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Unbalanced Conference Schedules

3/06/2007
There seems to be a lot of focus on unbalanced conference schedules this year, specifically in the Big Ten. The current chairman of the Selection Committee, Princeton Athletic Director Gary Walters talking about the possibility that a 7-9 record in the Big Ten actually being better than a 9-7 depending on who you play.

This might be true in the most extreme of cases, where one team played the top 4 teams in the Big Ten once and another team played the bottom 4 teams in the Big Ten once, but in practice I don't think it's a big issue. The unbalanced schedule has been around in the Big Ten since the Big Ten tournament started 10 years ago. Why the focus on it now?

If the Committee is focusing on it, you can guarantee that they are going to overcompensate for it and unjustly reward some team or overpenalize some other team. If the Selection Committee had good numbers, wouldn't the unbalanced conference schedules already be reflected in the RPI or SOS, to the point where the Committee wouldn't really have to worry about it?

And if you look at the Colton Index numbers, you see from the performance rating for conference play, there's no case in the Big Ten where the rank order deviates from the standings, in other no instances where a 9-7 record is consider more impressive than a 10-6 record. Michigan State comes close with its 8-8 record that ranks 89th overall versus Illinois 9-7 record at 81th overall. But you definitely don't see anything close to the situation that Walters talked about.

_Big Ten__W-L_ _Colton Conf__Colton Conf SOS_
Ohio State15-1 1 53
Wisconsin13-3 5 64
Indiana10-6 44 45
Iowa9-7 65 40
Purdue9-7 77 51
Illinois9-7 81 47
Michigan St8-8 89 17
Michigan8-8 100 32
Minnesota3-13 252 23
Northwestern2-14 299 28
Penn State2-14 309 19

The unbalanced schedule is actually a bigger issue in the Big East where you have one division with 16 teams and you only play home and homes against two other teams. Looking at the same table, you can see that DePaul's 9-7 and Villanova's 9-7 can be considered more impressive than Syracuse's 10-6. This may have an impact on the brackets because your hear about Syracuse being 'in' on the strength of their conference record.

_Big East__W-L_ _Colton Conf__Colton Conf SOS_
Georgetown13-3 10 74
Pittsburgh12-4 22 57
Louisville12-4 31 75
Notre Dame11-5 58 87
Marquette10-6 62 48
DePaul9-7 64 70
Villanova9-7 79 43
Syracuse10-6 82 77
West Virginia9-7 103 84
Providence8-8 129 85
St. John's7-9 162 76
Connecticut6-10 205 67
Seton Hall4-12 260 73
Rutgers3-13 275 89
South Florida3-13 289 65
Cincinnati2-14 297 60

Even with the Syracuse example, I still see this as a minor issue. Again, if the Committee had good numbers (ie. the Colton Index), all of these nuances would already be captured in the team's overall rating. I sincerely hope the Committee doesn't overemphasize this issue and end up hurting some otherwise deserving team (or vice versa).

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