Morning Five: 09.28.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on September 28th, 2012

  1. And so it begins? The NCAA has fairly or unfairly taken a beating in recent months over its handling of just about everything from its use of player likenesses to academic scandals to jewelry purchases to replacement refs (ok, maybe not the last one). For the most part, the federal and state governments have kept their noses out of it, preferring to let the NCAA as a private organization operate under its own auspices. But with billions of dollars flowing through the nation’s top athletic universities via lucrative sports media deals, and a general sentiment held by the public that the NCAA fosters an environment of exploiting its student-athletes, California governor Jerry Brown on Thursday signed a bill called the “Student-Athlete Bill of Rights.” This new law, which by virtue of their size will only impact the four Pac-12 schools located in the Golden State, will require greater protections for the players at those schools in terms of medical coverage, scholarship guarantees, and due process. The law is the first of its kind in the nation, and other states are no doubt watching closely to determine if they want to follow suit. We’ll have more on this interesting and important topic later today.
  2. Luke Winn has been in his Brooklyn-based math lab crunching the numbers in anticipation of the new college basketball season, and as always, his insights answer questions that most people didn’t even know they had. In his latest piece at, Winn explores the “exploitable gap” in balancing the scheduling of non-conference games for the purpose of maximum RPI juice while not particularly taxing the team in its bottom line (taking losses). He finds two case studies of “Scheduleball” to illustrate his point — Pittsburgh under Jamie Dixon, and Colorado State under Tim Miles — with each showing how the formula of scheduling top 50 and top 100 opponents and avoiding games against teams in the bottom 100 of the RPI is a key recipe for success. There are other ways to manipulate schedules to your RPI advantage, of course, but as Winn clearly argues, as long as the formula continues to use winning percentage as a proxy for schedule strength, there will continue to be flaws in the RPI system.
  3. While we continue on the theme of smart people doing smart things, the US Supreme Court will reconvene for its October term on Capitol Hill next week. One of the most controversial cases that it will consider next month has gotten the notice of many head coaches around the game because the issue involves the holistic approach of using race as a factor in college admissions decisions. While the cynics out there might believe that the self-interested coaches are merely trying to protect their own players in their defense of affirmative action, the truth is that athletes are usually admitted through other loopholes anyway. But their interest in the law (last upheld by SCOTUS in 2003) is to ensure a diverse campus environment that their players will find welcoming beyond the basketball court. This can play a huge role in recruiting, especially when often dealing with athletes largely from minority communities. Oral arguments will occur on October 10 with a decision due next spring.
  4. Alabama head coach Anthony Grant has gradually improved his Crimson Tide program since arriving in Tuscaloosa just over three years ago. His first team struggled, but he followed that up with an NIT runner-up finish in 2010-11 and an NCAA appearance in 2011-12, the school’s first since 2006. His teams get after it defensively and there’s no reason to believe given this recruiting and coaching abilities that the Tide will drop off from the NCAA level anytime soon. His bosses have noticed, as Grant was rewarded this week with a one-year extension through the 2018-19 season and a raise to $1.9 million per year (ahem, still well below Nick Saban’s  $5.6 million per year deal). With many of the traditional “SEC West” basketball programs still in transition, Grant has a golden opportunity over the next five years to turn Alabama into the top program in that geographic slice of the conference.
  5. We’ll finish with something from earlier this week on Ken Pomeroy‘s site. According to the stats guru, there were only 17 games last season where a team had less than a one percent chance of winning at any point during the game and came back to do so. The only game most of us were likely to have watched finished at #8 on his list — the early February Duke vs. North Carolina game in Chapel Hill — also known as the Austin Rivers shot game. With UNC up 10 points and 2:38 remaining on the clock, Pomeroy’s win probability states that the Blue Devils at that point only had a 0.62% chance to win the game. For those of us more accustomed to Vegas-style odds to make sense of the world, that converts to a 1-in-162 chance. And yet, “Duke would have just five possessions left and went 3, 3, 2, 2, 3 to finish.”  And remember, that game represents only the eighth least likely comeback — get over there to read about the 16 others.
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NCAA D1 Athlademic Ratings

Posted by rtmsf on August 30th, 2007

We came across this table last week, but haven’t had time to properly analyze it until today.  An organization called the National Collegiate Scouting Assn. (NCSA) evaluated how schools are doing in their totality by ranking them in the classroom and on the fields of play, using the US News academic and Sears Cup athletic rankings as their evaluative criteria. 

