Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Likelier Things

There's been a lot of focus lately on a scenario—let's call it the Doomsday Scenario—that could arguably keep a 13-0 Wisconsin out of the college football playoffs. I have a few things to say about this.

To start, a 13-0 Wisconsin team is making the playoffs. "But what if the Doomsday Scenario occurs? What are the chances that the Badgers would miss the playoffs then?" The chances are zero. ZERO. It's not happening. "How can you be so sure?" Because I have a functioning brain. If you disagree with me about this, I'm sorry: we can't be friends anymore. Not even on Facebook.

Even if I am wrong about this—and I am not wrong about this—it's super unlikely that I'll be proven wrong. This is because the chances of the Doomsday Scenario even materializing are still extremely small. For the Doomsday Scenario to occur, each of the following must occur:

1) The Badgers must win out. Let's be chipper and put the odds of that at 1 in 3. Here, already at step one, we have a Likelier Thing that submarines the Doomsday Scenario. But we still have hope. 

2) Either Alabama or Georgia must win out, and the other must finish with just one loss (to the other, preferably by a slim margin). I'll be generous and say Georgia has a 40% chance of winning its final three games, and Alabama has a 75% of winning its final three games. That makes this another 1 in 3  shot, and one of them losing not to the other is another Likelier Thing that pierces the Doomsday Scenario bubble.

3) Either Oklahoma or TCU wins out. FiveThirtyEight says Oklahoma has a 33% chance to win out and TCU has a 17% chance to win out. That's a total chance of one of them winning out of around 45%. This may be off given that they play each other at least once, but close enough for these purposes. Another Likelier Thing that defeats the Doomsday Monster.

4) Finally, the most likely iteration of Doomsday Scenario involves both Notre Dame and Clemson winning out. Being generous again, let's say both of those are 50/50 chances, meaning the chance of them both happening is 1 in 4. Yet another Likelier Thing kneecapping Dr. Doomsday.

So, the odds of the Doomsday Scenario emerging in the face of all these Likelier Things is .33 * .30 * .45 * .25 = 1% — and that's being generous.

5) Now, if you plug the Doomsday Scenario into the FiveThirtyEight playoff calculator—which has not been informed that a 13-0 Wisconsin team is actually a 100% lock to make the playoffs—it says that the Badgers currently have an 83% chance of making the playoffs even in this Doomsday Scenario. In fact, they're actually the third-most likely team to make the playoffs in this scenario, meaning that they'd still likely be the 3-seed ahead of either Oklahoma or Notre Dame. 

Bottom line: even if we pretend we don't know that the Badgers would be a 100% lock to make the playoffs at 13-0, there's about a one-sixth of one-percent chance the Doomsday Scenario ensnares them. So let's talk about something else. 

How about college basketball?


  1. Totally agree!
    I have been fighting this fight all week.
    A) unlikely we go undefeated in last 4 games, or that any team would go undefeated in those 4 games.
    B) If we do, super unlikely any scenario happens that doesn't include us getting in.
    There are only 8 teams out there that could theoretically beat us out, and many of those play each other. There will be lots of carnage this weekend. Can't wait to hear everyone changing their stories next week if Bucky beats Iowa.

  2. Agreed - I'm more worried about the Badgers winning out than anything else