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Most people don't use 8-track tapes, rotary phones or typewriters today.
Why, then, is the NCAA using an obsolete tool from the '80s to pick the teams that get to play in March Madness?
It's a question college hoops statistician Ken Pomeroy has been asking for years about the Ratings Percentage Index, a system valued by the men's basketball tournament committee since it was designed in 1981. A Salt Lake City resident, Pomeroy has designed his own ratings system based on advanced statistics as have many others.
"Before the RPI, there was nothing: Teams were playing different schedules, and it was a great invention at the time," Pomeroy said. "Generally speaking, the formula is 36 years old, and there's better formulas that have come along that would make the selection process more fair for everybody."
On Friday, he'll have a chance to directly influence that process: Pomeroy is one of several respected basketball minds who have been invited to Indianapolis to host discussions about how to build a better bracket.
The NCAA announced last week that Pomeroy (KenPom.com), Jeff Sagarin (Sagarin ratings), Ben Alamar (ESPN BPI), Jerry Palm (CBS Bracketology) and other statheads will be meeting with men's basketball officials, including Ohio University athletics director Jim Schaus. BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe is on the selection committee this year, but won't necessarily be attending this particular meeting.
"It's a good feeling; it's flattering," Pomeroy said. "It's not something I ever expected or sought. But it's pretty cool, and it's a credit to the NCAA. They've been criticized a lot, a lot of times for good reason, but it shows they're at least willing to be forward-thinking."
The NCAA will welcome into discussions information that basketball nerds have been using for years.
A former meteorologist who started running his website full time four years ago, Pomeroy has helped bring possession-based statistics to the forefront of basketball conversation. He consults with college coaching staffs, who value his information, and even works with a few programs directly. Others in the meeting have well-trafficked sites for ratings, result predictions and bracket predictions.
While Pomeroy doesn't think his ratings system should be a defining factor in whether a team makes the NCAA Tournament, he believes the committee should be using as many tools as it can at its disposal and start weaning itself off the much-discussed RPI.
One of his issues with RPI is it isn't used like a ranking: The committee doesn't necessarily view the No. 1 RPI team as the best team in the country. And yet, when it comes to grading the value of a team's wins, the committee takes a hard look at who it has beaten in the RPI top 50, which Pomeroy views as a subjective cut-off.
Then there are other factors the selection committee has trouble taking into account at all, such as the value of a road win against a top-50 opponent versus a home win against a top-25 opponent. Teams from weaker conferences think Gonzaga or Wichita State that can consistently beat top-100 opponents but not get many top-50 wins are often undervalued, Pomeroy argues, even though that consistency is very tough to achieve.
"The way the current system is set up, it's not easy to handle some of those cases," he said. "I guess I hope what comes out of this is they'll accept methods to better handle them."
There's no perfect method, of course, and even the most advanced data-driven arguments in the world won't stop fans from parsing and complaining on Selection Sunday about a seed or a snub. But Pomeroy who describes himself as a college basketball fan rather than a supporter of any one team hopes that the result is a better March Madness for everyone.
He thinks others in the meeting have the same altruistic motives.
"I'm not going there for the purpose of selling my system," Pomeroy said with a laugh. "I think everyone's there for the right reasons."
Meeting of the minds
The NCAA is hosting a meeting Friday in Indianapolis where several prominent analytics innovators and pioneers will be discussing how to enhance NCAA Tournament selection with data. Guests include:
• Ken Pomeroy, KenPom ratings
• Jeff Sagarin, Sagarain ratings
• Jerry Palm, CBS Bracketology
• Ben Alamar, ESPN BPI
• Kevin Pauga, KPI