College sports rely heavily on rankings to form seedings for postseason play. Whenever rankings are involved it makes a playground for nerds. Take a look at three computer based rankings that take a nerd to understand.
BCS rankings – An average of three rankings. Two are human (Harris and USA Today polls) and the third is a computer based.
A key to understanding BCS (Bowl Championship Series) rankings is strength of schedule. A win over a quality team on the road is amazing. A win over a winless team at home does nothing for you. This is how teams like Alabama are credited with higher rankings playing in a tough conference. It is also why teams in weaker conferences like Boise State fall behind despite not losing a game.
As a nerd, you can hold your own in any college football conversation just by understanding that. Say something like “I think Alabama and Florida should play for the championship because they play in a brutal conference.” Or the “The SEC championship is the only game that matters if you ask me.” Heck you might think the SEC stands for Securities Exchange Commission and you’ll still sound knowledgeable even with obsessed football fans. They’ll still might disagree with you, but not to the point where they will give you a wedgie. Instead you’ll be upgraded to a punch to the face in a bar fight like the other jocks. Moving up in the world!
Sagarin rating – The Sagarin rating was created by Jeff Sagarin who lives in Indiana. Yea Hoosiers! This is an unbiased mathematical ranking system for every college football team. Margin of victory is a component of the rankings. As a result, the Sagarin rankings are more accurate as the season moves along as more mathematical data becomes available from each game played.
The Sagarin ratings are more extensive than the BCS rankings as it covers every team in Division 1. The Sagarin rankings are a good way of picking who will win a football game for novices or nerds. If a team is within three points of an opponent in the Sagarin rating, the underdog would still be the favorite at home. For example if Kansas State’s Sagarin rating is 80 and Oklahoma’s is 82, still pick Kansas State at home because it is within three points. Home field advantage will nullify Oklahoma’s slight edge in that case. In theory anyway.
Note that many jocks do not know the Sagarin rankings. It is that nerdy of a formula. Therefore, try not to mention the Sagarin rankings as your only evidence for picking a winner in a sports debate with your non-nerdy friends. For the above scenario say “I think these teams are evenly matched so I’m taking Kansas State at home.”
RPI – The Rating percentage index is the mean of three different categories for college basketball teams. Those categories are winning percentage, opponent’s winning percentage, and opponents opponents’ winning percentage. The second category of opponent’s winning percentage is weighted double of the other two.
RPI places a big emphasis on strength of schedule but also on winning games on the road. The latter being the toughest task in basketball.
RPI is a good tool to use to pick basketball games and is a great way to sound knowledgeable without following the college basketball season too closely. Just don’t say RPI as your only evidence. Saying “I think Duke will beat North Carolina because Duke has a better RPI” will cause strange looks. Heck you might get punched. Instead say “I think Duke is a proven road team so North Carolina should be no problem.”
In college sports, conference affiliations are a big deal. Each conference is like a Justice League giving memberships from 8 to 16 lucky people. Each conference has their own championship to give out and rivalries develop quickly between members. More importantly, each conference has its own television deals and bowl affiliations allowing it to rake in cash for its members. The more powerful the conference the better the reputation of its schools in the polls will be. To really know your stuff in a sports conversation you have to know the teams that are in a certain conference and know what conferences are superior.
This use to be a simple task as everything was based off of geography. The Southeastern Conference (SEC) is still easy as all of their teams are located in the southeast. If you consider Missouri and Kentucky part of the southeast that is.
Many conferences have lost their regional distinction in the last few years making things difficult. The Big Ten Conference use to be made up 10 schools near the Great Lakes. Now it is 14 schools stretching to New Jersey yet is still called the Big Ten. The Big 12 conference use to be a conference that had all the big schools along the Great Plains. Today West Virginia is a member. It is just not easy to memorize anymore.
Your best bet to learn a pecking order for the conferences and memorize the geographic center for each. I have created such a list by ranking the conferences as if they are science-fiction television shows. Please don’t argue about where I ranked your favorite show as it really is not the point of this.
1. Southeastern (SEC), Show comparison: Star Trek the Original Series
Key states: Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee
2. Big Ten, Show Comparison: Battlestar Galactica
Key states: Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin
3. PAC-12, Show Comparison: Firefly
Key states: California, Oregon, Arizona,
4. Big 12, Show Comparison: Stargate SG-1
Key states: Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas,
5. Atlantic Coast (ACC), Show Comparison: Doctor Who
Key states: Virginia, North Carolina
Those are the five main conferences in the NCAA. Being in one is awesome as schools are scrambling to enter. Conferences that are not as prestigious fall into these categories. That does not mean all the teams in the weaker conferences are bad. It does mean those schools will have a tougher time gaining respect in the polls.
6. Mountain West Conference, Show comparison: Star Trek Deep Space Nine
7: American, Show comparison: Babylon 5
8: Conference USA, Show comparison: Stargate Atlantis
9: Mid-American, Show comparison: Eureka
10: Sun Belt, Show comparison: Star Trek Voyager
These conferences have good teams but it’s not as good from top to bottom as the first five. Just like how Stargate Atlantis has some amazing episodes but then had some clunkers to go along. Many sports writers refer to the first five conferences a BCS conferences as their conference champion qualifies for BCS bowl. The bottom five are called Non-BCS conferences. These conference champions need a lot of help to get in to the club. Remember that there is another subdivision of Division I called Football Championship Subdivision. Yes, it is an ugly name so just call it FCS for short.
FCS conferences are step down from the Non-BCS leagues. Show comparisons would be like Andromeda, Special Unit 2, and Enterprise. Still capable of some good episodes but largely forgettable. Next comes Division 2 football and there conferences are even weaker. I’m talking Alphas, Earth’s Final Conflict, and Stargate Universe. It does get worse as there is Division 3. Show comparisons would be Glactica 1980 and Manimal. Think that is the bottom. You’re wrong. Another college sports league not part of the NCAA is around called the NAIA or National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. Quality of play here is more like an episode of Homeboys in Outer Space. That is the bottom.
Now you have a way to understand the college sports landscape and three tools to make yourself sound smart. You won’t become a Kirk Herbstreit right away, (just let it go if you don’t know who he is) but overtime you can fool people into thinking you are an NCAA expert. ESPN analysts have been doing that for decades so it is not hard.