Daily Dribble: Conference Ranking

    
January 31st, 2007
In today's Dribble, I'm going to rank the conferences over the last decade. What I did is to take conference RPI numbers since 1999 (I know this only goes back 9 years but it is where the statistics on KenPom.com end), and sort them into a nice little chart. There have been some changes to the conferences over the years, but on the most part things remain the same.  The CUSA has changed the most, and I divided its numbers into two categories, the Old and New CUSA. After 2005, many of the top teams left for the Big East and the quality has obviously dropped since then. Also, the MWC did not exist prior to 2000, but the league was combined with the WAC. Also of note, the Horizon League used to be called the Midwestern Collegiate Conference.. but they are one and the same.

I only charted the Top 15 leagues over this period. People talk about the difference between the BCS leagues and the Mid-Majors, but there is an equal gap between the Top 15 conferences and the bottom tier of conferences. In fact, since 1999, it has been just as rare for a non BCS league to break into the Top 6 as it has been for one of the bottom half of the conferences to break into the Top 15. These occurrences are the MAAC (13th) and Sun Belt (14th) in 1999, Big Sky (14th) in 2000, MAAC (14th) in 2001, Ivy (13th) in 2002, Sun Belt (15th) in 2003, Sun Belt (13th) in 2005, and the MAAC (14th) in 2006. You'll notice the MAAC and Sun Belt are mentioned most often in that list and those teams would be the next best conferences had I extended the ranking more. (Those two are struggling this year though as neither is in the Top 20.)

So 8 times a bottom-tier league has snuck into the Top 15. This compares similarly to the 6 times a non-BCS team has snuck into the Top 6. Those occurrences are the CUSA (6th) in 1999, CUSA (5th) in 2000, MWC (6th) in 2003, CUSA (5th) in 2004, MVC (6th) in 2006, and MVC (5th) in 2007. Never have two non-BCS leagues made it into the Top 6, and only once has a BCS league finished below 7th (the Pac-10 was 9th in 2004).

Here is the chart of conference RPI ranking since 1999:

Rank Conf 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 AVG
1 SEC 2 4 5 2 1 1 1 1 4 2.33
2 ACC 1 3 1 1 3 2 3 7 2 2.56
3 Big Ten 4 1 6 6 5 6 1 1 1 3.44
4 Big East 6 2 2 3 4 4 4 4 5 3.78
5 Big 12 7 5 3 4 2 3 6 3 7 4.44
6 Pac-10 3 7 4 9 7 5 5 6 3 5.44
*7* CUSAold X X 9 5 8 8 10 5 6 7.29
7 MWC 8 8 11 7 6 7 8 10 X 8.13
8 MVC 5 6 8 11 12 14 12 11 8 9.67
9 WAC 9 9 12 10 14 10 7 8 9 9.78
10 A10 10 11 15 8 9 9 9 9 10 10.00
11 CUSAnew 11 13 X X X X X X X 12.00
12 WCC 14 12 7 12 10 15 17 15 12 12.67
13 MAC 15 16 10 14 11 12 15 12 11 12.89
14 CAA 13 10 14 13 17 11 13 16 17 13.78
15 Horizon 11 15 19 15 13 17 11 13 15 14.33

The ACC and SEC have consistently been the best two leagues.  The Big Ten is more up and down, but it is the only other league besides those two to have ever finished in 1st place. The Big East, followed by the Big 12, and then the Pac-10 are spread out in 4th, 5th, and 6th respectively.  The Pac-10 is the only BCS league never to have even finished 2nd and is clearly the lowest of the Big 6. Even this year, with all the sudden Pac-10 hype, it still ranks 3rd.

After the BCS leagues, the MWC has consistently been next in line, though the MVC has made its run during the past couple of years.  In fact, up until this season, the WAC was ahead of the MVC. 

I talked about a Big Six, and also a clear Top 15, but there might also be a clear Top 10 forming. After the BCS leagues, the MWC, MVC, WAC, and A10 seem to be substantially better than rest. In fact, of the leagues ranked from 11 to 15, only 1 time in 38 tries has one of those teams ever finished 9th or better. This was the WCC finishing 7th in 2005.

What's amazing is how consistent the leagues tend to be year after year. Obviously there are some swings, but on the most part the leagues have been chugging along in tight bands,fluctuating in a range of 5 or 6 positions that they slide back and forth between.  The WCC has the most variance between its best and worst with 10 spots between its high of 7 in 2005 and its low of 17 in 2001.  The MVC and Horizon have a range of 8, the CAA 7, and none of the other leagues never fluctuate more than 6 spaces.

What does all this mean? I'm not entirely sure.  On the most part, I learned what I already knew. The BCS leagues are simply the best leagues. But I was surprised to see such a compact and clear 2nd tier of teams that include the MWC, MVC, WAC, A10 (and the old CUSA as well.) Further I was surprised to see such a gap between the Top 15 and all the rest. Another day I'll do a similar chart for the remainder of the leagues.. but that's all for now.

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