Over the past few years, both Ryan and Steve have run a college football simulation that utilizes the Promotion and Relegation system that is seen with soccer over in Europe. In that line of thought, I would like to apply a different aspect of European soccer to another American sport- college basketball.
Currently, with college basketball, the season format is simple- non-conference play, conference play, and finally the postseason. However, in the given format, other than an isolated game here or there, college basketball is pushed to the side until January at the absolute earliest. And more often than not, it is really only February and March that college basketball has the collective attention of the general sports watching public. Now, the NCAA Tournament is a fantastic event, and makes up one of the best three weeks in sports, but with that said, the regular season itself is not all that relevant. But with a reworking of the system, this could change, and at the same time, produce an even more enjoyable tournament to produce a national champion.
I give you, the NCAA Champions League.
This was introduced a couple years ago by John Infante, who ran the NCAA Bylaw Blog at the time, but was discontinued. The concept is simple, even if the application of it is a little more complicated. In this solution, college basketball would take the concept of the FA Cup as well as the Champions League from English and European soccer. There would be an NCAA Cup that starts the year, which would essentially take the place of the non-conference schedule. This would be a single elimination tournament with all 351 teams, similar to that of England’s FA Cup. Next would be conference play, in which every conference would play a full round robin in league play. This would be used to qualify for the Champions League Tournament, which would take the place of the NCAA Tournament.
Before going in to the details, I’d like to explain the advantages to this setup. First of all, as the NCAA Cup would take place in the fall, it would draw attention to the sport that really isn’t all that present in November with the current system. Another positive with this setup would be an increase in marquee games taking place on campus. There has been a recent trend of most high profile non-conference games taking place in neutral sites, whether they are in the influx of non-conference tournaments or events such as the Champions Classic. They can be fun, but the atmosphere just isn’t the same. What would you rather see: Kentucky vs. Duke being played in Chicago, or Kentucky vs. Duke being played at Rupp Arena? With the FA Cup and the Champions League, the amount of neutral site games would be drastically limited.
Another positive is that the each game in conference play becomes more crucial. Unlike now, where a team could finish 8th in the Big Ten and still be in the NCAA Tournament, the most bids a conference is may earn is four, and bids will be determined solely on where you finish in conference. Because of the full round robin schedule, teams will see each team in their conference at home and on the road, so there won’t be any teams receiving an advantage of facing an easier schedule.
As is the case with Ryan’s and Steve’s football simulations, this simulation will utilize WhatIfSports.com for every match.
Here is how each of the two tournaments would break down. The NCAA Cup, as mentioned earlier, would be a single elimination tournament involving all 351 Division 1 teams. As this would be the first set of games to start the year, the seeding of the 351 teams would be determined from how the team did last year. Different ratings can be used to do this, but in this simulation, I will be using Ken Pomeroy’s ratings. So for the 2014-2015 FA Cup, for example, the seedings would be based on the final 2013-2014 KenPom ratings. The team’s seeding reflects what round that team enters in to the tournament. This is the schedule for the first few rounds:
Round 1: Teams 250-351 (102 teams): 51 teams advance
Round 2: 51 winners + Teams 165-249 (85 teams): 68 teams advance
Round 3: 68 winners: 34 teams advance
Round 4: 34 winners + Teams 91-164 (74 teams): 54 teams advance
Round 5: 54 winners + Teams 61-90 (30 teams): 42 teams advance
Round 6: 42 winners + Teams 27-60 (34 teams): 38 teams advance
Round 7: 38 winners + Team 1-26: 64 total teams. 64 team tournament from this time forward, with random draws each round…
Each round would start with a random draw, where any team could be matched with any other in that group. So, theoretically, when Round 7 begins, the top two teams could theoretically play each other. It’s also possible to play a team in their conference at any given time. Every game until the semifinals and the finals would be played on campus, with home team also randomly determined. Only the semis and the finals would be played on a neutral site, and in the NCAA Cup, this would be held at the same site each year- Indianapolis (much like the FA Cup Final is held at Wembley Stadium every year).
The more prestigious of the two tournaments, and the one that would determine the year-end national champion, would be the Champions League Tournament. Spots in the Champions League Tournament would be determined by how a team finishes in their respective league. The Champions League Tournament would be a 32 team tournament that is set up somewhat similarly to the World Cup. 22 teams would qualify directly into the Group Stage, while the last ten spots would be determined by two separate qualifying tournaments (one called the ‘League’, and the other called the ‘Champ’). Each would deliver five teams to the Group Stage.
