The first 14-Game Tournament piece this season comes from a statistical analysis of confence tourney results in one-bid conferences by Michael James. In looking at his numbers, one thing absolutely stood out: the benefit to the league in avoiding a 15 or 16 seed. As it turns out, an upset of the champion in a conference tournament would almost always relegate the league representative to a dreaded matchup with a 1 or 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
I went back and seeded the past 13 seasons of Ivy League play for theoretical postseason Ivy tournaments, using head-to-head records as the primary tie-breaker, followed by record against the first-place team, second-place team, etc. Using the historical RPI data on CollegeRPI.com, I plugged the RPI rankings into the eight seeds for each of the 13 seasons for which RPI data was available.
To begin with, here’s the average RPI ranking of the various theoretical Ivy tournament seeds over the 13-year period:
I researched the typical RPI rankings of the different seeds to come up with the following ranges for determing seeding. While every season is different, this turns out to be accurate in the vast majority of cases:
14 seed or better: 100 or above
15 seed: 101-150
16 seed: 151-200
Play-in game: 201 or below
I was then able to classify each team’s season over the past 13 years as most likely to earn a seed of 14 or better, a 15 seed, a 16 seed, or a spot in the play-in game. Then, to account for playing — and winning — three games against teams with an average RPI ranking of 207.4, I made the following adjustments to the RPI rankings based on the team’s actual RPI ranking:
originally 1-50: no change
originally 51-100: improved ranking by five places
originally 101-200: improved ranking by 10 places
originally 201-334: improved ranking by 20 places
Here’s what I found out about those 13 seasons:
– In the average season, the top seed easily avoids the 15/16 seed, the second seed would be a low 15 seed or high 16 seed if it won the Ivy tourney, the third seed would be a solid 16 seed, the fourth seed is a 16 seed or a play-in game participant, and the bottom four seeds are all headed to Dayton should they win league’s bid.
– Only seven times would the top seed have received any amount of consideration had it lost an additional game in a postseason tournament. And with the exceptions of Princeton in 1996-97 and 1997-98 and possibly Penn in 2001-02, the at-large bid would not have happened.
– Only three times (1998-99, 1999-00, and 2001-02) were there more than one Ivy team capable of avoiding the deadly 15/16 seed. The closest anyone came to a fourth such occurrence was Penn in 1995-96, when the Quakers fell to 113th in the RPI after losing the playoff game to Princeton. So we’re not talking a slight drop in seeding for the league rep if the regular season champion is knocked off. It’s a total plunge down to a terrible seed almost every year if the top team doesn’t get the bid.
– Only four times (2002-03, 2001-02, 1996-97, and 1995-96) were there more than two Ivy teams capable of avoiding a 16 seed. So about 70 percent of the time, six teams in the eight-team tourney field would be rewarded with a 16 seed and served up as a sacrificial lamb against a Top 5 team, were they to pull off an upset or two in an Ivy tournament. So even if teams seeded third or below only win these conference tournaments 16 percent of the time, that’s still better than an 11-percent chance that the Ivy champ — who could have earned a 14 seed or above — would be sitting home so a team in the bottom half of Division I could get embarrassed by a possible Final Four team on national television.
The NCAA Tournament’s two main benefits to the Ivy League are the payouts and the good PR. Simply not receiving a 15 or 16 seed and getting a game in which the Ivy representative can avoid an embarrassing blowout is itself a big public relations coup for the league. But it’s winning a game in the tourney that really helps the Ivy League — both financially and attention-wise — and it’s clear the chances of that go from “slim” to “none” when the Ivy representative’s seeding goes from the 11-to-14 range down to a 15 or 16.
So while it might be more fun for the programs and their fans to have an Ivy League postseason tournament, given the league’s level of play over the past 25 years since the inception of the Academic Index, it is clearly not in the best interest of the league as a whole.