Boyd's World-> Breadcrumbs Back to Omaha-> Dragging Them Down About the author, Boyd Nation

Dragging Them Down

Publication Date: October 29, 2002

I'm actually getting to do one from the mailbag this week, although there were some non-public details in the original message, so I won't reprint it. The question that came up, though, is whether there are conferences where most of the teams would be better off in the rankings if the worst team just disappeared.

Now, we think of conference makeup as being a fairly standard thing, but it's really not. Baseball conferences especially tend to vary quite a bit, since some of them, like the Big West, were constructed with baseball in mind, and some, like the Big East, are split between teams who want to excel and teams who would just as soon pretend the sport doesn't exist. If you look at the five-year ISR's, for example, you'll see that there are a couple of leagues where the top and bottom teams are over thirty points apart (Notre Dame and Georgetown; Bethune-Cookman and Maryland-Eastern Shore) and one where they're barely thirteen points apart (Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas-Little Rock). The distributions between the endpoints varies a good bit as well, from smooth distributions to one-or-two-dominant-teams setups to even splits between good and bad and everything in between.

Are there conferences where there are teams who would be much better off, though, if the worst program just left? I'm not suggesting that anyone be kicked out of their conference, of course, since there are lots of other good reasons for maintaining a steady conference membership -- year-to-year fluctuations in quality, for example, and reliability in scheduling (just look at the contortions that the potential members of the United States Baseball Conference are going through for a reminder of that aspect) -- but it's worth looking at whether it might behoove some of the better teams to put pressure on the bottom-feeders to upgrade the program (somebody's got to finish last, but you're better off if even they perform well outside the conference).

For the ISR's, it's possible to do something of an eyeball analysis -- at the first order, you're better off not playing any team more than 25 points below you, since even if you win, your rating drops. At the second order, it's not quite that simple, since if the mid-level teams in the conference beat the bottom guys, that raises their ratings a bit, which raises yours a bit, but the first-order effect usually works pretty well. The RPI doesn't lend itself to that sort of analysis all that well, so I decided to design a study.

For each conference, I took the worst program, as defined as the team with the lowest five-year ISR, and re-ran the 2002 results with that team eliminated. Then I checked to see who was helped most by eliminating those results. Here are the results.

Team Removed                   ISR                          RPI
                      Most Helped          Diff  Most Helped               Diff

Maryland              North Carolina State  1.3  Vermont                  0.006
Binghamton            Hartford              1.7  Hartford                 0.016
LaSalle               Drexel                1.0  Drexel                   0.007
Samford               Belmont               1.2  Alabama A&M              0.007
Kansas                Wisconsin-Milwaukee   1.6  Centenary                0.015
Georgetown            Rhode Island          0.8  Lafayette                0.012
High Point            Elon                  1.2  Furman                   0.008
Iowa                  Illinois              1.6  Illinois                 0.011
Cal State Sacramento  Fresno State          1.3  Fresno State             0.009
St. Louis             Memphis               1.5  Memphis                  0.009
Drexel                Rider                 1.4  Niagara                  0.011
Detroit Mercy         Central Michigan      1.5  Central Michigan         0.012
Cornell               Binghamton            0.8  Binghamton               0.009
St. Peter's           Duquesne              0.8  Lafayette                0.007
Buffalo               Southern Mississippi  0.9  Niagara                  0.008
UMES                  Pittsburgh            0.6  Pittsburgh               0.006
Bradley               SMSU                  1.2  Illinois-Chicago         0.006
Chicago State         Northwestern          0.9  Northwestern             0.009
Air Force             San Diego State       2.3  San Diego State          0.010
Mount St. Mary's      UMES                  0.9  Minnesota                0.005
Tennessee-Martin      Western Illinois      1.5  Western Illinois         0.011
Washington State      Kentucky              1.0  Kentucky                 0.009
Lafayette             Army                  2.6  Holy Cross               0.016
Vanderbilt            MTSU                  0.8  Middle Tennessee State   0.007
Prairie View A&M      Oklahoma State        0.6  Minnesota                0.005
Virginia Military     Coppin State          1.8  Coppin State             0.016
SE Louisiana          New Orleans           1.0  Jackson State            0.009
UALR                  Western Kentucky      1.3  Jackson State            0.014
Louisiana Tech        Louisiana-Monroe      1.3  Prairie View A&M         0.010
Portland              Pepperdine            1.8  Pepperdine               0.007

One quick observation is that some of these changes would be mildly significant -- for example, Hartford goes from #217 up to #205 in the RPI if you remove Binghamton. That's about as big as it gets, though; the coach's lament that a given team is costing the rest of the conference dozens of RPI spots just doesn't hold up. Removing Georgetown, to pick the most conspicious example, would have raised a few of the Big East teams by a handful of spots, none of which look likely to have affected seeding, and would have actually dragged a couple of them down lower. There's a slight advantage to the top team in most conferences if the bottom team goes away, but it's just not enough to justify the disruption. Another observation is that in about half these cases, the team helped most is outside the conference, which is not the desired effect at all.

These get skewed away from the abstract considerably, though, by the fact that even the worst teams in the conference tend to win a few conference games -- there are almost never (once or twice a season, basically) upsets in the 30-ISR-point difference range, but with three games between two teams 20 ISR points apart, the odds are about even that the lower team wins one -- so some teams benefit more by those games going away. The moral, then, is probably that, rather than concentrate on improving the worst team in your conference, you should probably concentrate on being sure that you beat them.

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Boyd's World-> Breadcrumbs Back to Omaha-> Dragging Them Down About the author, Boyd Nation