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Economists have a better way of selecting at-large teams for NCAA March Madness Tournament

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


RPI too subjective, says Beloit College economist Bob Elder

MEDIA CONTACT: Hilary Dickinson at or 608-363-2849

BELOIT, Wis.—A Beloit College economist finds all the talk about RPIs this time of year – what with the NCAA Division I men’s college basketball season winding down and Selection Sunday just days away – to be a bit excessive. Though it is considered a leading method for evaluating each team’s relative quality, Bob Elder, professor of economics at this Wisconsin liberal arts college, thinks the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) is too subjective.

Elder (bio) and a colleague now at Troy University, Scott Beaulier, devised an alternative ranking methodology and discussed it in their February 2011 Journal of Sports Economics paper, “Employing ‘Dominetrics’ to Impose Greater Discipline on Performance Rankings.”

“Our Dominetrics rankings seek to provide a more objective way of looking at a team’s performance, based on who they’ve played and how they’ve fared,” says Elder. Such a clear-eyed measurement tool “should be of interest to fans of college basketball throughout the U.S. in general and to the people who are on the NCAA's tournament selection committee in particular,” he said.

At a time when the “bubble” talk is at a fever pitch, this new approach yields some surprising results (see the Dominetrics rankings here).  According to Dominetrics, Alabama and Southern Mississippi, who are virtual locks on many bubble lists, are in the Dominetrics top 25 and would be guaranteed spots, along with other strong contenders including Louisville, Memphis and Vanderbilt. More surprising is that N.C. State and West Virginia, #21 and #24 in this ranking but bubble teams or merely "in the mix" on other lists, are also found easily deserving of an at-large berth.

But most surprising of all when comparing all the bubble chatter with the Dominetrics and AP polls is this:  According to the Dominetrics formula, AP’s #23 Notre Dame doesn’t even earn a tournament bid. Elder also says the list clearly shows that the mid-majors are deserving of equal or greater bids this year, as compared to the “Big Six” conferences.

To see how Dominetrics adapts and attempts to improve upon the RPI formula, see item 2 in The Details of Dominetrics on the Beloit College website (which also includes a detailed report on the RPI and its subjective elements).