There is virtually no statistical difference between playing an eight and nine game conference schedule for schools in the top five conferences in college football. Teams may gain an extra win every couple years and maybe that results in a qualifying for a bowl game, but that is numerically offset by the increased quality of the conference game.
Pretty bold statement full of numbers and jargon, eh? Here’s why:
Data on each conference’s final KPI, the average value of a win and loss and conference and the average value of the game (average of the winner’s and loser’s value) is below. Numbers for all non-conference games played is also included for comparison:
2013 College Football Season (as of October 24, 2013):
- SEC KPI .157 Conf W +.39 Conf L -.08 Avg +.155
- Pac-12 KPI .137 Conf W +.37 Conf L -.08 Avg +.145
- ACC KPI .107 Conf W +.38 Conf L -.11 Avg +.135
- Big Ten KPI .075 Conf W +.32 Conf L -.11 Avg +.107
- Big 12 KPI .050 Conf W +.21 Conf L -.09 Avg +.060
Non-Conf KPI -.019 NC W +.14 NC L -.25 Avg -.055
2012 College Football Season:
- SEC KPI .140 Conf W +.35 Conf L -.09 Avg +.127
- Big 12 KPI .111 Conf W +.36 Conf L -.14 Avg +.108
- Pac-12 KPI .069 Conf W +.28 Conf L -.18 Avg +.053
- Big Ten KPI .069 Conf W +.28 Conf L -.16 Avg +.060
- ACC KPI -.006 Conf W +.23 Conf L -.24 Avg -.007
Non-Conf KPI -.013 NC W +.17 NC L -.26 Avg -.045
Among conferences on a nine game conference schedule, the Big 12 has a difference of -0.0025 KPI per team and the Pac-12 has a difference of +0.0083 per team when compared to a hypothetical eight game conference schedule based on proportional schedule strength. Conferences with eight game conference schedules like the ACC (-0.0007), Big Ten (-0.0034) and SEC (-0.0083) also have virtually no difference by adding a ninth game.
There is strong and direct correlation between conference KPI and the average of the value of winning or losing a conference game. The correlation is so strong across all data that it is nearly exact.
The average difference among the top five conferences is 0.0085 KPI. The average difference between any two teams ranked consecutively in the KPI is 0.0093. The difference between the two is 0.0008, or virtually zero. In simpler terms, playing an extra conference game “might” alter your overall KPI by plus or minus one spot on average. A team’s KPI may be 17 instead of 16, or vice versa. Maybe.
Now, let’s be honest here. If a team loses to an FCS team in that extra non-conference game or wins a road game at the conference leader in their ninth conference game, there will be a more extreme effect on a team’s KPI than one spot. A few outliers do not statistically counteract an average that is virtually zero. The opportunity to gain a win over a quality team far outweighs the risk of losing to that same quality team. It is not uncommon for a loss to a top team to be worth as little as .01 KPI worse than beating a poor team (that difference is 0.0008 KPI per game played, also virtually zero).
In 2012, the SEC gained 4.83 wins (0.35 wins per team) as a conference by playing eight conference games compared to nine. The Big Ten gained 2.40 wins (0.20 per team) and the ACC gained 0.72 wins (0.06 per team). By comparison, the Big 12 gained 3.67 losses (0.37 per team) by playing nine conference games compared to eight. The Pac-12 gained 2.21 losses (0.18 per team).
As it relates to current bowl eligibility guidelines, playing eight conference games results in each team in a conference getting an extra win every three to five years. Conversely, playing a nine game conference schedule results in each team in a conference losing a win every two to four years. One additional win every couple years could help bowl eligibility if stuck between five and six wins. Detractors may mention how the 2010 Oregon team is the only school to participate in the national championship game after playing nine conference games. They went 9-0 in what was then the Pac-10. A better argument may be that the best teams were in the championship game regardless of playing eight or nine conference games.
These numbers assume that non-conference winning percentages and schedule strength would have remained proportionally constant. It also assumes that results would have been consistent with other games played. No crazy assumptions are being used.
There is opportunity cost for scheduling a tougher non-conference schedule or playing an extra conference game against a better opponent. Two weeks ago, I wrote in this blog about how only 7.8% of non-conference games were between two top five conferences. The Pac-12 played in nine of those games, plus three games against Notre Dame. Add the nine conference games to an average of one top five conference opponent (or Notre Dame), and the Pac-12 is averaging 10 games per team against top five conference competition. The SEC is also playing one top five conference opponent per team, but is replacing seven SEC games between 14 schools with a non-top five conference opponent, a full game difference per team.
Between 2006 and 2016, three of the top five conferences will have gone from eight conference games to nine. The Pac-12 has played a nine game conference schedule since 2006 while the Big 12 has played a nine game conference schedule since 2011. The Big Ten will begin playing a ninth conference game in 2016.
The ACC seems set on eight conference games, but has a separate scheduling agreement with non-football member Notre Dame to further strengthen their non-conference schedule. Alabama head coach Nick Saban spoke recently about an increased SEC slate pointing to playing quality games for the fans and maintaining important rivalries.
There is an assumption among many that a conference is better set for success by winning more non-conference games than beating up on one another. That’s statistically true if a conference is all about winning games regardless the opponent. More importantly, in this upcoming new era of college football, the value of playing more conference games offsets the impact of the few additional losses.
I haven’t even mentioned anything about television ratings or fan interest!
So, let’s play nine!
This is the #KPI