It’s nice to be back after a bit of a hiatus. I know we have beat the rankings and bids like a dead horse, but I can’t pass up the opportunity to comment one last time now that the regular season is in the books and bids finalized. The last two weeks of the regular season were a flurry of speculation, game dropping, rumors of collusion, forfeiting, roster disasters, roster reinstatements and finally, the bid allocations. In short, they were a thrilling and captivating spectacle. Throughout the whole process there’s been an endless amount of complaining about the algorithm and the effects it has on the season. This complaining will definitely have an impact; it is very likely that the ranking algorithm and bid allocation process will undergo changes for next season. There isn’t anything wrong with this; any time you undertake such major changes there will be unintended consequences that need to be accounted for. Within the majority of the complaints there are a couple of assumptions that need a closer look.
The first of these is the idea that a perfect set of rankings is possible. It isn’t. The major problem is that there isn’t enough data, particularly on the men’s side where there are so many teams. Even in situations where there is a lot of data, that data can be contradictory. Take the Cal women as an example. They have played 30 games (20-10), which is plenty of data. They beat Michigan, Oregon and Sonoma. They also lost to Michigan, Oregon and Sonoma. They are 2-1 against #9 UCSB, but 1-2 against #11 UCLA. This problem is compounded as you move toward the middle of the rankings, because those teams have more contradictory results. (If their results weren’t contradictory, they’d either drift up or down.) You don’t have to look any further than the NCAA basketball tournament or the BCS to see that rankings are incredibly tricky and difficult.
The second assumption is that a flawed ranking system means flawed bid allocation. This isn’t necessarily true. When I look at the bid allocation the last couple of seasons, I don’t see injustice. In fact, it looks pretty fair to me. (I haven’t looked further back than 2011 and played the ‘what-if’ game.) The two regions that earned five bids, the SW women and the NC men, have the resumes to back those bids up.
So where does this leave us? In my public and private conversations with the more mathematically inclined members of the ultimate community, I have been convinced that some minor adjustments are necessary to clean up the incentives built into the system. These are minor adjustments and won’t change the overall effect and function of the system. There are also some obvious changes needed to address some of the unintended consequences. (We haven’t seen the end of these yet. It will be interesting to see how teams plan for 2013 now that the understanding of the workings of the system is so much more widespread.) Lastly, I’d like to reiterate my call to increase Nationals to 24 teams. Adding four teams creates a little more space and margin for error.
Thanks for listening, everyone. Good luck this weekend and next at Conferences. Next week I am going to turn away from politics and what not and return to some more instructional writing.
Feature photo by Kyle McBard (UltiPhotos.com)