Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Scheduling to improve your Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) - The Prisoner's Dilemma

Nearly every week I find myself in conversations about how to schedule in a manner that benefits the Ratings Percentage Index. It comes up because the RPI is woven throughout the selection process for at-large bids to the NCAA tournament. Everyone wants to know, how do I improve my team's RPI and how does our conference get more bids to the NCAA Tournament? The easy answer is to win every game against the toughest schedule in the country. But as I wrote in an earlier post regarding college baseball, winning games isn't enough. It isn't valued highly enough in the current formula. What matters most is your opponent's record. It is this reality that suggests The Prisoner's Dilemma, a classic problem in game theory, may provide guidance. The following is an excellent explanation (in italics) from Wikipedia.

In its classical form, the prisoner's dilemma (PD) is presented as follows: Two suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated both prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal. If one testifies (defects) for the prosecution against the other and the other remains silent, the betrayer goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence. If both remain silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence. Each prisoner must choose to betray the other or to remain silent. Each one is assured that the other would not know about the betrayal before the end of the investigation. How should the prisoners act? (The graphic to the left illustrates the problem, using 20 years and 1 year instead of 10 years and 6 months but the premise remains unchanged.)

If we assume that each player prefers shorter sentences to longer ones, and that each gets no utility out of lowering the other player's sentence, and that there are no reputation effects from a player's decision, then the prisoner's dilemma forms a non-zero-sum game in which two players may each cooperate with or defect from (i.e., betray) the other player. In this game, as in all game theory, the only concern of each individual player (prisoner) is maximizing his/her own payoff, without any concern for the other player's payoff. The unique equilibrium for this game is a Pareto-suboptimal solution—that is, rational choice leads the two players to both play defect even though each player's individual reward would be greater if they both played cooperatively.

In the classic form of this game, cooperating is
strictly dominated by defecting, so that the only possible equilibrium for the game is for all players to defect. No matter what the other player does, one player will always gain a greater payoff by playing defect. Since in any situation playing defect is more beneficial than cooperating, all rational players will play defect, all things being equal.

So what does the prisoner's dilemma have to do with scheduling and the RPI?
Just as in the prisoner's dilemma where criminals are seeking an optimal outcome, teams are facing a "scheduling dilemma" - that is, trying to determine the best choice to achieve an optimal outcome, in this case an NCAA bid and secondarily a higher seed in the tournament.
In the prisoner's dilemma, there are two choices (defect or silent). Likewise in the scheduling dilemma there are 2 potential "choices", winning or losing an individual contest (and enhancing the possibility of winning, a function of the strength of an opponent).

In the Prisoner's Dilemma the two choices can produce four potential outcomes for each criminal - no jail time, six months, 5 years, or 10 years in jail. In the scheduling dilemma the two choices can only result in two potential outcomes - a tournament bid via at-large or an AQ selection or no tournament bid.

The dilemma for the scheduler is whether to schedule difficult teams to potentially enhance your RPI while simultaneously increasing the possibility of losing OR scheduling weak teams which will hurt your RPI but simultaneously increase your winning percentage. Scheduling independently, just as in the prisoner's dilemma where the prisoner's do not speak to one another, teams will opt for the first choice - scheduling strong opponents - because it appears to be in their best interest and because they are unsure of what the actions of their conference partners will be.

But unlike the prisoner's dilemma, teams are not constrained by separation and can freely discuss their non-conference scheduling intentions. It is this key difference that leads me to believe that communication between conference members can (and in some cases may already) effect conference RPI rankings by having all conference members take steps to insure high winning percentages. Some of this is due to the quality of the conference's teams (because some teams are of course substantially better than others and have superior resources) but some is due to scheduling in a manner that is conducive to high winning percentages (e.g. consistently/exclusively scheduling weaker teams, playing the vast majority of games at home, etc.). Obviously winning games is important for enhancing the RPI, but having your conference members achieve high winning percentages is more valuable than winning yourself because the most important factor in the RPI is who you play. This factor is then compounded by the opponent's opponent's winning percentage - the majority of whom are your conference peers - because of the multiple contests against one another far exceed any other set of common opponents.

