Do Football Championships Benefit Other College Sports?

One of the most visible moments of all American sports is the NCAA division one football championship. Tens of thousands of fans pack into a stadium to see two universities compete head to head for the title of national champions. There is also added tension and excitement on the game as both teams battled through the College Football Playoff to get there. The battle to even get in the College Football Playoff has raged the entire season, and has been a highly watched affair. Sports networks and online articles have speculated all season who would get in, formulating scenarios and generating buzz about the teams most likely to get in. But with all of these eyes on the school’s football teams, do any other teams benefit?

The College Football Playoff is valued at more than 600 million dollars, with some of that money going to the schools that participate. The school that wins the national championship receives the most out of the four. Football is generally known around the NCAA as a revenue sport. Meaning that it makes more money than it takes to operate it. The other sport that is known as a traditional revenue sport is basketball. The rest of the sports in the college athletics landscape are known as non-revenue sports, meaning that they bring in less money than it takes to operate them. There are some schools that make money off of some of these sports, but in general the mass majority of these sports run in the red. 

That being said, with all of the eyes that are placed on football and all the exposure that it creates for the school, how much of a benefit is the football team to the rest of the sports at the university. Does having a national championship football team correlate into more success for traditional non-revenue producing sports? 

To answer this question, I choose five sports out of the traditional non-revenue producing category (women’s soccer, volleyball, men’s and women’s tennis, and men’s tennis) and compared their success pre and post national championship. These sports were chosen because all of the past five different schools that won the national championship sponsor them (men’s swimming at clemson is the lone exception as they recently cut their program). I also did not add repeat championships into the mix, so the date looks at the initial season of the sport and then the three years after the championship to see if they had improved. I voided the last two national championships, 2018 Clemson and 2017 Alabama, as they were very recent and not enough data had been accrued yet. The five schools that are included in this analysis are Clemson (2016), Alabama (2015), Ohio State (2014), Florida State (2013), and Auburn (2010). The graphs that follow show the same year that a championship was won, and then the next three years so see if there is any change (Year 1 is the year in which they won the national championship, and then the years afterward are the three year period).

The data shows that for four of the schools there is an uptick the year after the championship, with Alabama being the biggest jump at three wins. Ohio State had the biggest decrease with eight less wins at the end of the period. Generally, three of the teams (Florida State, Alabama, and Auburn) maintained about the same number of wins while Clemson had the biggest three year jump, improving from six to 11 wins.

For women’s soccer, the data tells us that Ohio State had the biggest jump over the three year period with eight more wins than what they started with. Florida State maintained their high win totals for the first two years but then dipped sharply to end with nine less wins than the first year. However, Florida State was the national runners up and then the national champions in the first two years so their three year run is deemed a short term success but a long term loss. Florida State, Auburn, and Alabama all had less wins at the end than they started with.

Out of the four men’s swimming programs, Florida State incurred the biggest loss dropping from 14th to 31st in the national standings in a matter of years (In swimming, lower is higher as one is best). Surprisingly, all four programs got worse over the period. Alabama incurred the lowest loss as they only dropped one place over the time period.

For women’s tennis, Alabama improved the most, improving by a staggering 13 wins over the period. Ohio State improved off of the jump by 11 wins, and then the following year accumulating 32 wins and a national semi finals appearance. But then the last year fell back to earth with a loss of 18 wins from the year prior. Clemson only had three years of data as they have not yet started their season this year. Alabama, Auburn, and Florida State were all on the upward trend. 

In men’s tennis, Ohio State improved every year and ended the period with an improvement of 7 wins from start to finish. The rest of the programs either improved slightly or declined slightly. Clemson (they have not started their season yet so that is why they are short a year in data) and Florida State had nearly no difference, while Auburn and Alabama essentially flipped win shares. Auburn starting with 16 and ending with 14 and then Alabama starting with 14 and ending with 16.

Out of the 24 programs that were analyzed, nine increased their win total over the three year period and 15 did not. Clemson with its four programs increased two and then saw two decline, its biggest jump was volleyball with five wins more at the end of the period. Alabama appears to be the most successful out of all the schools as four out of the five improved their win total and the one that declined only lost one place (swimming). Women’s tennis was the biggest beneficiary as they grew their wins by 13. Ohio State was very volatile as their sports for the most part went wildly one way or another. Women’s soccer and men’s tennis had big jumps but volleyball and men’s swimming suffered. Women’s tennis reached the national semifinal and grew their wins by 12 at the peak but then dropped 6 below their starting point at the end. Florida State either decreased or held steady in all of their sports. The outlier being soccer as they were hugely successful in the beginning with a national runner up and then a championship but then declined sharply towards the end of the period. Auburn decreased in every single sport except women’s tennis with which they had a giant jump with 12 wins.

The data appears to show that winning the national championship in football might have a negative effect on these five non-revenue sports as only 37.5% of them improved their win totals by the end of the three year period. 

