The RPI is dead. At least to college basketball.
The NCAA announced Wednesday that it is finally moving away from the metric that has guided the men’s NCAA tournament selection process since 1981. It’s a change that fans, media members and coaches alike have been clamoring for over at least the past decade, and one that the NCAA promised was coming back in January of 2017.
Why is the NCAA moving away from the RPI?
Because it’s an outdated metric that has consistently churned out less reliable rankings than its modern peers.
The formula the RPI has used since its birth in 1981 is pretty simply and straightforward: 25 percent of it is your team’s winning percentage (with home wins counting as 0.6 wins, neutral wins as 1.0 wins, and road wins as 1.4 wins), 50 percent of it is the winning percentage of your team’s opponents, and 25 percent of it is the winning percentage of your team’s opponents’ opponents.
The setup here has some obvious flaws, most obviously that the RPI counts a road win over the No. 75 team in its rankings as being equal to a home win over the No. 1 team in its rankings. The RPI also hammers good teams for simply playing games against who wind up being ranked in the bottom 10 percent of the rankings. And if the good team wins that game by 150 points? It doesn’t matter because the RPI doesn’t account for margin of victory at all.
The issue here ins’t just that the RPI is a flawed metric. The issue is that the RPI is a flawed metric that the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee centered its entire seeding process around. The team sheet that each committee member looked at laid out the team’s record, and then its record against the RPI top 50, against the RPI top 75, and so on.
Last season, the committee moved to a quadrant system (quadrant 1 wins, quadrant 2 wins, etc.) that still relied solely on the RPI as a sorting mechanism. The quadrants will still be around in 2018-19, but this year they’ll be utilizing the NCAA’s new metric.
So what is the NCAA’s new metric?
This year, the Selection Committee will be utilizing the NCAA Evaluation Tool — adorably dubbed the NET — to determine seeding for the Big Dance.
The NET will be composed of seven parts: game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin, net offensive and defensive efficiency, and the quality of wins and losses. Unlike the RPI, it will take margin of victory into consideration, but they’re capping the bonus at 10 points in order to discourage “unsportsmanlike conduct.” The result is that in the eyes of the NET, a 10-point win will be worth more than a 1-point win, but the same as a 50-point win.
And the quadrant system is still around?
The sorting system is staying the same as it was in 2018, except the NET will be the ranking system utilized instead of the RPI.
Quadrant 1 Wins: Home 1-30, Neutral 1-50, Away 1-75
Quadrant 2 Wins: Home 31-75, Neutral 51-100, Away 76-135
Quadrant 3 Wins: Home 76-160, Neutral 101-200, Away 135-240
Quadrant 4 Wins: Home 161-351, Neutral 201-351, Away 241-351
Why wouldn’t the NCAA just use an aggregate ranking that averaged all the different metrics used by college basketball fans?
I don’t know. That seemed to be the original plan last January, but I suppose the NCAA felt like it might look weak if it didn’t create its own thing and have it serve as the center piece of the selection process.
As was the case last year, the team sheets will at least feature the team’s ranking in some of the other metrics. That includes both results-based (Kevin Pauga Index and ESPN’s Strength of Record) and predictive (Sagarin, Ken Pomeroy and ESPN’s BPI) metrics.
Are other college sports still going to use the RPI?
It appears as though the RPI is still going to be the go-to metric during the tournament selection process for college sports like baseball, lacrosse, and (at least for this season) women’s basketball.
Will the NET serve as the end-all, be-all for the committee?
Senior vice president of basketball for the NCAA Dan Gavitt said Wednesday that despite these changes and the emphasis on the new formula, committee members will still be allowed to rely on their own judgment when it comes to seeding decisions.
“The NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee has had helpful metrics it has used over the years, and will continue to use the team sheets, but those will now be sorted by the NCAA Evaluation Tool,” Gavitt said. “As has always been the case, the committee won’t solely focus on metrics to select at-large teams and seed the field. There will always be a subjective element to the tournament selection process, too.”
Are coaches going to find a way to be mad about this?
Is Dick Vitale still going to flip out on Selection Sunday about at least one mid-major being left out of the tournament?
You know it.