The Real Prestige Rankings: Introduction and Outline

Brett LissendenSenior Analyst IAugust 18, 2008

A few weeks ago ESPN released Prestige Rankingsfor NCAA College Basketball teams from 1985 through 2008.  As ESPN states, 1985 was the first year the NCAA tournament had 64 teams.  After reading through their methodology and scoring system, I have come up with my own rankings for the same time period.


These rankings are solely mathematical and based off of teams’ success in the March Madness tournament rather than arbitrary criteria and point assignments.


After reading through ESPN’s rankings, the main visible flaw I found was that teams from smaller conferences were receiving much more credit than they deserved. 


This is because of the emphasis on regular season wins.  Teams in weaker conferences play much weaker teams; it is much easier for them to accumulate high win totals. 


In addition, there is no mathematical explanation for any of the point totals that ESPN assigns.  I encourage you to read through their scoring system and you will see what I mean.


In contrast, teams receive points in my rankings purely from their finish in each year’s NCAA tournament.


The scores that I give the teams for each year is essentially their rank based on what round of tournament play they were eliminated in.  For example, the champion is ranked No. 1 and the play-in game loser is ranked No. 65.


However, since I was assigning no score to teams that did not qualify for the tournament, I made higher scores more valuable.  I inverted the rankings; the champion receives a score of 65 and the play-in game loser receives a score of one.


Also, everyone losing in the same round receives the same score.  There is no discrepancy based on seed.  Here is the detailed scoring breakdown:


Champion: 65 points

Runner-Up: 64 points

Lose in Final Four: 62 points

Lose in Elite Eight: 58 points

Lose in Sweet Sixteen: 50 points

Lose in Second Round: 34 points

Lose in First Round: 2 points

Lose in Play-In game: 1 point

Fail to Qualify for NCAA tournament:  0 points



While my approach is much simpler than ESPN because it only accounts for post-season success, I argue that it is supremely accurate. 


While ESPN tries to reward and penalize teams for many different criteria, it is ultimately impossible to score all aspects of a team’s prestige.  In total the differences for missed or incorrectly scored criteria may be small, but for certain teams or groups of teams, the discrepancies could be very meaningful.


In addition, the system I use really encompasses all of the important factors.  For example, you may think that a No. 1 seed defeating a No. 16 seed should receive fewer points than a No. 12 seed upsetting a No. 5 seed. 


However, the No. 1 seeded teams have earned the right to have an easier first-round match-up with their regular season success.  The regular season success and match-up difficulty for teams are both taken into account already with the setup of the tournament so it would be repetitive for the Prestige Rankings to score for this as well.


It’s also important to note for smaller conferences teams that even though a first-round win or even just qualifying for the tournament receives a relatively small amount of points, that it still is significant when compared to their peer group of teams (other small conference teams), who would all get zero points for not making the tournament.


As of 2008, there are 341 Men’s Division 1 Basketball teams that compete for the right to play in the NCAA tournament.  272 of these teams have made the NCAA tournament at least once since 1985.  For this reason, I will be breaking up the rankings into eleven different posts (not including this one).


Because there are so many teams that are clearly nowhere near the prestige of the top programs, I will show the rankings within all of the 32 conferences (including the independents as their own conference).  This allows comparisons for the prestige of all of the conferences, similar to ESPN’s rankings.  Each conference is also rated based on the average point total of all its current members.


For overall prestige, I will also show the top 50 teams with details of their tournament successes throughout the past 24 years.


Here is the outline of posts to come (Part 1 will be the next post):


Part 1:  Monday, August 18 – Conferences 28-32, Overall Teams 46-50


Part 2:  Tuesday, August 19 – Conferences 25-27, Overall Teams 41-45

Part 3:  Wednesday, August 20 – Conferences 22-24, Overall Teams 36-40


Part 4:  Thursday, August 21 – Conferences 19-21, Overall Teams 31-35


Part 5:  Friday, August 22 – Conferences 16-18, Overall Teams 26-30

Part 6:  Saturday, August 23 – Conferences 13-15, Overall Teams 21-25


Part 7:  Sunday, August 24 – Conferences 10-12, Overall Teams 16-20


Part 8:  Monday, August 25 – Conferences 7-9, Overall Teams 11-15


Part 9:  Tuesday, August 26 – Conferences 4-6, Overall Teams 6-10


Part 10:  Wednesday, August 27 – Conferences 1-3, Overall Teams 1-5


Part 11:  Wednesday, August 27 – Summary Rankings:  Top 50 Teams, 32 Conferences


The outline will appear on all articles and act as a Table of Contents.  Links will be updated as the articles are posted.


Finally, all of my posts will show not only the ranking for each team from my scoring system, but also from ESPN’s rankings.  This should make comparisons of the two rankings easier.


It is important to remember that while there are currently 341 teams, 40 of these teams have not been in Division 1 every year since 1985.  ESPN does not count these teams, but I do.  All years not in Division 1 simply count as years failing to qualify for the tournament. 


I see no reason not to allow these teams to accumulate prestige once they become Division 1.   The reader can pick out these teams because they will have a DNQ (did not qualify) for their ESPN ranking.


Please also refer to my previous article for Prestige Rankings dating back only to 2000 rather than 1985.  More recent rankings may prove to make more sense for younger readers.  It also contains more description of the scoring system.


I would also like to note that the scoring system essentially rates all teams failing to qualify for the NCAA tournament as tied for 66th place (just outside of the tournament field). 


I was concerned that this may not provide enough penalty to teams not making the tournament, but have since convinced myself that it is an adequate assumption.  Since I have no ranking criteria outside of the NCAA tournament, it is impossible to distinguish these teams that do not participate. 


I have, however, included the number of tournaments missed for all Top 50 teams so the reader may judge for themselves if the scoring system accurately accounts for teams outside of the tournament.