If they’d just stopped there, we’d have no problem with their rankings.  However, they also felt a need to add a third criterion – the NCAA’s school graduation rates for student-athletes, which have been long derided as archaic, inconsistent and generally not useful as a tool for determining how well a school is serving and educating its student-athletes.  Use of these graduation rates as a performance measure ultimately results in a reductio ad absurdum situation where an elite academic and athletic instutition like Stanford is penalized because an obviously articulate and well-rounded athlete such as Tiger Woods did not formally graduate before turning pro.  


A Relevant Indicator?  Not Here

And not only that, the NCSA decided to weight graduation rates equally (each counting one-third) with the academic and athletic ratings.  We could probably live with its inclusion if its weight was substantially minimized, but not as it currently exists.  Nevertheless, here is the NCSA list.  See Table A below.

Table A.  NCSA Division I Power Ratings 

NCSA Ratings v.5

Ok, so we have no problem with many of the schools at the top – HYP, Duke, Stanford, Rice, the other usual suspects…  But look at some of the more dubious schools that piggyback a high graduation rate (and not much else) into the top 50 – UMass-Lowell??  Bentley??  Coastal Carolina??  The NCSA cannot be serious.


According to the NCSA, Bentley Does Better Than Cal & Texas as an Academic/Athletic School

Additionally, consider the schools who do not have athletes who would normally be inclined to leave school early for the pros, train for the Olympics or seek more playing time elsewhere (not even benchwarmers leave Harvard).  The NCAA penalizes schools with transfers under its current metric for determining graduation rates.  Therefore, the Ivies, W&M, Furman, Drury, etc., all fare well in Table A because of the disproportionate weight given by the NCSA to graduation rates.  The bigger state schools that have excellent academics and athletics, yet are more vulnerable to market forces and playing time considerations – Michigan, UNC, Virginia, UCLACal – are all penalized using the NCSA method. 

So let’s take a look at what the NCSA should look like, by eliminating the graduation rates and simply comparing academic success and athletic success.  See Table B below.

Table B.  Division I Ratings (US News + Sears Cup)

NCSA New Rankings

That’s more like it.  Stanford is in its rightful place at #1 (how could the #4 national university and 13-time defending Sears Cup winner not be?), and all the schools we’d expect to be near the top of such a list are there.  Look at some of the highest risers – Johns Hopkins went from 59th to 3d; Cal from 88th to 5th; Texas from 78th to 14th; Wisconsin from 45th to 10th. 

This list is instructive in the sense that it shows which schools are getting the most out of its academic and athletic programs, but the NCSA flubs it my weighing graduation rates on par with the other two much more informative criteria.  Maybe they’ll do better next year.     

Update:  a UCLA fan rightfully questioned us as to why the Bruins and crosstown rival USC were not originally included on our list.  After a few moments of thought, we realized that the NCSA list didn’t have either school in its top 100!!!  This can only mean that the LA schools’ respective graduation rates were so low that its weight carried both schools outside the NCSA top 100 D1 schools, essentially proving our point about the ridiculousness of its weighting system.  UCLA (#25 US News and #2 Sears Cup) would earn a rating of 13.5 in our system, which would place the Bruins #4 on our overall list.  USC (#27 US News and #5 Sears Cup) would earn a rating of 16.0, placing the Trojans #7 overall. 

Update #2:  After reviewing NCSA’s data, we decided a whole new post was warranted.  We revamp the entire list and also take a look at how the BCS conferences stack up in our Athlademic Ratings – Revised

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