard for me to say how deserving the team actually is. I wasn't around in those times, and neither was Garrett, but fortunately for all of us there was an economics professor from Illinois to sort things out.

In 1926, Frank Dickinson, the economics professor, devised a mathematical system to determine the Big-10 Champion. Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne liked the formula so much that he wanted Dickinson to apply it to the whole nation. Dickinson obliged and predated it so that Rockne's 1924 and 1925 teams could claim the title. Sixty-five years later, the Trojans are learning to follow the Irish's lead.

Dickinson's system widely was considered emblematic of the national champion until The Associated Press began ranking teams in 1936. From then on, most in the football community seemed to realize that writers who tracked teams on a weekly basis were probably more qualified to rank teams than a professor tracking supply and demand functions.

This economist has no argument with Mr. Finley, who makes an entertaining case for the prosecution. Read the whole thing.