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Conference Strength

Publication Date: September 24, 2002

Hurrah for the Western Hemisphere

Conference pride has always struck me as a strange thing in fans. I mean, who bases their identity on what some school four states away does, much less bothers to argue with someone on the other side of the country about it? It even happens in the middle of the quality range with geographically overlapping leagues; there was this weird flame war somebody kept trying to drag me into last year between Big East and Big Ten fans. Anyway, I spend roughly eight seconds most years thinking about what the best conference is, even though the question keeps coming up.

During three of those eight seconds this year, though, it occurred to me that there is some importance to the question of relative conference quality, even if it's not worth a full-blown flame war. First of all, there's probably a slight recruiting advantage to be gained by being seen as a member of a better conference -- if you're not considered good enough to play for LSU, maybe you go to Kentucky instead of Western Kentucky for the opportunity to be seen by the scouts that are watching LSU, and because it's more fun to make a road trip to Baton Rouge than to Little Rock, at least for baseball purposes. More importantly, the selection committee makes some of those borderline calls based on conference strength rather than team strength occasionally, so a strong conference reputation works in your favor. Given all that, I thought I'd take a week to take a look at who the strongest conferences were. If nothing else, it'll start another metric ton of arguments around the nation, and we can all use that, right?

Normally, for stuff like this, I'd just throw out the ISR's and go play Snood or something, but I'm not completely satisfied with the way I do conference ISR's, so I want to look a little deeper and add a little subjectivity to it, even though I realize that opens the process up to a charge of bias on my part. The conference ISR's that I post on the site are done by taking each game, replacing the teams with their conferences, and running that data set through the ISR algorithm. That's more accurate than just taking an average ISR ranking, since it takes conference games out of the picture and weights by strength of non-conference schedule, but it's not perfect, since a case where, for example, South Carolina plays Clemson and Georgia Tech plays Vanderbilt doesn't really work fairly. I'll still use them, but only as one factor, along with won-loss record, post-season success (I'll consider it here even though I usually ignore it, since with conferences over time you can begin to get a feel for end-of-year strength, when relatively few other non-conference games are played), and individual team strength distribution. That last one is a bit tricky, since I'm not sure whether it's better a conference to be like the SEC last year, with no real dominant team but at least nine really good teams, or like the ACC, with four great teams, one really good team, and four marshmallows.

Year by Year

Let's start by looking at the last five years individually. Each year has the top three conferences for the year from first to third:

1998: Pac 10, SEC, ACC
1999: SEC, Big 12, Pac 10
2000: SEC, Pac 10, ACC
2001: Pac 10, Big West, SEC
2002: ACC, SEC, Big 12

Interestingly, only 1999 was all that close as to the top spot; that year any of the top three could have made a case, and Miami snuck off with the title, so I can't even use that as a tie-breaker. The other years were all fairly clear-cut.

Overall Strength

Given that, I'll go ahead and throw out the following list. The top spot is based on consistency; it would have been a much harder decision a year ago, but the Pac 10 had a really bad year this year, falling to fourth for the year. The Big 12 is riding high right now with Texas' title, but the fact that this year brought their first-ever Omaha wins pushes them down to fourth (yes, we can debate the value of one title versus overall success but no titles; go ahead).

Boyd's Top 10 Conferences, 1998-2002

 1. SEC
 2. Pac 10
 3. ACC
 4. Big 12
 5. Big West
 6. WAC
 7. Missouri Valley
 8. Conference USA
 9. Sun Belt
10. West Coast Conference

I was determined to stop at ten, and I'm going to hold to that, but I'm amazed at a few of the conferences that aren't there. Interesting how much RPI-driven "success" influences even my thinking -- I would have expected the CAA, Big 10, Big East, and Atlantic Sun to all be there (I realize that means that there would be about fifteen top ten conferences; those are the thoughts we carry around).

So, there it is; let the squabbles begin.

As a side note, as I finish this, my hosting ISP is having a rare outage. I apologize on their behalf; to the best of my knowledge, it's the first one in the year-plus I've been with them, and I hope this is worth reading whenever I can get it out to you.

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Boyd's World-> Breadcrumbs Back to Omaha-> Conference Strength About the author, Boyd Nation