iscussion Question: Is the new RPI as bad as new Coke, and, if so, why aren’t college hoops fans making the same kind of fuss?

To be fair, the “new” RPI is really not all that new. This is the fifth season that the new formula has been in place. Before the 2004-05 season, the NCAA changed its RPI formula to give greater emphasis to road wins and more punishment for home losses. The basic idea was to encourage the big teams to go out on the road and also to reward those mid-majors who had to go on the road, since none of the big boys would come to their gym.

The idea was noble; the implementation has been less so. The NCAA decided that the fair weight to be given to a road win or home loss was 1.4 and that a home win or road loss would be worth 0.6. So, basically, one road win is worth more than two home wins. This seems a bit extrem in theory, and it is in practice as well.

The main fault of the new system is not so much the credit it gives for road wins but the penalty it gives for home losses. A home loss against any team is worth 1.4 losses, meaning that even a team with a good home record in a tough conference — say, 6-3 — gets killed in comparison to a team in a mediocre conference going 7-1.

(As an aside, what follows is not intended to be an endorsement of Providence or an indictment of Florida but merely a discussion of the faults of the current RPI using those two schools as an example, since — among major-conference teams — they are most hurt and most benefited, respectively, by the formula.)

The main reason why this whole issue came up was because some Providence fans had inquired as to what made Florida such a better candidate for the NCAA Tournament than Providence. The Friars have more top-25 wins, more top-50 wins, no losses to teams outside of the top 100 (as Florida has to Georgia) and a strong record (9-7) in a conference rated much better by the RPI — and by anyone with a pulse — than the SEC. Florida has feasted with 15 wins against teams outside the RPI’s top 100. The Gators are tied with fellow SEC teams LSU, Auburn and Mississippi State among all 73 major-conference teams with 16 games against teams outside the RPI’s top 100. Providence has 12 such games and — to repeat — is undefeated in them.