Posted: Wednesday March 2, 2005 6:09PM; Updated: Wednesday March 2, 2005 6:16PM
How much will the NCAA tournament committee rely on the "new-and-improved" RPI, which has become more Mickey Mouse than ever thanks to a change in the formula this season?
Just as much as it always has.
That's the word I got from committee chair Bob Bowlsby when we spoke Wednesday. At the same time, Bowlsby took great pains to argue that the media puts way too much emphasis on the RPI in the first place.
"We can talk until we're blue in the face, but the fact is that it's a blunt instrument," Bowlsby told me. "The RPI is just one of a great many tools that we use."
But when I asked if the RPI would be used as much as it had in previous years, Bowlsby had a one-word response: "Yeah."
We'll acknowledge that the media makes too much of the RPI, but the fact that it will even be used at all is an insult to the intelligence of anyone who watches college basketball. More than ever, the RPI is a bewildering basis for decision-making in a multi-billion-dollar enterprise.
Granted, the NCAA had the right intentions when it changed the RPI formula this season to boost top teams in mid-major conferences and tamp down middle-of-the-pack (read: overrated) teams in power conferences. The new formula rewards teams for playing (and winning) games on the road, weighting each road win at 1.4 and each road loss at 0.6. Meanwhile, home wins are weighted at 0.6 and home losses at 1.4. (Neutral-site games have a 1.0 value.)
There's only one problem: The new formula over-corrected *way* too much, and now you have several mid-majors rising to unfair heights in the RPI while several deserving big-conference schools are lower than they should be.
Check out this sample upwardly mobile mid-majors who don't have the resumes to back up their lofty RPI rankings (as computed by stat whiz Ken Pomeroy):
Old Formula RPI
Now compare that to a selected list of power-conference bubble teams crippled by the new formula:
Major Conference Bubble Teams
Old Formula RPI
Even as a longtime supporter of giving the smaller guys a chance, I'd argue that if the first group of six teams played the second group of six teams on neutral courts, the first group would win one of those games, maybe two if they were lucky.
When you see what's happened above, it's not hard to understand why there's a growing chorus calling for the RPI to be ignored altogether. Yet Bowlsby's re-affirmation of support for the RPI only tells us so much. Yes, it will be used on Selection Sunday, but how much remains to be seen. If teams in the first group get at-large bids and teams such as Iowa State and Indiana get shut out, you'll know that the RPI does in fact carry some weight, despite its screwy new weightings.