While it is true that all the schedule planning you undertake is irrelevant if you don't win games, if the goal is to optimize the winning percentage of your opponents, having all conference members agree to compete against lesser opponents helps this occur.

The math seems to suggest that cooperative (perhaps even collusive) scheduling could enhance a team's RPI. While this doesn't guarantee selection into the NCAA tournament, the enhancement of a team's RPI (and just as importantly their conference peers' RPI) through this method begins to make selection more likely for many reasons including:

  • Numbers are concrete and easily understood - if asked to defend the selection or non-selection of a team, its difficult to argue with a formula based rank; and

  • The vast majority of comparisons that occur during NCAA selections are based on the RPI (e.g. record vs the Top 25 in the RPI, record vs the the top 50, the top 100, strength of schedule, non-conference strength of schedule, etc.)

These comparisons are particularly crucial when the last at-large spots for an NCAA tournament are being selected. Typically, two types of teams compete for the last at-large spots: a) additional representatives from a conferences that already have numerous bids; or b) teams from conferences trying to get a second bid in addition to their conference automatic qualifier, who are often strong second place teams or first place teams from weaker conferences who are upset in their conference tournament.

Generally teams from "power conferences" get more at-large bids. This can happen for a number of reasons. Ideally, it will be because the team is truly better. Skeptics will argue that it is due to brand name recognition, history, tradition or politics. But another possible reason is that the committee when choosing these final teams constantly compares the criteria cited above along with information such as:

  • an individual team's performance against teams already in the tournament; and

  • an individual team's performance against team's under consideration for selection.

The resulting selection of "power conference teams" reflects a rational choice by selection committees because there are so many more "defensible" points of comparison on which to base a decision, and these points of comparison are often conference opponent comparisons. Weaker teams from stronger conferences compare favorably through a halo effect from their conference partners. Stronger teams from weaker conferences simply have fewer comparison points and are not able to benefit from a similar halo. Indeed the rising tide lifts all boats. So you have to make the tide rise. How?

When it comes to athletic scheduling and the RPI, there are only 2 things you can control, who you play and your team's performance (which effects winning or losing). Thus, when using a formula that weights the winning percentage of your opponent more highly than other factors, creating high winning percentages for the opponents you play most often (other conference members) makes perfect sense. And this is best achieved through collective conference efforts to win - with superior talent and/or beneficial scheduling.

Most teams will continue to struggle with the dilemma's of scheduling because there are so many other factors that influence scheduling decisions in addition to the RPI - the need to generate revenue or cut costs, maintaining traditional rivals, enhancing the student athlete experience and the like. Further, just as in the prisoner's dilemma, you have to trust your partner in crime to do the right thing or else you suffer and they benefit. The result is that most teams will continue to act independently. But there's a reason the same conferences are highly represented in the post season every year - they win games and have top teams, but when the last selections are made, some teams may appear better than they truly are. Creating the appearance of quality through independent scheduling is hard. You need help from your conference "friends" - truly a prisoner's dilemma.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Financial solutions for college athletic budgets: Part 2 - Conference and national options

On the heels of an article about Stanford's potential staff reductions and/or elimination of teams, ultimatesportsinsider.com listed numerous things college athletic programs can consider to reduce spending during these difficult economic times. The challenge with many of these suggestions is the concern that they will reduce competitiveness or imply a reduced commitment to athletics. This concern is the driving force behind part two of the series - conference and NCAA level changes to reduce costs through collective action while maintaining a level playing field as budgets decline. These changes are harder to achieve because they will require leadership beyond the institution and will be subject to political jockeying and self interest stances. In the national spirit of hopefulness, suggestions include:

  • Limit permissible recruiting dates - Recruiting is the lifeblood of all college athletic programs, and having sufficient opportunities to recruit is important. But the number of days available for off campus contacts and evaluations is excessive in many sports when one considers that many recruiting opportunities occur in tryout or tournament settings where literally hundreds of athletes are seen at one time. Dana O'Neil's column following the tragic death of Wake Forest Basketball Coach Skip Prosser added additional rationale beyond budget implications. Further, the absolute explosion of video, scouting services, Internet information and other resources makes these calendars, which have evolved very little over the years increasingly archaic relative to how recruiting used to occur 20 or 30 years ago when technology wasn't as readily available. The madness is replicated in all sports - because the day you aren't out there, someone is stealing your bacon. Rational recruiting calendars are needed in many sports.

