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Just The Sports: Parity In Being Incorrect

Just The Sports

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Parity In Being Incorrect

Jay Bilas may be one of the most intelligent people ever hired by ESPN, being a lawyer and all that, but when you're wrong you're wrong. And Bilas is wrong. In his article, Bilas explains why he thinks there is not increasing parity in college basketball, contrary to popular belief. The key reasoning behind his argument is the notion that the current mid-majors are no better than the mid-majors of twenty years ago. Admittedly, I was skeptical of Bilas's extreme confidence in his conclusions so I decided to look at the numbers to see if in fact the mid-majors of today are no better than their predecessors.

To do this, I split up the last twenty tournaments (1987-2006) into two ten-year periods. My definition of what constitutes a mid-major institution came from the conferences eligible for's Mid-Major Poll. Then I calculated the average margin of victory between the 1 vs. 16, 2 vs. 15, 3 vs. 14, 4 vs. 13, and 5 vs. 12 match-ups. Whenever there was an upset of a mid-major lower seed over a major higher seed, I counted the loss as a negative margin of victory for the higher seed. On the few occasions when two major programs or two mid-major programs were facing off each other, I discarded the result altogether.

The reason why I only looked at first-round results is because I thought that would give me the best indicator of how well the lower tiered schools matched up against the traditional powerhouses. Most of my reasoning for this comes from the fact the first round is the only round the Tournament Selection Committee has any control over. Therefore, it would provide an accurate enough assessment of how mid-majors stack up against major college basketball programs.

Here are the results, measured in points. The average margins of victory for 1987-1996 are listed first and the ones for 1997-2006 are listed second.

1 vs. 16: 24.2, 26.3
2 vs. 15: 18.7, 14.8
3 vs. 14: 10.6, 11.6
4 vs. 13: 12.1, 9.0
5 vs. 12: 8.6, 3.9

As you can see, there is strong evidence that debunks the thinking espoused by Jay Bilas. While the 1 seeds have increased their dominance marginally over the 16 seeds over the past ten years and the 3 seeds are basically holding pat over the 14 seeds, the other higher seeds have been unable to keep up their margins of victory over the mid-majors. Most noticeably is how the disparity between the 5 and 12 seeds has basically disappeared with the margin of victory for the 5 seeds being reduced by more than 50 percent.

It will be interesting to see if the average victory margins continue to decrease, or in the case of the 1 and 3 seeds begin to decrease, over the next ten years.


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