Thursday, July 26, 2012

College Football History 102: Effects of Conference Realignment

This is the second in a series on college football history. Read the first one here.

Conference realignment has been one of the major stories in college football since December 2009, when the Big Ten publicly announced that it was considering expansion. I found the Frank the Tank blog relatively soon after and enjoyed keeping up with things through his perspective, which emphasized the College Presidents’ point of view rather than sports fans. The story seemed to pull in fans and many prominent writers have been overwhelmed by their readers’ interest in the issue.

I think that conference realignment is an interesting topic not just because of the regional groupings of schools, the money at stake or the effect on classic rivalries, but because it is a chance for fantasy sports to move up a level. No longer are fans just picking players, their favorite team’s conference is now picking (or defending) top teams to make or break future power conferences.

Not only do I want to look at who won or lost the most recent realignment, I want to look at the significantly less important question of who won or lost previous realignments!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

College Football History 101

Since it’s the middle of baseball season and the NBA draft just finished up, I decided to write about football. Actually, it was the announcement of a real playoff for college football that spurred me to take a look at the sport. Given the dominance of the SEC in the past several years – culminating in a title game that featured two SEC teams from the same division – I wanted to take a look back in history and see if any other conference had a similarly dominant run.

Because college football has never had an official championship we need to make some assumptions to be able to define dominance. I decided to go with the AP poll, since it has been around since 1936 and is one of the more-reputable ways for teams to claim national championships in the pre-BCS days.

Link between rank and points (linear and Sagarin)
Conference dominance, though, should look at more than just the number one team to see how an entire conference is performing. The polls can help with this too. By looking at the top 20 (top 25 since 1989) and assigning point values to each, we can give an overall value to the performance of all the top teams. While we miss out on valuing the lower-level teams, those teams are terrible and I don’t care about them.

Rather than just assigning points in a linear manner (i.e., 1st ranked team gets 25 points, 2nd ranked team gets 24 and so on), I wanted to dig a little deeper. I used the average Sagarin rankings for the past couple of years to determine what the curve looks like from 1 to 25. I took the value above the 26th-ranked team and gave that to each team rather than 25-24-23 etc. The Sagarin-influenced chart looks like this:

This should better-capture the difference between truly elite teams at the very top and the merely good teams at the lower end.