  • Reduce or eliminate out of season competition - Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley called out the currently permissible practice of allowing teams to travel around the country for out of season competition. Staffing, officials, travel, and meals all add significant budgetary pressure for games that are meaningless.

  • Reduce out of season practice opportunities - “Do we really need to have a nontraditional season?” Mr. Curley said in an interview. “We’ve got kids going 365 days a year. Maybe this is an opportunity to give them a little down time.” This suggestion and the one above might get some traction coming from a Big Ten Conference athletic director.

  • Scale back or eliminate post season conference tournaments - Perhaps its a reflection of my current Ivy League environment, which offers fewer post season tournaments than the national norm, but does every sport need a conference tournament? Should a conference that has historically only had their automatic qualifier participate in the NCAA's risk not sending their regular season champion and best representative to post-season play? If the conference permits all teams to participate in a post-season tournament, what's the point of the regular season besides determining seeding? In some cases, there may be an economic incentive (the Big East Men's Basketball Tournament for example). But most of these events have significant expense and insignificant revenue.

  • Take conference-wide collective action on shared areas of expense - Part one in this series made numerous suggestions related to media guides, staff sizes, travel party sizes and practice and competitive start dates. Leadership at the conference and NCAA levels can reduce expenses for member institutions while maintaining competitive balance.

  • Doubleheaders in baseball and softball - Baseball and softball each have schedules and traditions that can easily accommodate doubleheaders to decrease the number of dates of competition and therefore the associated travel costs. Let's play two!

  • Do a cost/benefit analysis of environmental resource usage - Two examples come to mind - using stadium lights during broad daylight for television broadcasts and the current practice by many field hockey programs of watering AstroTurf fields . The water and energy aren't free and these are hard to defend environmentally. The analysis can determine if the use is truly necessary.

  • Move starting and championship dates to make seasons more traditional - Hockey, a winter sport, played its first regular season game on October 10. The two teams in the championship game at Frozen Four will conclude their season on April 11 - a six month span that is nearly seven months when exhibition play in SEPTEMBER is included in the equation. Football,volleyball, soccer, field hockey largely begin practice during the first week of August. Lacrosse, baseball, softball, tennis, golf and the rest of the spring sports start practice in early January and competition in early February. We all love sports, but the continued expansion of season length is expensive.

  • Officiating costs - Conferences are competing to get the best officials for their games through differential wages. The result is increased officiating costs every year. Further, officiating crews are expanding. Men's and women's hockey just added a fourth official. Men's basketball has used three officials for years. Baseball umpiring crews continue to expand. Video replay is becoming an expectation in many sports. These costs add up quickly.

  • Permit technology in recruiting - While initial entry costs for technology can be high, these costs decline quickly as the technology becomes more commonplace (compare cost and quality of the first flat screen TVs, cell phones, computers, etc. with what we are using today). Conferences and the NCAA need to aggressively pursue technology solutions as they emerge rather than regulating them out of fear over technology distorting competitive balance. Technology has the potential to be a cost effective competitive equalizer.

  • Review conference travel squad limits - Significant savings might be found here. For example, reducing the travel squad in basketball from 14 to 13 could save nearly the financial equivalent (depending on flight needs, meals, hotel rooming arrangements, etc.) of playing one less road game if the team plays 14 road games in a season. Indeed every sport could experience similar savings by examining the actual participation rates in games over the previous two or three seasons to determine how many of the individuals on the sideline actually participate. While some will argue that leaving athletes home harms the student athlete experience, this diminished experience is far preferable to cutting a team and eliminating the experience completely.

