Included in discussion of the media mock-bracket exercise held by the NCAA last week has been the usual chatter about using more advanced methods in the selection room. I went on record last season with my thoughts on the process – those remain unchanged, so no need to repeat them here.
My point today is that it’s foolish to expect the committee to readily adopt a new methodology. When one looks at how tempo-free stats have been accepted by various groups involved in the game (coaches, fans, media, and the committee), there’s a connection between those that embraced it first and their incentive to do so. Let’s look at each group individually.
1) Coaches. Even before there were web sites displaying this information, a handful of coaching staffs had their own ways to calculate things like offensive and defensive efficiency. And it figures, since they have the most incentive to adopt more sophisticated analysis techiniques.
Without a more thorough understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents, coaches can’t prepare their team as well as they otherwise could. This could lead to worse performance, which in the extreme could lead to a loss of a job. There’s a lot of incentive here, and so it’s no surprise that this information is now used in some way by a majority of coaching staffs.
2) Fans. Fans have a diverse (and sometimes perverse) set of incentives. But for the analytical ones out there, more sophisticated information can be useful in understanding the game and anticipating what factors will affect the future of their team. It’s not for everyone, but for some this stuff was embraced fairly quickly.
3) Media. The media has little incentive to run with new metrics unless they have an audience. Even now that there is an audience, it is rather limited. For that reason, you tend to see the usage of this info confined to Luke Winn, Andy Glockner, and blogs. It has made its way into the TV side in limited doses, but really, there’s no incentive for Seth Davis or Greg Anthony to embrace rebounding percentages. It would only confuse the majority of their audience.
4) Basketball Committee. One could say that they have the incentive of making a better-seeded and selected tournament, but I don’t think that’s a powerful incentive at all. People will watch the tournament no matter what. Coaches and fans will complain about their teams’ seeding or lack of selection regardless. Thinking outside the box is, in general, not a part of college administrators’ DNA, so I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect a voluntary effort here, either.
I’m not exactly sure what would provide the impetus for the Basketball Committee to broaden its horizon from the RPI and the eye test to something more robust. Eventually, people will be appointed to the basketball committee that have experience with more advanced methods of evaluating teams. That will be a while.