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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A New College Track Team Rankings System

Yesterday the latest USTFCCCA computer ratings came out. On the men’s side, LSU moved from #3 in the rankings up to #1. But wait, you say, didn’t Texas A&M beat LSU over the weekend? Yet the Aggies fell a spot from #2 to #3? WTF?

Now you see the ridiculousness inherent in the system. The USTFCCCA computer ratings are merely a numerically-based projection of the final scores at the NCAA Championships. And those are based entirely on times, heights and distances, not on any who-beat-who results of real competition.

Even the BCS system, for all its strangeness, would never drop at team below its recently vanquished opponent. I fear that the USTFCCCA ratings, the only real ratings we have in college track, would make us a laughingstock...if anyone were paying attention. It needs to be done better, but in a way that holds meaning.

More after the jump...
When considering how to put together college track rankings, I think it’s important to look at things from a larger perspective, and to ask existential types of questions. Why do college track teams compete, and for what? Is the only meet that matters the NCAA Championship? Does this weekend (whichever weekend it may be) matter only in terms of an opportunity to record good marks? When people come out to a college track meet, why are they there and what do they hope to see?

Decades ago, when college track meets were a more important part of the sports landscape, the final evaluation of a teams’ season was made in a lot of ways. Win-loss record in dual meets, competitive level at relay carnivals, and placing at various scored meets—not just the NCAA, but also conference and regional meets like the IC4A and Central Collegiates—all mattered. The landscape has changed, and from the spectator’s perspective, it’s been for the worse.

But how is it now? I would say that, for the top five teams or so, it is true that only the NCAA Championship matters. For nearly everyone else, the conference championship is the focus of the season. But there are other meets which keep team scores, and those should matter in rankings as well (albeit in the short term rather than long term). Otherwise, the ratings are saying that bona fide competition is not the point of our sport.

Tomorrow I will release the Superfan’s Power Rankings, an attempt to address the issue. Check this space tomorrow to see how it all comes out.


Kevin said...

I tend to agree with how the current rankings work because it does simulate the scoring system at nationals. One team beating another in a dual is fine, but many on the A&M and LSU teams won't be close to scoring at nationals, in the distance events for example.

The Track & Field Superfan said...

OK, point taken.

Devil's advocate: Why should any of the 2000+ paying fans in College Station last Saturday have cared who won? If it's not Nationals, it doesn't matter, right?

I'm of the opinion that on any given weekend there has to be something at stake, even if it's just having your team at #1, or the top 10, or the top 25. Otherwise there's no compelling reason for the public to pay attention.

Kevin said...

To me the rankings are pretty meaningless. Because this isn't the BCS where the computer helps determine who plays in the national title game, it has little impact. The athletes who hit auto marks get to go to nationals regardless of their team ranking.

Mike said...

Doesn't this go to the idea I think you talked about last year about how the national meet is organized. The scoring system plays a giant role in what team is the best. A very deep but fairly mediocre team may dominate dual meets, but won't score a single point at nationals; whereas a team with only 10 athletes that are very good may win the whole thing under the current system. Obviously you know all of this already.

I guess my point is that as long as the setup of the national championship meet stays the same, team scores in dual meets will never be that important or interesting.

Gtdread said...

So perhaps teams should go to Nationals, rather than individuals? Say a national championship between the top 8 (or so) teams? Then perhaps follow that with an "All American" meet for the best individuals to compete against each other?

The Track & Field Superfan said...

That's what Pat Henry and Garry Hill have both suggested.

Gtdread said...

So .... do Pat Henry and Garry Hill have much clout over these things?

The Track & Field Superfan said...

Garry Hill has the power of the pen, which never is very much in sports (see: BCS).

Pat Henry, as the most successful active college coach, has the ability to persuade other coaches. Ultimately, though, it's the NCAA Championships Cabinet that makes the call.