While these ideas will not be popular with everyone, actions of last resort such as staffing cuts or eliminating teams will become more likely in a worsening economy if there is no willingness to share the burdens of the current economic environment. I encourage you to comment and provide additional ideas through this forum as well as to conference commissioners and in the NCAA legislative process.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Financial solutions for college athletic budgets: Part 1 Institutional Ideas

This is the first of two articles from ultimatesportsinsider.com about athletic budgets, prompted by the previous post about the athletic budget issues being faced at Stanford. The focus of this article is to identify potential areas for college and university athletic programs to consider when looking for savings. While every institution is different many of these ideas are likely applicable across many departments.

  • Pull out the budget - You've already done it, but looking at every area of spending again and again is crucial and can help unearth areas that aren't as lean as they could be.

  • Examine your processes - ultimatesportsinsider.com talked about Kaizen earlier, a process that is used by the Japanese to cut costs while improving performance.

  • Examine event management staff - costs add up quickly in this area - ushers, ticket takers, custodial and security staff are all important, but can they be redistributed in a manner that reduces staffing costs while maintaining safety and security?

  • Generalization or specialization - Think rationally about issues of staff specialization if openings occur through attrition. Most staffs in Division I athletics have become increasingly specialized - Consider basketball's explosion in staff sizes to the point where there is often nearly a 1 to 1 ratio of staff to student athletes. Common institutional responsibilities for just one team (with just 13 athletes) include: head coach; assistant coach (3); director of player personnel; director of basketball operations; assistant director of basketball operations; basketball operations coordinator; academic support specialist; strength coach; athletic trainer; film and video coordinator and sports information director. Some of these positions are specialized for a reason, but other positions may be redundant and worthy of elimination through attrition.

  • Fly or drive? - The cost of flying is significantly greater than chartering a bus. A rule of thumb to consider - if travel by bus will take less than 7 hours (one way) from the time a team departs campus until the team arrives at its destination, it will probably take only slightly less time to fly and not be significant enough of a difference to justify the difference in costs.

  • Reduce meal money for athletes when traveling - If a team eats together, do so outside the hotel where meals can be significantly more expensive.

  • Use corporate partners - Ask the school to which you are traveling to identify their corporate partners and a contact person so that you can negotiate discounts in conjunction with their partnership. Be sure to reciprocate and offer the same to the visitors you are hosting. Not only can it save money, but it enhances the return on investment for the corporate partner.

  • Schedule more local non-conference contests - And travel on the day of the game, not overnight.

  • Reduce or eliminate competition in the non-traditional season.

  • Reduce the size of your media guides - or even eliminate them. It's unlikely there is anything in your media guide you don't already have on your website.

  • Cut down on over-night mail - Does your package really need to be there the next day?

  • Tighten equipment and apparel allocations

  • Defer high-end maintenance - Keep doing the important regular maintenance to keep your physical plant healthy (it's similar to changing your oil every 3,000 miles or getting your teeth cleaned every six months- you avoid expensive major problems). Larger projects should be analyzed to determine if they are a "need" or a "want".

  • Reduce the size of your motor pool

  • Negotiate discounts into corporate sponsorship agreements

  • Turn off the lights and computers in empty facilities and offices

  • Turn down the heat and the air conditioning

  • Reduce training table

  • Schedule staff members in a non-traditional work week (e.g. Wednesday - Sunday) to avoid overtime costs for weekend work.

  • Examine web hosting costs

  • Reduce travel party sizes

  • Eliminate hotel stays for home games

  • Reduce building hours and restrict team practices to scheduled times within those hours

  • Bring fall teams back to campus later than the permissible start date to reduce preseason meal and housing expenses.

Some of these suggestions are easier to implement than others. The highly competitive environment of college athletics may make people reluctant to show less "commitment" or leave a program in a less competitive position. To that end, part two of this series will provide ideas to be considered by conferences and the NCAA so that collective action can save resources for all while maintaining a level playing field.

