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The NCAA Could Be Doing So Much More For Women’s Basketball And They’re Not

There’s a big difference in tournament evaluation for men’s and women’s basketball.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Final Four-Semifinals-Oregon vs Baylor Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday, I had some free time, so I started working on the Marquette women’s basketball preview for this weekend. Part of that process was firing up the NCAA’s RPI Archive to pull up the most up-to-date Team Sheet to see where the Golden Eagles are at this point and if there’s anything important to discuss.

In the process of doing this, I noticed something, which leads to me writing this on Thursday.

Here’s Marquette’s Team Sheet through games played on Wednesday, January 15th.

It’s a pretty standard team sheet, nothing fancy, all numbers with some highlighting to easily identify wins, losses, home, away, and which games are and are not in-conference contests. What I want to highlight here is how the NCAA breaks down the RPI separation in the four bottom columns. From left to right, it goes like this:

  • RPI 1-25
  • RPI 26-50
  • RPI 51-100
  • Everything RPI 101 and higher

Now, looking at this, you can easily say “well, this makes sense, honestly.” It does! If you’re not in the top 50, you’re not really much of a contender for an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament, so it does make sense for the NCAA to very carefully divide top 25 games into one column, the next 25 into another, highlight all of your remaining top 100 games into a third, and then put everything else into the far right hand side. The most important thing for NCAA tournament selection in my mind is how you perform against NCAA tournament caliber teams, so this makes it very easy to see how you did against those teams and how many of those games you played.

It’s also wildly different than what the NCAA does for men’s basketball.

Here’s the Marquette men’s basketball Team Sheet through games played on January 15th.

At a glance, the team sheets are essentially identical. Same boring practical font, same highlighting, blah blah blah. There are, however, a few major differences.

The biggest one is how the four game columns are divided. As you may be aware by now, the NCAA is in its second season using a system called NET, short for NCAA Evaluation Tool, to categorize and measure the quality of wins and losses for men’s basketball. The NET replaced the RPI for men’s basketball last year, and if you want to read about how it’s calculated, you can go read this. What’s important here is that the NCAA started taking the location of games into account when sorting men’s basketball games by NET rankings. That far left column is not just NET 1-25 like it is with the RPI for the women’s game. It sets up like this:

  • home games against NET 1-30
  • neutral games against NET 1-50
  • road games against NET 1-75

This isn’t a bad way to do it, by the way. In fact, it’s very good! It’s easier to beat a team at home than it is on a neutral floor, and it’s easier to beat a team on a neutral floor than it is to beat them on the road. Congrats to the NCAA for using a forward thinking process here to figure out what should be considered a team’s best wins!

But, uh, to put it bluntly, why aren’t you doing this for the women’s game? It’s just as hard to win a road game against a top 60 opponent in women’s basketball as it is in men’s basketball. But over in the women’s Team Sheet, that road game against RPI #60 goes waaaaaaaaaaaaay over there in Column #3 instead of Column #1.

What’s up with that?

I’m not even taking issue with the fact that men’s basketball uses the much more thought out and useful NET system while women’s basketball — same sport, same dimensions, different people — is still using RPI. Well, not much of an issue, at least. I’m willing to believe two possibilities here. 1) The NET is specifically designed to work for men’s basketball and there’s some innate concept about that game and its subtle rules variations from the women’s game (halves instead of quarters for example) that the NET doesn’t work for the women. 2) The use of NET for the men is a pilot program for the rest of the NCAA and once they hammer out the finer points of the algorithm for men’s basketball, they’ll start applying it to every other sport they manage that needs Team Sheets.

So that’s mostly fine, at least for now. I’ll save my shouting very loudly about that for a different time.

But that doesn’t explain the lack of sorting by home, road, and neutral for the women’s Team Sheets. There’s literally no reason not to do it, other than the NCAA doesn’t feel like doing it for women’s basketball. Clearly the computer that spits out the Team Sheets can do whatever you ask it to do, so it’s just a matter of actually asking it to do that...... and yet, for the second straight year, the NCAA isn’t bothering to do that.

One more thing. You’ll notice that the men’s Team Sheet is much more cluttered in the game columns. That’s because the men’s Team Sheets show each team’s upcoming games, including whether it’s home or away and the NET ranking for the opponent, as well as sorting said games into their appropriate quadrant column.

But that’s not on the women’s sheet. Nope, just the recording of the games that have already happened. No at-a-glance view of what’s coming up for each team, no ability to know immediately how many more RPI 1-25 games a team has left on their schedule, nothing. Again, this is very clearly something that the NCAA is capable of generating. They’re doing it for the men’s sheets. It should, in theory, be very simple to accomplish for the women’s sheets...... and they’re just not bothering to do it.

Look, I get that men’s basketball has a bigger popularity level than women’s basketball. I’m not willfully ignoring the fact that the Marquette men draw 14,828 paid fans on average for home games, and the women are drawing 1,578 on average this season to the McGuire Center. I also get that as a sports blogger that really cares about Marquette’s non-men’s basketball sports, I find it to be incredibly frustrating that the NCAA doesn’t treat all of their national championship tournament selection processes equally, and maybe it’s just me and Matt DeMarinis over at White & Blue Review that care about something like this.

It’s just that the NCAA clearly appears to have the ability to do so much more for sports that a lot of people really care about...... and just refusing to go an extra step with these Team Sheets makes it seem like they just don’t seem to care about those audiences at all. Maybe I’m just talking out of turn here and there’s really good reasons why this isn’t happening! If that’s the case, NCAA and/or smart people who know things, hit me up and tell me. Otherwise, fix your business, okay?