OUA: RPI-induced “circus” leads to potential tanking scenarios

One of the more colorful lines in my basketball memories came about in the heat of a highly-contested battle between two Top 10 teams at the time (early 90’s at Montpetit Hall in Ottawa).  Mid-way through that tight game, visiting coach Tim Darling of Guelph approached the on-floor referees and coaching staff of Ottawa Gee-Gees after a series of – we will call them “questionable decisions” – by the hometown Ottawa scorer’s table (Note:  operational standards including the working condition of the ex-players tasked with keeping score and the shot clock were nowhere near today’s – and, no, the early 90’s guys I allude to were not the same very professional folks who run the uOttawa scorers table today).  Darling had seen enough and, sprinkling in some  of his unique theatrics, recommended that “we put up a tent around the entire table”.  Somewhat perplexed, the collective question back to the bombastic yet always-witty Darling was “why?”; his answer I think can also be easily applied to the present-day situation in the OUA and the use of RPI for seedings:  “Because it’s a circus !”.

With just one night of OUA regular season basketball remaining, the playoff seedings – and the numerous associated permutations and potential combinations – remain elusive to even the most hardened statistical academics and the possibility exists for some teams – and their coaching staffs – that actually losing a game will benefit their playoff positioning.  Probably not a scenario examined on the white board when this very questionable application of an NCAA ranking tool to OUA playoff seedings was being discussed and ultimately selected.

To make some sense of what “could” happen and the impact on the participating teams, let’s break down tonight’s schedule and first identify which games actually have any meaning at all:  there are 8 games scheduled with 3 not having any impact:  Algoma (since eliminated) at Western; Carleton at Nipissing (since eliminated) and Waterloo (since eliminated) at Laurier.  The three playoff teams could lose these games and given the special application of RPI to OUA, none of the results will matter.

That leaves 5 games that matter to the playoff situation and seedings, as follows:

Brock at Guelph

Lakehead at Windsor

Toronto at Queen’s

Ryerson at York

Ottawa at Laurentian.

With all due respect to the Voyageurs, for the purposes of this analysis – Ottawa must win in Sudbury to maintain any hope of the #1 seed and Laurentian is winless against the current set of playoff teams – we will make a bold assumption that Ottawa will win this evening, leaving 4 games that have impacts.

Using basic stats, those 4 games can have 16 different outcomes (at this point you will have to trust the math profs at Mac circa early 80’s to be comfortable that I know what I am talking about).  And to further assume and simplify, 8 of those games have scenarios in which Ryerson beats York – a strong possibility given that a Rams loss *could* push them into #2 or even #3 seed.  But we review those scenarios because, unlike Laurentian, York needs a win to clinch a playoff spot.

Still, taking into account only the 8 remaining possibilities – assuming wins by Ryerson and Ottawa – i.e. Brock/Guelph, Toronto/Queen’s and Lakehead/Windsor win/loss possibilities in which it is reasonable to assume either team could win, the following will hold according to the “what if” tool on Martin’s wonderful site:

If Guelph defeats Brock, in three of those 4 scenarios, Brock still finishes 5th – however in one of those scenarios, wins by Queens, Windsor and Guelph put Brock at #6.  If  Brock defeats Guelph, in two of the scenarios, the Badgers would slip to #6 in one case and to #7 in another case.  #5 seed potentially gets Brock a quarter-final game at McMaster, a half-hour bus ride from St. Catharines.  #6 and the Badgers must travel to Ottawa to face Carleton.  GIVEN STRICTLY THESE 8 SCENARIOS, probability theory suggests that BROCK IS BETTER OFF LOSING TONIGHT THAN WINNING.

Windsor has some incentive to win however under those 8 scenarios – in only two (both Windsor and Brock win) do the Lancers get to fifth spot.  THIS PROVIDES ANOTHER REASON FOR BROCK TO CONSIDER TANKING TONIGHT.  IF BOTH BROCK AND WINDSOR WIN, WINDSOR GETS FIFTH AHEAD OF BROCK – Brock would drop to either #6 or #7.  If Windsor wins this evening, the only scenario under which Brock finishes 5th is a Toronto win over Queen’s, Guelph beating Brock and Windsor beating Lakehead.

Other possibilities (all assuming Ryerson and Ottawa win):

  • Ryerson, even with a win at York, could be pushed down to #2 seed if Guelph defeats Brock and Windsor defeats Lakehead – regardless of what happens between Queen’s and Toronto
  • Queen’s will be the #5 seed if the following occurs:  Gaels defeat Toronto, Guelph defeats Brock and Windsor defeats Lakehead; in that case Brock drops to #6 and Windsor #7.  In 5 of the 8 scenarios, Queen’s hosts a first-round playoff game
  • the optimistic Lakehead scenario with a win in Windsor combined with Toronto winning, the Thunderwolves finish #6 regardless of what happens at Guelph.  The only scenario that Lakehead doesn’t get a home game – if they even qualify – is if Brock beats Guelph, Queen’s beats Toronto and Lakehead loses
  • Windsor is guaranteed a home game and gets #5 seed with a win and a Brock win over Guelph
  • If Guelph gets in, the Gryphons host a first-round playoff game:  their only way in is to defeat Brock and hope Windsor beats Lakehead
  • Western has a 50/50 chance of hosting a first-round playoff game:  three scenarios with Brock winning and the fourth with Guelph, Lakehead and Toronto winning.
  • Toronto/York, Laurier and Laurentian have NO chance of hosting a first-round playoff game (so the RPI works !)

That’s enough for today.  Fortunately (or unfortunately depending what side of the discussion you are on), it appears that only one remaining team has a dilemma.  And the prevailing view is that you do what’s best for your program:  the rules are what the rules are and the steward accountable for maximizing success for his program needs to look at what is most important to the ultimate success of his program.  This situation is a result of a system that allows for these scenarios.  Food for thought for anyone with a vesting interest in the continued improvement of our sport.

By the way, for what it’s worth, my favorite act at the circus was always the Juggler.

Enjoy the games !




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