Stanford budget announcement suggests trouble on the horizon

A San Jose Mercury News report that Stanford University Athletics is in the midst of considering staff reductions and the possibility of eliminating teams is perhaps the most ominous sign for college athletics that serious economic times are ahead. Stanford supports a broad based athletic program and has among the best facilities, coaches, academics and weather of any school in the NCAA. Most importantly, its financial muscle is second to none. Stanford Athletics, according to their 2006-07 annual report, had over $500,000,000 in endowments supporting their athletic program. Yes, you read that right, $500 million. As context, there are 785 colleges and universities in the 2006-07 Chronicle of Higher Education endowment report - Stanford's athletic endowment was bigger than 80% of the institutional endowments in the rankings.

The market values of Stanford's athletic and institutional endowments (valued at $17.1 billion during the same time period) have taken a huge hit, not unlike the losses suffered across higher education. If one of the strongest athletic programs in the country (Stanford has won 14 straight NACDA Directors' Cups) is discussing options of last resort - cutting staff and dropping teams - college athletics may be facing a bursting bubble similar to banks, auto manufactures and the housing market.

It is increasingly clear that corporate sponsorships, donations and ticket revenues are going to shrink and that athletic budgets are going to face challenges. Meaningful solutions are needed at the institutional, conference and national levels. Ultimatesportsinsider.com will provide suggestions in the coming days about ways to reduce costs at all three levels.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The (in)significance of rank in the RPI

In an earlier article, I analyzed the recently proposed changes to the college baseball Ratings Percentage Index (RPI). The RPI's mathematical calculation, which is used to create a number that is calculated to at least four decimal places (e.g. 0.5427), has been well documented. This four decimal number is then used to provide a rank ordering of all teams. Published rankings of the RPI by the NCAA present an interesting but limited view (in that it simultaneously fuels speculation and provides clarity about the worth of one team over another) of how a team will be viewed by an NCAA selection committee.

The ongoing challenge with the RPI in all sports is the perception that it represents a precise measure of one team's quality over another because it is a numeric calculation. This sense of precision is then further reinforced because published RPI listings from the NCAA only provide the rank order of teams, without providing the supporting number that can show incredibly narrow differences (in some cases 1/10,000 of 1 point or less) between teams. The RPI as both a selection tool and information piece for the public could be adjusted in three ways to increase its value.

  1. All versions (public and private) of the RPI should provide the actual calculated number (to four decimal places) for each team so that the magnitude of difference between two teams can be readily understood;

  2. Calculation of the RPI should determine if the differences between each team are statistically significant; and

  3. When the RPI calculation determines that differences between teams are NOT statistically significant, the subsequent rank ordering of teams should list teams these teams as tied in the rankings.

These minor adjustments would clarify public perceptions about the role that RPI plays in at-large selection process for the NCAA Championships. While the RPI is only one tool available for selection, it is a tool that is used repeatedly as a standard measure across which to make comparisons of teams and conferences. These changes would also improve the accuracy of the RPI while providing an on-going reminder that the the RPI is an imperfect tool for selection committees going through their most important duty - determining worthiness of a team to compete for a national championship.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Wrong ball sends the wrong message

Youth sports should be about teaching fundamentals, sportsmanship and love of the game. But if you type the term "wrong ball" into www.youtube.com, you will find numerous videos that show adult coached teams of young football players tricking their opponents for a resulting touchdown.

Watching the video points out everything that can be wrong with youth sports, namely "adults" who think they are mini Steve Spurriers and spend time figuring out unsavory ways to outsmart 11 year old kids for their own personal glory.

This bad idea should have been recognized by the officials as what it is - unsportsmanlike conduct by the coach - and they should have assessed a 15 yard penalty.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Kaizen - An economic solution for athletic budgets?

The current economic situation has everyone searching for ways to save money. A recent article by Julie Carr Smyth of the Associated Press examines the steps that state governments are taking to eliminate red tape - and hopefully obtain savings for tax payers. The process is called Kaizen.