The number of spots given to each conference will be determined by how teams in those conferences perform in the Champions League, both in qualifying and the actual tournament, but to begin with, the conferences are ranked by a two year average of the top five teams in each conference per KenPom. It’s somewhat arbitrary, but it produced ratings that made sense to start with. This is how the conferences break down, and the number of bids each conference receives:
Top 3 leagues (1-3): 3 group, 1 league playoff (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12)
Next 3 leagues (4-6): 2 group, 1 league playoff (Pac 12, SEC, Big East)
Next 7 leagues (7-13): 1 group, 1 league playoff (AAC, A10, MWC, WCC, MVC, CUSA, MAC)
Next 2 leagues (14-15): 1 champ playoff bye, 1 league qualify (Horizon, Ivy)
2 lowest rated leagues (31-32): 1 champ playoff (WAC, SWAC)
Other leagues (16-30): 1 champ quailfy
These will be the bids per conference the first two years, but beginning the third year, a point system will determine where the conferences stand. Conferences that perform well in the Tournament will have the ability to gain more bids in the future, while those that don’t perform well could potentially lose bids. This is how the point system will be set up:
Making qualification round: 1
Making second round: 2
Making third round: 3
Making qualification round: 0
Making second round: 1
Making third round: 2
Group qualification: 5
Round of 16: 7.5
Round of 8: 10
Round of 4: 12.5
Round of 2: 15
So if, for example, the Big 12 had a year where Kansas made it to the Round of 8 (10 points), Iowa St. and Baylor made it to the Group Stage (5 points each), and Oklahoma St. made it to the second round of the league playoff (3 points), the Big 12 would earn 23 points for that year. The results would be weighted over a 4 year period, with Year 1 weighted 100%, Year 2 weighted 75%, Year 3 weighted 50%, and year 4 weighted 25%.
Now, we’ll take a more detailed look at the qualifying tournaments, starting with the League Playoff, which represents the playoff for the higher rated conferences. There are three rounds of home-and-home series. Should the teams split the two games, point differential will be the tie breaker. The first round, called the Qualification round, pits the 2nd place teams of conferences rated 14th and 15th. These will be the Ivy and the Horizon to start with. The winner advances to the second round, where it joins one team from each of the top 13 conferences. At that point, teams are organized by their current year KenPom rating (unlike the NCAA Cup, which uses the prior year’s rating). The six highest rated teams get a bye to the third round, while the four highest remaining teams play a series against one of the four lowest remaining teams. Finally, the third round will take the remaining ten teams and play one more series, with the five highest rated teams playing the five lowest remaining teams. Those five winners advance to the Group Stage.
The Champ Playoff, which represents the smaller leagues, has a similar process- three rounds of home-and-home series, with point differential the tie breaker. The first round, also called the Qualification round, will have the winners of the two worst conferences facing each other- to start with, this will be the SWAC and the WAC. That winner advances to the second round, joining the fifteen winners of leagues rated 16 through 30. These teams will be sorted by their KenPom rating, with the top eight rated teams playing a series against the eight lowest rated teams. Those eight winners advance to third round, where the winners of the 14th and 15th rated teams join the fray. Once again, the top five rated teams play the lowest five rated teams in a series to determine five schools to advance into the Group Stage.
Once teams reach the Group Stage, teams are put into four pots and drawn into eight groups, just as it is done in the World Cup. The teams in each pot are determined by their KenPom rating, so if the top eight teams in the nation per KenPom all made it to the Group Stage, those would be placed into Pot A, and so on and so forth. The only rule with drawing the groups is that no more than one team from a conference can be placed into a given group. I could imagine this becoming just as big, if not bigger, than Selection Sunday currently is.
After the draw, each four team group would play a home-and-home series against the rest of their group. (Just a side note- another fun thing about this setup is that you have the potential for powerhouse programs playing on the road against low-major schools. Imagine Coach K bringing Duke in for a road game against a program like Stephen F. Austin.) The top two teams from each group would advance to the knockout rounds, which at that point becomes a single elimination tournament until a champion is determined. Teams that win their group get an advantage in the Round of 16, as they are rewarded with a home game against a team who finished second in another group. The Round of 8, the Semifinals, and the Finals will all take place at a neutral site, which would move around the country each year.
So, that is the NCAA Champions League in a nutshell. I’ll be back later this week to show the results of the first season.