Another Season, Another Change to College Baseball

Last year (heading in to 2011) it was the new bats and how they would (and ultimately did) change the game. This year, the major change is to RPI; one of the key parts of College Baseball. RPI in College Baseball has always had a much more significant impact on the postseason than in College Basketball. How else could you explain an Auburn team, floating at the .500 mark, still being in the hunt for an NCAA postseason birth? The answer are those three little letters: RPI. So what’s changing (and ultimately, how does that affect Auburn)? The new RPI will focus on a weighted system highlighted by these percentages

  • Road Wins will count as 1.3
  • Neutral-Site Wins count at 1.0
  • Home Wins count as 0.7 victories
  • Home Losses count as 1.3
  • Road losses count as 0.7
  • No more bonus points for Road Ws vs Top 75 teams
  • No more penalizations for losses to bottom 75 teams at home

Of course, this is only going in to a portion of the ultimate RPI calculation:

Long-term NCAA data shows that home teams win about 62 percent of the time, so the committee decided to compensate for that home-field advantage by modifying the RPI formula.

The RPI is a major tool used by the committee to fill out the NCAA tournament field. A team's RPI is made up of three components: its winning percentage (which comprises 25 percent of its RPI), its opponents' winning percentage (50 percent), and its opponents' opponents' winning percentage (25 percent). Under the new formula, that first 25 percent—a team's winning percentage—will be calculated differently.

Basically, 75% of the formula remains the same. You still want to face top competition (as wins against those teams help that 50%) and you want those top teams to also face top competition. You’d rather face a TCU team with an early 10-2 records with games against teams like Fullerton, Texas A&M, etc…than say a Georgia State teams with a 12-0 record who’s feasted on cupcakes.

Here's the real reason this move was made: to appease Northern Schools.

For years, Northern coaches have griped that the RPI is inherently biased against them, because the cold weather early in the season forces them to play a preponderance of their nonconference games on the road, but the RPI formula weights road games and home games equally. Long-term NCAA data shows that home teams win about 62 percent of the time, so the committee decided to compensate for that home-field advantage by modifying the RPI formula.

Not to sound heartless, but cry me a river. I would have to define “Northern” Schools as schools in the following states (with number of Division 1 Schools)

  • New York (21)
  • Connecticut (7)
  • Maine (1)
  • Ohio (6)
  • DC (2)
  • Rhode Island (3)
  • Massachusetts (5)
  • North Dakota (2)
  • Pennsylvania (9)
  • New Hampshire (1)
  • Illinois (11)
  • Indiana (9)
  • Iowa (1)
  • Michigan (6)
  • Minnesota (1)
  • New Jersey (9)
  • West Virginia (2)
  • Delaware (2)
  • Wisconsin (1)
  • South Dakota (1)

That’s a grand total of 100 Schools. There are roughly 300 Division 1 Baseball Playing schools. The NCAA is wanting to modify a rule to help a 3rd of their schools. (I’m sure I missed one of two schools here or there, but the point remains and the numbers should still be similar.) But does this really benefit the best teams in the NCAA? Of course not. How many of the the Top 40 teams (winning %/Number of Losses) in the NCAA are in the North. This isn’t the top 40 RPI school’s it’s based solely on records:

  1. Stony Brook (4) 41-12/ .777
  2. Kent State (9) 45-17/.725
  3. Dartmouth (16) 21-12/ .700
  4. UConn (19) 45-20/ .693
  5. Marist (26) 35-17/ .673
  6. Monmouth (30) 38-19/ .517
  7. Illinois St (35) 35-18/ .660
  8. Rider (38) 33-18/ .512

That’s only 8 teams. How many of the Bottom 40 Teams are from the North? Just 18.

It’s not benefiting the better teams, it’s not really helping the bottom team. Win-wise, the talent and wins are close to the same. It’s all about the weather. Now, I will admit this is a flawed argument (using these numbers this way) from the beginning, because, as the NCAA has found, home games give a team around a 65% better chance to win.

I suppose this is better than what was rumored as a proposal. A permanent spot for one “Northern Team” in the College World Series as a consolation.

So What Does This Mean for Auburn?

Honestly, time will tell. But we can use last year’s schedule as sort of a guide post. Auburn basically has about 4 weekends to play around with until SEC Play starts. Well, we know one of those weekends is going to be the “Auburn Tournament” that last year featured Virginia, UAB, and Arkansas State.

Now we’re down the three weekends. I would hope Auburn doesn’t do away with the “tune up series” they normally have featuring a mid-level RPI team. (Last year it was Radford).

That leaves the final two weekends. In the past, Auburn has used one of these for a home and home with a high level RPI team (such as Arizona State last year). That will probably continue.

So, we’re down to one final weekend. Auburn could go one of three ways in my opinion: Find another Tournament (such as the College of Charleston Tournament), schedule another “Tune Up”, or go out and play a big boy on the road. That’s where I stand. Auburn could start syncing the schedules so that they play TWO RPI big boys a year. One on the Road, and One at home. How excited would you be for a schedule that featured both Arizona State AND Clemson. One of which you knew was going to be a Plainsman Park.

The Dangers and Obvious Changes

Even though technically it’s a small percentage of the RPI, it’s still a percentage nonetheless. So Auburn will need to make sure it follows a few quick rules/ideas:

  • MUST win games at home. Especially against non-conference teams. Now losses against the likes of Bethune Cookman, Radford, etc. Well, those are going to hurt a little bit more.
  • Have to leave Plainsman Park more. It might take a hit on the travel budget, but in my opinion, Auburn should travel to a few midweek games. Besides the obvious in-state schools like Jacksonville State, UAB, etc. Why not branch out a bit and visit schools such as Southern Miss, Georgia State, Georgia Tech, Belmont, Memphis, etc. The benefit would be some key road wins and it’s much better than the flip side of losing to some of these teams at home and taking a bigger hit RPI wise.

Ultimately, the new RPI, like the bats last year, will have to be seen in action to believed. I can’t fully get behind it right now, because the current system has benefited Auburn so much. Still, there’s time and one obvious benefit:

With this proposed change still a year away, there is time for schedules to adjust. The question is how will coaches weight the RPI-savvy road games versus the financial and competitive advantage of home games?
For programs like LSU, this is another shot across the bow.
Tiger head coach Paul Mainieri has often alluded to LSU's financial obligations in schedule building. But after the committee's clear message not only rewarding road games but more importantly penalizing home games, how will the big programs react?
Balancing budget concerns from large stadiums with RPI concerns will be a fun topic for fans and media to follow but yet another headache for coaches weary from draft fallout and 11.7 scholarship math.
Another aspect of these changes is the transparency to the formula. With today's system, statisticians like our Paul Kislanko and's Boyd Nation make approximations for the bonuses. While bonuses and penalties could still exist, there will be fewer which means the RPI simulations should be more accurate.

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