Bracketology: A History of Power Conference Bias

    
March 4th, 2012
Inevitably, when the committee announces the bracket on selection sunday, a "mid-major" will be highest ranked RPI team to be left out of the field.

Over the last 6 years, the highest RPI team not to make the field has consistently come from a non-BCS conference. In fact, over the last three years, the committee became even more biased. At least the 5 best RPI teams not to make the field were "mid-majors".

 

Is the committee biased? Or is something else at work? As I see it, there are 3 main possibilities for this pattern:

 

A) The committee is in fact biased towards power conference teams. The committee is blinded by the historical success of power conference schools and simply refuses to believe other schools are better.

 

B) The committee is not intentionally biased, but some part of the process leads them to make anti-mid-major decisions. For example, the committee perhaps unduly focuses on total Top 50 wins, and this gives an unfair advantage to power conference teams that have many more chances to get these wins (and because of college basketball's financial imbalance, these schools get even more Top 50 chances at home.)

 

C) The committee is actually completely unbiased, but the RPI is flawed. In this scenario, the RPI systematically overvalues smaller conference schools as compared to reality. As compared to other statistical rankings that take into account scoring margin or other criteria (such as the Sagarin, Ken Pomeroy, etc.), the RPI does not adequately rank teams.

 

Having spent time at the NCAA Mock Selection conference and being involved in Bracketology for many years, I don't think the committee is intentionally biased, nor do they have an agenda to keep mid-majors out. There's probably a mix of B and C at work. The RPI does in fact favor small-conference schools (which is why I believe the committee should/will ultimately move to a weighted ranking of RPI and another ranking), and the committee does put too much weight on the quantity of "big wins" teams have. The committee also probably gets sucked into what the national media says and have their own sub-conscious leanings as well.. these are people after all.


So what does all this mean for the 2012 Tournament? Once again, expect multiple mid-majors with sparkling records and sparkling RPI's to get left out in place of lower ranked RPI teams from power conferences.

 

The most likely suspects are:

#22 Colorado St

#35 Long Beach St

#37 Harvard

#38 Iona

#39 Oral Roberts

#44 Middle Tennessee

 

If I was a fan of one of these schools.. I'd be shaking in my boots if they didn't win their conference tournament. The selection committee is unlikely to break what has been a strong trend for many years.


The best RPI teams not to make the field, including the highest ranked BCS team not to make it:

 2011

#35 Harvard
#42 Cleveland St

#43 Missouri St
#46 Saint Mary's
#50 Colorado St
#54 Marshall
#58 Boston College (ACC)

 

 2010

#40 Rhode Island
#45 UAB
#47 Kent State
#53 Memphis
#54 Dayton
#55 Mississippi St (SEC)
 

 2009

#34 San Diego St
#40 Creighton
#46 UAB
#47 Illinois St
#48 St. Mary's
#49 Niagara
#51 George Mason
#53 Tulsa
#54 Florida (SEC)
 

 2008

#37 Illinois St
#39 Ole Miss (SEC)
 

 2007

#29 Air Force
#36 Missouri St
#39 Bradley
#41 Florida St (ACC)
 

 2006

#22 Hofstra
#24 Missouri St
#39 St. Joseph's
#40 Cincinnati (Big East)

 

These are not end of season (after the postseason) RPI's, but the RPI's going into the Tournament using realtimerpi.com. Although end of season RPI's are easily accessible, its a little bit harder to find RPI #'s as of selection sunday, and some of these #'s may be slightly off. (But not off enough to change the overall point.)

 

Follow Shawn on twitter @collegehoopsnet. His next Bracketology projection will be posted tomorrow morning.