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“Notre Dame Ain’t Played Nobody!”

In the age of the College Football Playoff, the selection committee’s decision on the top 4 teams to play in the semifinals is a constant source of controversy. Talking heads begin as early as Week 4 in trying to predict who will be a playoff team. As long as there is only a 4 team playoff and it is basically a double elimination tournament, college football pundits and fans alike will spend the season speculating who will still be at the top come selection Sunday.

The 2018 season has seen the first serious discussion about how to treat independents when comparing to teams in the Power 5 conferences. While Notre Dame was ranked in the top 4 one week in 2016 and twice in 2017, this season was the first time the Irish have gone undefeated in the CFP era. The pundits typically question whether the Notre Dame schedule, whose historically strong opponents seemed to all have down years, had a sufficiently hard schedule to be considered for the playoff. Tim Tebow has doubts about Notre Dame’s strength of schedule.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jUprh2AxbM

How should we think about a 12-0 Notre Dame this year? Is the 2018 Notre Dame a playoff caliber team? The eye tests of sports pundits say no. What does the data say about the 2018 Fighting Irish compared to the previous 16 College Football Playoff teams? Let’s see which former College Football Playoff teams Notre Dame has beat in each category shown by their logos.

Conference Championships

        

13 of 16 previous CFP teams won their conference championship. This seems to be strong evidence that it is a requirement. What might work against that is the 2015 Oklahoma Sooners didn’t win their conference championship because the Big 12 didn’t have a conference championship. This was the last year the Big 12 didn’t have a conference championship because of how the committee treated 11-1 TCU and Baylor teams by dropping them out of the CFP in favor of conference champions.

Maybe even more importantly than the 2015 Oklahoma Sooners who didn’t have a championship game to play in, 2016 Ohio State Buckeyes and 2017 Alabama Crimson Tide didn’t even make it into their conference championships. In 2016, Ohio State was picked over a 2 loss Big 10 champ Penn State Nittany Lions. In 2017, Alabama was picked alongside the SEC champ Georgia Bulldogs.

Maybe a final word on conference championships. The conference championships almost always have a ranked opponent and bowl eligible teams, and by definition a Power 5 FBS team. Notre Dame, without a conference championship, is comparable to the 13 previous CFP teams with conference championships including this game and would be more favorable without it.

Summary: because 3 previous teams failed to even play in a conference championship game this seems to be in Notre Dame’s favor.

Wins Over Ranked Opponents

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The average number of wins over ranked opponents is 4.2. Notre Dame beat 3. Notre Dame is a little below the average but certainly not the lowest ever, this number is higher than 60% of the 16 previous CFP teams.

Summary: not the strongest piece of evidence for Notre Dame. They are within the normal range but nothing spectacular.

Number of games against FBS opponents

Since each conference has their own number of conference games and FCS games, this will vary between conferences. The average is 10.4 games and Notre Dame played 10 which is roughly on the average. Comparing this against even the SEC, considered the toughest conference, the SEC plays an 8 game conference schedule with an out of conference Power 5 opponent. Most seasons, SEC teams will play 3 FCS teams. These teams are paid millions of dollars to get beaten brutally by SEC teams. So even a SEC team must play in the SEC championship to catch Notre Dame’s 10 FBS games per season.

Summary: one of the strongest statistics in Notre Dame’s favor. Most conferences only play an 8 game schedule and need a conference championship game to catch up to Notre Dame’s normal season.

What do the computers say?

The S&P+ and Sagarin ratings are computer models which rank football teams which are influential on commentators and even the selection committee takes into account. S&P+ ranks Notre Dame at at 6 with an average of 5.2 for CFP teams. Sagarin has Notre Dame at 7 with the average CFP team at 4.7 Both of these are within the normal range of themodels. 2014 Florida State, 2015 Michigan State, 2016 Washington and 2017 Oklahoma were ranked lower than Notre Dame in the S&P+. Sagarin had Florida State and Michigan State both below Notre Dame’s rank. So Notre Dame isn’t the lowest in either and is pretty much in the middle of both averages.

Summary: fairly even piece of data for Notre Dame’s strength of schedule argument.

Average Number of Bowl Eligible Opponents

Notre Dame played 8 teams going to Bowl games this year with the average number for CFP teams at 8.9. The last 2 National Championship teams, 2017 Alabama and 2016 Clemson both only played 8 Bowl eligible teams. 2015 Clemson who went to the National Championship only won 7. Oregon and Washington only beat 6 bowl eligible teams and they had to go to conference championships to get to 6.

Summary: strong piece of data for Notre Dame. Playing a schedule filled with winning teams is a good differentiator to look for teams that are preying on a weak run or on average winning opponents.

Lose Small

Comparing Notre Dame to the 16 previous College Football Playoff teams, we see in all the metrics they are within the normal range although not at the top of most. But maybe we need to find a metric that explains why the Committee would select Notre Dame that shows they are like the previous 16 teams. And if they are like the previous teams, are they better than this year’s close teams like Oklahoma, Ohio State and Georgia? Maybe instead of looking only at the wins they had, we should look at the losses.

