Sunday night, Matt Brown over at SBNation's Land-Grant Holy Land posted an article called Rutgers has been even worse in the Big Ten than you think, showing conference standings for each of the Big Ten sports* and how abysmally Rutgers has done as an overall athletic department for their first season in conference. As you might expect, there was plenty of well-reasoned
Buttgers rashing Rutgers bashing in the comments, and plenty of protests from Rutgers fans (and oddly enough, from Maryland fans) about how unfair it is to point out statistics.
*or rather, the ones provided on the Big Ten website, because they mysteriously only provide about half
Old friend/instigator of OTE, HughGR, lobbed a particularly spicy #hottake my way that started off with "your criticism of Rutgers is unfair because your school wins literally everything so you're biased" (I'm paraphrasing) and then ended with Jim Tressel raping people and escaping prison, or some such bullshit that didn't apply to anything so I didn't read it. But that first sentence--he may have been onto something with that first sentence.
So I thought, what if he's right? Can we quantify Rutgers's performance as an entire athletic department so far this year, and compare it to the rest of the conference? Spoiler alert: we can.
In Jesse's post, he covered this with both aggregate winning percentage (adding wins and losses for all sports for each school and using the totals for winning percentage) and adjusted aggregate winning percentage (determining the winning percentage for each sport at a school, then averaging each sport's winning percentage together, thus removing the outsized influence of sports with tons of games or the small influence of sports with few games). I wanted to approach it from a different perspective, not putting as much influence on wins and losses but simply how the schools compared to their peers in final standings.
Here are the standings, by sport:
My methods. I included conference standings for ALL B1G-sponsored sports whose regular seasons are complete to date (this removed baseball, softball, and lacrosse from the original data set), including those that weren't provided on the Big Ten website and thus weren't included in the original LGHL piece (note to Jim Delany: why in the name of Woody is it so damn hard to figure out the standings for some of these sports? It's like you don't WANT anyone to figure out how the B1G did in men's gymnastics). For some sports (i.e. indoor track, swimming, gymnastics) I had to use order of finish at the conference championship meet rather than normal regular season standings. If teams finished tied for last in conference, even though the standings say they tied for 13th, that doesn't numerically give proper credit for finishing last--so although Big Ten standings say Indiana and Maryland tied for 13 in wrestling, they were both given a 14 in my chart.
First, let's look at those that finished at the top or bottom of the conference.
Is Rutgers Bad?
Yes, but they have company. Rutgers and Purdue are the only schools to have finished in last place 5 times, and they both managed to do that without finishing in first in anything. Indiana is the only school approaching the Rutgers/Purdue level of ineptitude, with 0 firsts and 3 lasts. No other school has more than 2 last place finishes.
But this doesn't tell us much. Let's add a little nuance to the numbers.
The first sign that Rutgers's troubles weren't going away with math came when I saw the results of the first and crudest metric, Average Standing, which is simply average order of finish for every sport at a school. Because not every school participates in every sport, this metric will unfairly reward schools that participate in more sports with fewer teams--for example, a 6th place finish in hockey is dead last, yet is treated the same as a 6th place finish in football. This is obviously a flaw. Despite this, I didn't expect significant deviation amongst the schools. And yet...
Is Rutgers bad?
Look down at the bottom. No, further down. All the way down there. If you squint, you can just barely see Rutgers, with an average of worse than a 10th place finish across all sports--more than an entire standard deviation below the next-worst school Purdue (!), and more than 2.25 standard deviations below the mean. Rutgers is nearly twice as far below the mean than the best school, Ohio State, is above it. But we've acknowledged this metric is flawed, so let's find a better one.
The second metric, Conference Standing Percentage (CS%) is my favorite. A standings percentage is calculated for each sport at each school that shows how a school finished relative to the entire conference, where a first-place finish is a 1 and a last place finish is a 0. CS% averages these standings percentages to provide a single, cumulative number for each school. This personally makes sense to me as the best method for this exercise.
Is Rutgers Bad?
Looking at the CS% data, Rutgers is once again more than two standard deviations below the mean, and more than one whole standard deviation below the next worst team (again, Purdue). This is seriously impressive.
I can't come up with any criticism of CS%, but in case you're worried about a school unfairly having a high CS% due to having fewer sports, we have Weighted Conference Standing Percentage (WCS%), designed to
punish schools with pathetic athletics budgets who don't sponsor 36 varsity sports like Ohio State make CS% fair for schools that have more sports (and thus more chances to do poorly). WCS% simply multiplies CS% by the number of sports a school participates in. I believe it's just as reasonable a metric as CS%, but whether you prefer it to CS% or vice-versa really depends on your philosophy of how much the number of sports a school has should impact its ranking. I personally prefer CS% to WCS%.
Is Rutgers Bad?
Yes. Due to the large variance in this data set, the standard deviation is much larger, so we've finally found a metric with which Rutgers is less than two standard deviations from the mean (only 1.84 away). And, for the first time, they are within one standard deviation of not just the second-worst program (Purdue again, as if you couldn't have guessed), but also the third-worst! Way to go, Rutgers! You're at the bottom of every conceivable metric of conference standings, but if you really torture the numbers like we have, we can say that there are schools that are at least close to your level of suck.
The entire results table again, this time sorted by CS%. Because I think it's the best.
Notes from the data:
- Minnesota somewhat surprisingly joins OSU, Michigan and Penn State as the top four programs in the conference, by CS% and WCS%.
- Only four schools have NOT finished in first place in any sport yet this year, and only four schools have yet to finish in last.
- Northwestern is perfectly mediocre, finishing 8th in CS%, with no first place or last place finishes.
- For all the emphasis Nebraska puts on their non-revenue sports, it's shocking to see them in 11th in CS%.
- Rutgers is really, truly, undeniably, statistically, horrifically bad.
I intend to update this data as other sports' seasons come to an end--men's and women's golf and lacrosse will be over by the end of April, and softball, baseball and rowing by the end of May.
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