Friday, March 25, 2016

Football School Versus Basketball School?

If you read some of my posts from late last year, you know that my grad-school alma mater football team is... well... horrible.  In fact so terrible that I spent a couple of posts calculating the probability of whether they would win a game at all.  Spoiler alert: they didn't.

Part of the problem in being a Kansas resident is that you either have allegiances to the University of Kansas (good at Basketball) or Kansas State University (good at Football).  So you're either a basketball fan or a football fan, depending on what school you went to.  I went to both, so I can like both sports, in theory.


Out of this dissonance, an argument arises: KSU usually wins at Football (45-14 score this year), KU usually wins at basketball (72-11 vs. KSU since 1984), but which team is really better.  We could look at conference records and finishes, but what if we also want to include teams from other, perhaps weaker, conferences (such as the other in-state contender, Wichita State Basketball)?

Win percentages could be interesting, but win percentages vary sports fairly significantly.  For instance in the NFL, the best team in the league regularly wins 75-80% of games, whereas in baseball the best teams are in the 60-65% win range.  We could normalize the win percentages, but the strength of schedule is still an issue.

What about end of year Top 25 polls?  I compiled data on how schools ranked in Top 25 "final" polls each of the last ten seasons.  I used the final polls because they most reflect how teams actually performed each season rather than pre-season polls which often relate to the perceived quality of a program.  The data was interesting, and showed that KU basketball has been dominant over the past decade (pollingwise), ranked at the end of the season each of the past ten years.

Lower on the chart things get more murky (see below).   A couple of issues:
  • Is being ranked 7 once (KU Football) better than being ranked an average of 15 three times?
  • For similarly ranked teams, how do we account for their quality of play in years they are not ranked in the top 25?
(SKIP IF UN-NERDY) I went to designing a quick and dirty metric... KPI if you will.  The metric estimates performance in off years, using an assumption on the number of total competitive teams in the category (# of ranked teams over 10 years, 75 for both Football, Basketball)  and then estimates the ranking for off years, using the # of off years to estimate the distribution.  

The new metric is Average Net Rank, and accounts for how a team might rank if ranks were given below the Top 25, shown in the data below:

And a graphical view because people seem to like that:

One last thing I remembered, when I was at KSU (graduated in 2003) it seemed like they were better than the polling I saw when doing this research.  What if I calculate this for a ten year period including that time at KSU.  Here's a comparison, note that KSU is the only team that was better from 1996-2005 than in the past decade:


A few takeaways from the polling data and how teams stack up:
  • KU Basketball is clearly the best team in the State over the past ten years.
  • KU Football is clearly worst.
  • KSU Football is actually worse than all three basketball teams in the State, at least in comparative polls, over the past decade.
  • KSU Football is the only major in-state team to perform worse in the last ten years than in the prior 10.


  1. "So you're either a basketball fan or a football fan, depending on what school you went to."

    Um, that may be true of I-bought-this-T-shirt-at-Walmart fans in the state who only wear that shirt in fair weather, but genuine fans support their school regardless of the sport or what time of year it is.

    1. That may be true, especially for die-hard boosters, but if you google something along the lines of "Pictures of KU Memorial Stadium October - November 2015" you can get my drift on this one. A lot of KU fans have just stopped paying attention to the fall sport.

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