This is the final post in a three part series. (The first two parts are here: part 1 and part 2). This one deals with how a lack of including home court advantage affects the formula. For the most part the effects are negligible. For one, most of a team’s schedule is made up of conference games that involve an equal distribution of home and away games. So the smaller non-conference part of the schedule is where a team can be unfairly rewarded or penalized for an imbalance of home or road games.
Sure, it’s easy to pick on a team like Georgetown that constantly plays a non-conference schedule of weak opponents at home. However, even if they played all of their games on the road, the competition has been so weak you might only expect one additional loss if that. Of their three losable non-conference games (Penn St., Duke, Temple), two are on the road. So they’re not a good example of a team that takes advantage of this weakness in the RPI.
Pitt’s schedule is similar to Georgetown, they’ve had a lot of no-risk wins on their schedule. Those are games that have been at home, but it didn’t matter where they were played, they were Pitt wins regardless. It’s hard to find any tournament worthy team where the imbalance in home (or road) games could make a significant difference in their RPI. Vanderbilt might be an example, but if they are really a top 10 team, then even the Indiana game being played at Bloomington wouldn’t have made much difference.
There’s always a cry from the mid-majors about the lack of “away-game disadvantage” in the system. But take a team like Toledo or Western Michigan that has tourney aspirations. Their non-conference schedules are loaded with road games. But as of 12/23 both have one loss. Even if all the games were at home, their record could only be improved by one game so far (Toledo still has to play at Louisville). Overall the complaints about home court advantage not being factored into the RPI are a lot of bluster.
The team that does the best job, year-in year-out, of abusing the home court advantage is Hawaii. It’s really no fault of theirs because they never have to schedule non-conference road games and they usually get some decent competition to come to the islands. This year they will have to head to the mainland to play in the Bracket Buster in February. But for the other 325 teams, the distribution of game locations doesn’t make enough difference to justify making a simple formula more complicated.
These posts were motivated by a discourse between Joe Lunardi and Jeff Sagarin last year in which Sagarin attempts to promote his own super-secret formula to replace the RPI. But college basketball does not need a super-secret formula – it hasn’t worked out real well for college football.
And considering its simplicity, the RPI is pretty good at what it’s supposed to do. Winning games is good, playing a tough schedule is good. But more fundamentally, just being a good team is good. There’s really no easy way to cheat the system. And even if you could, there is a bunch of humans waiting at the end of the season to try to smooth out the problems.