Wooten: NCAA’s new tool works if my team gets in ‘The Dance’

Let’s hope the NCAA got it right. Honestly, at first blush as often happens with the Indianapolis behemoth, this sounds wrong.

Basketball enthuiasts, for those that missed it, got a jolt when the governing body said the prized men’s basketball tournament will scrap the RPI for a new evaluation tool it created called NET. That’s the acronym for NCAA Evaluation Tool if scoring at home.

Rolling it out of the lab and taking it for a spin is the best way to see if it works, no doubt about that. Intent seems better than language so far.

What the NCAA wants to do is have something that the since-1981 RPI hasn’t had — better metrics for measurement. The RPI has helped the committee select teams quite well, but the skeptics are plentiful and mainly because big schools seem to be favored and committees over the years haven’t been as consistent as coaches would like. Hardly the full fault of the RPI.

One year scheduling tough helps, another year a coach says his team apparently lost too many games. Nobody lets the little guys host a big school, then David is told he didn’t slay any Goliaths.

RPI yields a ranking based on winning percentage, strength of schedule and opponent’s strength of schedule. It was wonderful in 1981, sort of did fine through the years, and now the influx of — for lack of a better term and certainly no disrespect to anyone — geekyness into sports has manifested to the point what we see happen is still human, but moving closer to video game or robotic.

Think baseball game and defensive shift; spin rate on a pitch. Or pro golf tour and how much information for reading a green is available to a player and caddie, never mind what they can do on the range with a tracking device for swing speed, speed of the ball leaving the club and apex of a shot hit.

Analytics are here to stay, no doubt. And a good measure of it is fine.

The NCAA had already accepted more information than the RPI and given it to the evaluators, adding metrics from respected analytics experts like Kevin Pauga, Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin. Last year the quadrant system debuted.

More measurements has another side, too. The committee gets another item to point at in explanation. Your team did good at this, but over here not so good, and that’s why this team is going and your team is not.

So here comes NET. Part of the billing we’re given is it will give equal importance to early and late-season games and caps wins at 10 points to prevent teams from running up the score.

Beg your pardon?

No need to raise a hand if the talking heads and even more importantly the committee chairman has spoken about your favorite team one time with differentiation of the wins and losses in November or December versus those in the last 10 games. And said comments left you and your nation mad.

No need to guffaw at the phrase “prevent teams from running up the score.” Some do, some don’t and coaches aren’t changing that characteristic because of NET or any other alphabet soup. Nor will committees dismiss comparisons for beat-downs and nail-biters involving the same three or more teams.

NET is more than that. Game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin, net offensive and defensive efficiency and quality of wins and losses are in it.

The NCAA plans to use RPI in other Division I sports, including women’s basketball. Though it’s worth asking, why not across the board if it’s good enough for the big monster, the one influential enough to cause otherwise smart folks to do incredibly dumb things when it comes to their school’s integrity?

Again, no need to raise a hand for your school or the one most disliked just down the road.

“As has always been the case,” says the NCAA’s Dave Gavitt, vice president of basketball, “the committee won’t soley 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.”


My team has to get in. Let’s hope the NCAA got it right.


Alan Wooten can be reached at 910-247-9132 or awooten@bladenjournal.com. Twitter: @alanwooten19.

Alan Wooten can be reached at 910-247-9132 or awooten@bladenjournal.com. Twitter: @alanwooten19.