The premise is to gather people throughout an organization and have them pursue continuous improvement to eliminate waste, save time and improve their end product, not only for themselves but for their customers as well.

It may be as simple as asking "Why" five times.

Gathering the key individuals in any process and examining why their process is as it is - "Why do you do what you do?" - can educate people about their role in the organization. Critical analysis and justification - providing a rationale - can create major improvements. The process is so successful that books written about the success of automobile manufacturer Toyota cite Kaizen as an important part of their organization - and we all know how well Toyota is doing.

As athletic programs and higher education search for savings, might Kaizen provide answers? Potential processes to examine include:
  • Ticket office
  • Business office
  • Facilities
  • Equipment room
  • Academic advising
  • Athletic communications
  • Fundraising
  • Athletic Medicine

The list is likely endless.

Cutting budgets and adjusting to the current economic reality may be difficult, but Kaizen may uncover smart solutions that not only leave your core whole, but make it stronger while saving valuable financial resources.

- ultimatesportsinsider.com

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

College Baseball RPI - Winning isn't everything, it's only 1/4 of the thing

Baseball America reporter Aaron Fit recently wrote about a proposal from University of West Virginia Baseball Coach Greg VanZandt to change the college baseball Ratings Percentage Index (RPI). The proposal calls for increasing the value for winning a game on the road while reducing the value of a win at home. This is similar to the college basketball RPI changes instituted a few years ago.

The proposal is a positive step, but the changes will still leave the RPI well short of an ideal tool to assist in NCAA post season selection because the primary factor to which the change is applied (winning percentage) is under weighted - thus any increased value is minimized. Here's why:

  • The RPI formula is based on a team's winning percentage, its opponents winning percentage, and its opponent's opponents winning percentage, which are weighted to determine their RPI score. Baseball weights its RPI as .25 for winning percentage, .50 for opponents' winning percentage, and .25 for the opponents' opponents' winning percentage. The weighted values of these three categories are then added together to obtain a raw RPI score. The teams are then rank ordered based on this score, a ranking that is imperfect in its current form.

So what's the problem?

There are many, but in a nutshell, 75% of the RPI is a measure of strength of schedule (your opponents' win percentage, and your opponents' opponents' winning percentage), which may or may not tell you the quality of a team. The RPI provides a strong measure of very good teams from better conferences. Its weakness is making meaningful distinctions between teams who are "on the bubble" come NCAA Tournament selection time.

Because the RPI emphasizes who you played over how you performed, weaker teams in the major conferences benefit while strong teams in weaker conferences appear less worthy of inclusion in the tournament.

Which brings us back to the original proposal - providing more value for a road win and less for a home win. How much difference will this make?

To some extent I agree with NCAA statistics guru Jim Wright who believes the change will make very little difference because, "if you're a good team, you're still winning the majority of those games anyway." This is indeed true.

What Wright doesn't add is that regardless of who wins, the difference will be small because the RPI understates the value of winning and over-emphasizes the record of your opponents. The weighting of the RPI is such that the majority of the benefits from this change cannot begin to overcome the three times greater emphasis on who you and your opponents played as compared to how you performed against them.

Under the current system, if you had an undefeated season, the maximum RPI value would be .2500. Under the proposed formula, an undefeated season played entirely on the road (a winning percentage of 1.250 multiplied by the same .25 weighting) results in a maximum value for win percentage of .3125 - a difference of .0625. But this "improvement" diminishes rapidly when applied in real life for a number of reasons -

  1. For most teams a highly respectable winning percentage is .650, not 1.000, A .650 winning percentage under the old system is equivalent to a .8125 if every game were to be played on the road. Under this scenario, the maximum possible improvement drops from .0625 to .0406. In reality, 1/3rd of the maximum adjustment from the proposal isn't obtainable.

