How Math Confused Ohio's Playoff Chances

The Mid-American Conference came down to five teams with a hope to get into this year's conference semifinals, and the finish was a bitter one for Ohio.

Bowling Green and Western Michigan had already clinched the top two spots in the MAC North, but in the South, as it seems to be every year, it all came down to the final weekend.

But ... there was a problem, and it involved math. This is what the official standings looked like in the MAC South on Oct. 21:

There were several problems with these standings, not least of which is that the bonus point totals for Ohio and Cincinnati were wrong. But the total standings points numbers were right. The points difference numbers appeared to be correct.

They weren't.

So Ohio went into the team's final game, knowing that a win against Miami with a bonus point would put the Bobcats into first and force Cincy and Louisville to win the week after.

Ohio did the job, and the coaches opted to run on the subs late against Miami, settling for a 26-15 victory. That gave Ohio a 3-1 record and 16 standings point, forcing Cincinnati to win, with a bonus point, and by a margin of at least 10 points.


Except... not.

Just before the games this weekend, the MAC fixed the math.

Suddenly Ohio had given up two more points than previously thought. Cincinnati now had a plus-10, not a plus-7. The upshot was now Cincinnati only had to win by five not 10.

Following this change on Saturday, Louisville crushed Miami 92-0 to win with a bonus point and, as expected, take the top seed in the MAC South. And Cincinnati? The Bearcats beat Dayton by... five points, 22-17. That was enough, by one point, to put Cincinnati into the playoffs and drop Ohio out.

The frustration for the Bobcats isn't that two other teams went 3-1 — this seems to be the story in the MAC South every year. Their frustration is that if they'd know the accurate numbers a week before, they might have changed their tactics.

This speaks to the difficulty for some conferences in tracking wins, losses, bonus points, and points scored. Inaccuracies in score reporting from referees and coaches, and mistakes in the math, can cause problems greater than a simple "my bad."

Going into the final game of the season, a team should know how many points it needs to score and what it needs to do to make the postseason. Louisville and Cincinnati did know, but Ohio didn't.

On Sunday, the conference heard an appeal by Ohio to reexamine the path to the playoffs. The ruling came down on Monday night that there would be no change.

Louisville is the No. 1 team from the South, and Cincinnati is No. 2.

Here are the final MAC standings — This Saturday, Bowling Green takes on Louisville in one semifinal and Western Michigan will face Cincinnati in the other. 

Bowling Green300132151173015
Western Michigan210167341332010
Central Michigan12033119-86105


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