When looking at all of the teams in the previous playoffs, the average point deficit in a loss is 6.4. The worst loss ever for an eventual CFP team was last year’s Georgia Bulldogs getting run over by Auburn. But like with Oklahoma this year, Georgia thoroughly beat Auburn in the SEC title game. Only 4 teams had double digit losses. Notre Dame never lost so is in the rare company of 2014 Florida State, 2015 Clemson and 2016 Alabama. Oklahoma lost by 3 to #15 Texas in a neutral site. Georgia would lose 36-16 at #11 LSU and by 7 to #1 Alabama in the SEC title game. Ohio State lost at West Lafayette by 29 to an unranked Purdue who would finish 6-6. By this metric Oklahoma and Notre Dame are within the range of previous CFP teams because Notre Dame went undefeated and Oklahoma had only 1 loss in a 1 score game.

Win Your Clunkers

Maybe a better final metric would be a combined statistic for point deficit in a loss, total losses and a penalty for losing to an unranked team. I call this the Clunker Coefficient, add all the point deficits in losses and multiply them by the number of losses adding an extra loss for each unranked team.

Clunker Coefficient = Total Losses Point Difference X Number of Games Lost

Example: Ohio State 2017

Losses: 15 points to a ranked Oklahoma and 30 points to unranked Iowa State

Total Losses Point Difference: 15 + 30 = 45

Number of Games Lost: 2 Games Lost + 1 penalty for unranked loss = 3

Clunker Coefficient: 45 X 3 = 135

2018 Team Loss Point Difference Games Lost Clunker Coefficient
Notre Dame 0 0 0
Oklahoma 3 1 3
Georgia 20 + 7 =27 2 54
Ohio State 29 1 + 1 (unranked penalty) = 2 58

So this year Notre Dame would be 0, Oklahoma would be 3, Georgia would be 54 and Ohio State would be 58. It always takes into account whether a team is ranked and how big the loss is. We know the committee is sensitive to big losses with its history on the Ohio State massive losses. We know it has yet to allow a 2 loss team. The Clunker Coefficient is a single score metric that measures the penalty for different loss totals, loss scores and loss opponent ranks.

It is hard to win week in and week out. It is hard to beat good teams week in and week out. It seems also really hard for even elite teams to avoid a trap game. So the Clunker Coefficient gives a single numeric score that reflects the teams ability to avoid losing, losing bad and losing to clunkers. The average Clunker Coefficient for CFP teams is 8.5. Comparing that to this year’s 4 CFP teams with scores of 0, 0, 0 and 3 they seem appropriate. Compared to 54 for Georgia and 58 for Ohio State we can see they are far past the average and past the historical worst score of 28 for Ohio State’s 2015 loss to an unranked Virginia Tech.

So what you’re saying is UCF should be in?

Looking at all of the preliminary metrics would indicate that while Notre Dame’s 2018 performance is largely consistent with the previous College Football Playoff teams, UCF is not. While UCF did play 11 FBS teams, it played only 1 Power 5 team while all other CFP teams played at least 9. It beat no ranked teams and only 6 Bowl eligible teams compared to 8.8 average. While ranking models place UCF high in the overall rating their models are based on UCF’s ability to beat its historic opponents, not Power 5 opponents. As undefeated “defending National Champions”, the Clunker Coefficient would need a penalty for non-Power schools. Michigan was 60 on Clunker Coefficient and Washington was 66 so we can estimate this year’s Clunker Coefficient non-Power penalty at 63. A best fit penalty for non-Power schools can be a future project for a broader ranking tool.

Final Thoughts

So given all of the standard metrics, the 2018 Notre Dame is strong compared to the 16 team field of previous CFP semifinalists. Knowing that all of our normal metrics lead us to believe Notre Dame should be a CFP finalist, why is it that pundits and fans hesitate to put them in the playoff? Some of it could be Notre Dame’s polarizing position as an independent considered to be a Power 5 team. Possibly there is a lingering bias against what some might think is an team past its prime but still trading on old wins. Probably the main question is will Notre Dame get smoked again like the 2012 BCS Championship game. First, a playoff is a strong precaution against any team sneaking into the National Championship. Lucky teams are unlikely to be lucky when playing Alabama, Clemson or Oklahoma. So maybe the best way to understand if a seemingly lucky Notre Dame is really sneaking in compared to a couple teams who look to be playoff caliber but have a loss or two is the Clunker Coefficient. It puts Oklahoma and historical CFP teams very close to Notre Dame in 2018. The Clunker Coefficient does a great job in magnifying the difference between 0, 1 and 2 loss teams to see if our intuition that they might be in the same group as undefeateds is correct.

The title of this article is a nod to the SBNation podcast with a similar name, Podcast Ain’t Played Nobody.

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