  2. The benefit isn't significant enough to get teams to change their scheduling patterns. The same teams will continue to play at home, due to weather and economics (since unlike basketball, non-conference scheduling in baseball typically consists of three-game series played in February and March). For teams that play nearly all non-conference games at home against inferior competition (consider 2008 season examples Virginia - 21-4 non-conference, ZERO non-conference road games; and Duke - 24-0 non conference, 4 non-conference road games) the reduction in the value of a home win is irrelevant because they will still aim to enter conference play with a gaudy win percentage built against significantly weak or unprepared teams. When all conference members agree to do the same thing (which is clearly happening), the RPI benefits multiply. The RPI is built through institutionally controlled non-conference scheduling, and when conference play begins the most heavily weighted factor of the RPI - opponents' win percentage begins to compound because of the third criteria, opponents' opponents' win percentage.

  3. The home team winning 60% of the time is misleading. While this has been confirmed by the NCAA when looking at the 2008 season in total, it masks the early season domination that occurs year after year when the home field advantages are magnified due to weather and the travel demands that accompany teams playing 10-14 games in 10 days as part of a spring break trip when they haven't even practiced outside.

Greg VanZandt deserves credit for his proposal and its rational, well documented approach that would change an old saying to "Its not whether you win or lose, its where you play the game."

Further, this is a proposal that should be adopted by the NCAA Baseball Committee, because it uses well reasoned math and it would represent an acknowledgement of the inequity faced by teams due to geography while answering critics of the current RPI. But there is little chance this will significantly alter the RPI rankings. For it to have meaningful impact, greater emphasis on a team's actual winning percentage in the RPI is needed - in this case valuing a team's winning percentage as .33 of the calculation instead of .25, a shift of just 8 percentage points. The 8 percentage points can be taken from the weighting for the opponents' opponents' winning percentage, placing the majority of the emphasis in the RPI where it should be, on who you played and how you performed against them.

Skeptics will contend that this will simply encourage teams to play a weaker schedule in order to pad their win percentage and make the RPI less valuable. While that might be possible, could the "padding" that skeptics cite really be worse than what is currently occurring in the Duke and Virginia examples cited above or among many other teams with similar scheduling patterns?

Vince Lombardi said "winning isn't everything, it's the only thing".

Under the current RPI formula, "Winning isn't everything, it's only one-quarter of the thing." The proposal from Coach VanZandt presents a perfect time to analyze additional data and make another meaningful change that will value winning more - for the benefit of college baseball.

- ultimatesportsinsider.com

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Buffalo a winner in International Bowl

As a follow up to my earlier article about the institutional benefits from the University at Buffalo's appearance in the International Bowl, watching the game on ESPN provided further evidence of the value that an athletic program can bring to a university. Although UConn won the game 38-20, UB used their public service announcements throughout the game in short 10 second spots that highlighted brief but memorable accomplishments by the University that serve society, including:
  • The development of medicine for premature infants,

  • Techniques that have increased math scores in pre-kindergarten children 50%,

  • Sustainability initiatives for communities in the Cloud Forest of Costa Rica,

  • Earthquake engineering to build improved bridges and buildings,

  • Pharmacy advances to help AIDS patients in Africa, and

  • Specialized business training for non-profit organizations

In addition, Buffalo continued to get significant positive mention for the decision of the 1958 Lambert Cup team to skip the Tangerine Bowl due to discriminatory practices, including:

  • Interviews with members of the 1958 team,

  • Patches remembering the 1958 team on the uniforms,

  • Inclusion of the 1958 team members in this year's bowl team photo, and

  • A statement from the Governor of New York that was read during the broadcast.

Its worth noting that the University of Connecticut also had the same opportunity for institutional publicity. They used their 60 seconds in two PSA's to focus on the idea of being a lifelong fan of UConn in a piece that was obviously aimed at alumni. While it likely resonated with them, it didn't take advantage of a chance to educate them about the positive public service that UConn is certainly also performing.

Buffalo Athletic Director Warde Manuel should again be commended for bringing his vision and experience to bear in Buffalo's first bowl appearance to provide memorable and positive exposure for the entire University and the athletic program, regardless of the final score.

- ultimatesportsinsider.com