In the Pre-conference vs. pre-season post I talked a bit about the RPI – the Rating Percent Index. This is something the NCAA uses to help determine the teams selected to the championship tournament (though there seems to be a shift). In a way, though, it can really constrain teams.
NCAA tournament selection
At all three levels of play – Divisions I, II, and III – there are certain teams that qualify automatically by winning their respective conferences. The rest of the teams, however, are at-large selections. Basically, that means the best of the rest.
In Division I volleyball the at-large selections have no geographic constraints. At the Division II and III levels, though, the championship tournament starts regionally. That means the at-large selections are all made within regions.
For example, in Division II the South Central Region is one of the eight regions. When I coached at Midwestern State it comprised a total of 33 teams from three different conferences. The winners of those conferences were the automatic qualifiers. Five at-large teams were then selected to complete an 8-team NCAA regional tournament. The winner of that tournament moved on to the 8-team championship finals.
So how does one become an at-large selection to the NCAA tournament? That’s where the RPI comes in. The selection committees use the RPI as one of their tools to help them rank teams. For that reason, it has become a major focus for teams with NCAA tournament aspirations. It factors both into whether a team can make it as an at-large selection and to tournament seeding.
Scheduling to the RPI
The RPI comprises of three elements. The first 25% is your winning percentage. The more you win, the higher your RPI. The next 50% is the winning percentage of your opposition, while the final 25% is the winning percentage of your opposition’s opposition. What that means is a team’s strength of schedule is very important since most of the RPI comes from that.
Yes, winning is important. If, however, you just beat up on a bunch of weak teams, it won’t do anything to help you in the RPI department. Your RPI is 75% weighted toward the strength of your opposition. This is why you hear about teams picking their non-conference opposition with an eye toward their strength of schedule (you can’t do anything about who you play in conference).
A problem with the RPI
One of the problems with the RPI system is that every match counts the same. It provides no flexibility to schedule matches you can use to give non-starters some experience. Or, for that matter, to give a team a couple of early season matches to find their feet. If you play teams that are not very strong, they pull down your RPI. If you happen to lose to them, it’s even worse!
In theory, the NCAA selection committee can factor this sort of thing into their considerations. But let’s be honest. Are they really going to drill down into individual match rosters to see who played and who didn’t? Seems unlikely.
What if ….
What if teams could designate certain matches as ones they didn’t want to count toward their RPI? That would give them more flexibility in scheduling. They wouldn’t have to be so conscious of always playing the best quality opposition they could, and they could be more experimental with their line-ups.
There would have to be some constraints on this of course. For example, it doesn’t seem right that one team could designate a match as not counting toward their RPI, but the other team still counted it. Also, would you make it so conference matches all had to be counted?
Just something I thought worth thinking about. I’d love to hear some thoughts on the idea. Feel free to share them in the comment section below.
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