Reductio Ad Absurdum: Gilmore's Michigan St. Argument

Reductio Ad Absurdum: Gilmore's Michigan St. Argument

ESPN’s Rod Gilmore played at Stanford and earned a law degree at Cal–and he is the one guy the selection committee should completely ignore when they announce their first college playoff seeds Tuesday. Gilmore seems to be one of those intellectuals who skipped common sense, as his playoff criteria would mean East Carolina, Clemson and West Virginia should be three of the four teams in the playoffs.

Gilmore usually handles analyst duties on the last ESPN game of the day out of the Pac-12. Week after week I have watched him put up his selections for the playoffs, and listened in disbelief to his logic for Michigan State.

After Michigan State lost at Oregon 46-27, Gilmore kept the Spartans just out of the playoff by insisting he had to reward them for scheduling tough out-of-conference games away from home because otherwise no one would schedule those games. He says that all he cares about in evaluating teams with the same number of losses is out-of-conference games away from home–he doesn’t care about conference games that you have to play anyway.

Last week he actually put Michigan State into the playoffs. Certainly someone could argue for the Spartans if they beat Ohio State next week because both have improved, but Gilmore’s insistence on including the Spartans because they lost by 19 at Oregon defies logic.

Reductio Ad Absurdum

There are so many ways to debunk Gilmore by following his argument to it’s absurd conclusion. Here are a few:

Reductio Ad Absurdum 1: If all that matters is a team playing out-of-conference games away from home, then it is only logical that a team that plays two such games should go to the playoffs ahead of a Michigan State team that played just one such game. That leaves us with East Carolina (beat Virginia Tech, lost close game to South Carolina away from home), Clemson (lost to Georgia and a Florida State team with a backup quarterback) and West Virginia (beat Maryland and lost to Alabama away from home) as the first three teams in the playoffs. Remember, Gilmore just cares that you play these games, not how you do, since it is Michigan State’s 19-point loss that puts them in the playoff for Gilmore.

Reductio Ad Absurdum 2: Based on Gilmore’s logic, the result of the game does not matter. Only three teams have beaten a ranked non-conference team away from home–Florida State (Oklahoma State), Alabama (West Virginia) and Auburn (Kansas State). The first two were at neutral sites, meaning Auburn is the only ranked team in the country to actually beat a ranked team on the road–and yet Gilmore puts Michigan State above Auburn for a 19-point road loss. Beyond wins, wouldn’t the margin of victory in those games matter? Gilmore has Michigan State ahead of Notre Dame despite the fact that Michigan State lost by 19 to an Oregon team ranked lower than the Florida State team, which Notre Dame lost to only 31-27 on the road after the refs called back a game-winning touchdown. 

Reductio Ad Absurdum 3: The fact that conference games do not matter is absurd because that would mean every team had just as tough a conference schedule. By this logic, if East Carolina and Mississippi State both go undefeated in conference play, including Mississippi State winning the SEC title game, then East Carolina should be ranked ahead of Mississippi State because the conference records are “the same” and East Carolina has a non-conference road win and Mississippi State did not. Would it occur to Gilmore under this scenario that East Carolina had an 0-1 record against the SEC (losing to South Carolina) so there was no way the could have gone undefeated in the SEC like they did in Conference USA.

It is hard but not impossible to make the case for a Big Ten team in the playoffs. They have four ranked teams, and if we just look at their games against other Power Conferences, Ohio State was beaten badly at home by a weak Virginia Tech team, Minnesota was destroyed by TCU and, of course, Michigan State was killed at Oregon. The one impressive win among Big Ten ranked teams was Nebraska’s win over Miami, which looks like a very good team after beating up on Virginia Tech this week. 

However, I had Michigan State as a surprise playoff team at the beginning of the season, and if someone wants to argue that Michigan State and Ohio State have both improved so much during the season that the winner should go I have no problem with that. It could be that all the SEC teams have two losses and a one-loss Michigan State team has the case to be in the playoffs. However, to say the reason Michigan State should be in the playoffs is a 19-point loss, while other 1-loss teams did not lose by 19 in their only non-conference game against a Power 5 team, is truly absurd. You do not even have to reduce the argument to the absurd, it already is absurd and the Selection Committee should ignore every argument Gilmore makes for playoff teams moving forward.

I am sure Gilmore is much better in the courtroom. His college playoff logic is truly absurd.

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