The oldest track & field blog on the internet

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Superfan Daily: What Are Rankings For?

Yesterday I was informed that the USTFCCCA is working on both dual-meet rankings and relay rankings for college teams.  I like the ideas, but I have some reservations.

First of all, I have to applaud the coaches involved in this effort for coming up with more than one way to evaluate college teams.  College track lost its way when the NCAA championships became the only goal, because now all the other meets leading up to it have no intrinsic value--and therefore no reason for spectators or media to care.  Dual meets, conference meets, and relay carnivals all have significant entertainment potential on their own.  Doing well at them should be important for college teams.

The current USTFCCCA computer rankings only evaluate teams on their ability to score points at the NCAA Championships.  My own power rankings take conference championship type of meets into account as well (and are the bulk of the ranking for teams outside the top three or four).  So these dual-meet rankings and relay rankings will be a welcome addition.

As far as how the rankings are put together...well, that's important if they're going to have any meaning.  It's important to think about what rankings are for.  Do we want the top teams to be the ones who probably would be good at dual meets but don't have any on their schedule?  Or do we want the rankings to reflect real wins and losses?  In other words, do we want teams to be fighting for a ranking on the track, and have it be a compelling thing to watch?  Or do we want more navel-gazing about numbers?

Suppose the dual-meet rankings are created by using TFRRS data to predict a team's win-loss record if it met up with every other team in the NCAA.  With computers this is easy to do and is probably the best way to start.

But if the numbers give one theoretical outcome between two teams that actually met in a dual, and the real results came out the other way, then the real result has to be the one that counts.  College track already has too much of an emphasis on numbers on paper rather than competitive results on the track.  We don't need more of that.

Example:  If the numbers say LSU should beat Texas A&M, that shouldn't matter because the Aggies beat the Tigers.  TAMU should get credit for that win regardless of what the stat sheet says.

Also, the rankings should us the Track and Field News definition of a "dual" meet and include tri-meets and quad-meets.

The rankings have to do something else.  They have to reward teams that take risk by competing in dual meets.  Both Texas A&M and LSU should get some kind of bonus points for scheduling a dual meet, giving them a (small) advantage over Florida (who did not).  More duals should also be better, but with a principle of diminishing returns built in.

Furthermore, teams should get more bonus for competing against a tough opponent.  UCLA has lost three straight times against very good Oregon teams, but should be rewarded for having the courage to take them on.  I'm thinking something a bit like college basketball's RPI, which strikes a balance between winning games and meeting tough opponents and rewards teams for putting together the best schedule against which they can be successful.

There are no end to ways to make the numbers reflect the reality I'm trying to paint here.  The only limits are the imagination (along with some basic knowledge of math and statistics).  But I think it's really important that we not give a #1 ranking to a team that doesn't do duals, or to one that has a loss on its record.

Another thing I don't think we need is for three or four or five separate rankings systems to come out every week.  There can be lots of subdivisions, but there should be one single ranking which combines all of these (and not equally).  Think of college football, where there are offensive and defensive rankings and all kinds of other things, but ultimately a team is judged by its wins and losses.

That's the essence of what sports are about: wins and losses.  If we have rankings for college track, they have to reflect wins and losses.  Obviously there are other things that go into them as well, but if you walk out of a meet with a win and are still ranked behind another team you beat, then what are teams competing for anyway?

What's On
The Ras Al Kaimah Half Marathon, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, takes place on Friday in the Arabian emirate of the same name.  Nine sub-60:00 men and ten sub-70:00 are entered, led by Boston Marathon champ Patrick Makau and world 25k record holder Mary Keitany.  The race begins at 7:00 AM EST.
Race website
IAAF preview

The Russian indoor championships continue to day in Moscow, and the Ukranian indoor championships continue today in Sumy.

Yesterday's Results
Pedro's Cup (EAA Permit)
Bydgosczc POL
Winners: Ivan Ukhov (RUS) 2.36 HJ, Ryan Whiting (USA) 20.78 SP, Anna Rogowska (POL) 4.76 PV
IAAF story / Results

Track on TV
Sydney 2000 Olympics: Bud Greenspan's Gold From Down Under, 8:00 PM today on Showtime Family Zone
Bud Greenspan Presents: Beijing 2008 - America's Olympic Glory, 10:00 PM today on Showtime Family Zone

News Links
Runner's World's Racing News has all the headlines.

The biggest one is the new Boston Marathon qualifying structure.  As with all news, what's really important is "How will it affect me?"  And by "me", I don't mean in a universal sense, I mean me, Jesse Squire.  Looks like qualifying for my next Boston go-round in a few years will require breaking a ten-year-old marathon PR.

Let's Run's week in review is up.  Even they give my man Erik Kynard some props.

The new House of Run podcast is up.  Topics include a 25-week running road trip.

Ken Goe is a writing machine: yesterday's Oregon track stories number 1, number 2 and number 3.

The nerds at Track and Field News now have a list of all 1192 sub-4:00 milers.  They also have a non-nerdy interview with Chris Solinsky.

USATF and Team USA Minnesota got together to create, a resource for distance runners who want to be (semi) pros.

Bernard Lagat is the USATF athlete of the week.

To quote Keith Olbermann: Where's my robot?

No comments: