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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

An Alternative College Ranking System; Cronin on the Decline of U.S. Tennis

Rankings are one of those subjects, like the weather, that everyone complains about, but feel they can't do anything about. Well, those of us with limited math skills feel that way. But over at the Texas College Tennis blog, the proprietor is doing something about it, (D III Tennis also does his own rankings), and he or she has published a men's Top 20 that looks like this (the official ITA rankings from today are in parentheses):
1 University of Virginia---------------(1)
2 Ohio State University---------------(6)
3 Stanford University-----------------(4)
4 University of Georgia---------------(3)
5 Univ. of Mississippi-----------------(2)
6 University of Tennessee-Knoxville-(5)
7 Univ. of Southern California--------(8)
8 Univ. of Texas at Austin------------(12)
9 UCLA---------------------------------(11)
10 University of Florida---------------(7)
11 Baylor University-------------------(10)
12 University of Illinois----------------(9)
13 Florida State University------------(15)
14 University of Alabama--------------(17)
15 Texas A&M University--------------(14)
16 Pepperdine--------------------------(18)
17 University of Kentucky-------------(13)
18 Univ. of Arizona--------------------(20)
19 Virginia Tech-----------------------(21)
20 Univ. of Louisville-----------------(19)

The only team that is ranked in the top 20 by the ITA that does not make this list is University of South Carolina, which is 16th. In the women's rankings, there is also one team ranked top 20 by the ITA and not ranked by Texas College Tennis, University of Alabama, which is 17th. Arkansas assumes their place in the top 20 at tct. (For the complete ITA rankings, click here). So, there aren't dramatic differences, although I hope this is a regular exercise, so we can see how they compare as the season works its way to the NCAAs. Rankings are used to decide who hosts NCAA regionals, a very important reason to be confident in their accuracy. For the complete post on the methodology used, see this post on texascollegetennis.com.

In the cover story of the April issue of Inside Tennis, Matt Cronin asks the question Has American Tennis Become Too Soft? Cronin tackles the "hunger" issue head on, and talks with Jose Higueras, Jim Loehr, Pam Shriver, Tracy Austin and Syracuse women's head coach Luke Jensen, among others. Surprisingly, it's sports psychologist Loehr who brings up the issue of the expense of tennis and the impact that has. But as interesting as I found the story and these varied opinions, I came away without a clear answer to the question posed. If the answer is yes, how do we change that? If the answer is no, then how do we attract and challenge those who have what it takes?


gsm said...

The biggest positive about the current rankings system is that it forces the best teams to schedule each other. By primarily focusing on a teams' "best wins" teams have the incentive to play difficult schedules. It's almost like a pseudo "super conference". Just look at Baylor's schedule for example or even USC. The fact is that the current rankings are not entirely accurate until the end of the year when you can judge the full body of work. It's about identifying the best teams not necessarily having them in the absolute perfect order. It all gets played out on the court. In just quickly looking at the rankings in the "new" system it seems to give a heavier weight to losses. The undefeated Team is 1. The two teams with 1 loss are 2/3. Then come the teams with 2 losses. While subjectively you could easily make the case that OSU is the #2 Team (& clearly a favorite) I don't see how any objective system can put them at 2. Who among the top ten have they beaten? This system seems to reward OSU (& Stanford until tonight) for only having 1 loss. While that formula may work fine in basketball or football where it's not as common for most of the top teams to play each other, IMO it appears this type of ranking would be a disincentive for the top teams to play each other. Teams like Baylor & Illinois who have tough schedules have more losses which offset their good wins in the "new" system. They are better rewarded for a difficult schedule under the current system. While nothing is perfect, I'm in favor of any system that encourages the best teams to play each other(something that seemingly happens in few NCAA sports) & rewards quality wins to a higher degree than losses. It's one of the reasons an injury plagued Team like UCLA (another favorite for May) can potentially play their way up to a higher ranking despite all their losses to start the season.

tennisparent said...

Agree a big problem with US tennis is the expense and a big factor in that is the USTA's continued lack of real financial support for top juniors outside of the handful of kids in their Boca program. The USTA probably just spent $100,000 on a few of the kids in their program to train in Spain for six weeks, yet cutback on 2009 development/travel grants to everyone else to a pretty meaningless level. The USTA just does not get it about the need to financial support all its promising juniors. Thought that would change under Patrick but was wrong.

atl tennis said...

In this years rankings, #51-75 are voted on by the committee. They only use the computer for the top 50 spots. I'm not sure if this is better or worse, but random teams have popped in the top 75 this season, all-be-it for one week only.

Amtex said...

McEnroe said it....better athletes. I see the top tennis juniors, and I see the top basketball and football and baseball players, not even close as far as pure athletic talent.

We have tons of hungry kids who don't have much to go home to, in our inner cities. The USTA has made some token attempts into the cities, but not nearly enough.

If the USTA finds a way to bring tennis to the inner cities, make it cool for the top athletes to play as kids, and supports them, we will have a shot at producing more champs.

oldschool said...

Why is Jensen making his players run five miles a day ? That's only making his players slow. Is Syracuse even in the top 75 ? I am always amazed how many tennis coaches make players run long distances because someone made them do it 30 yeras ago, and then they can't figure out why these players are so slow on the court.

same old thing said...

amtex, Are you crazy? The biggest problem the U.S.T.A. has right now is not taking care of the kids playing and spending so much on the inner city kids. Of course now it is called multi-cultural program. Same thing different name. Its whats wrong with all of America right now. Not just tennis. We keep wasting so much money on hand outs for people uninterested in tennis or work. Sure we should help the inner city kids that are interested and need help but there are a lot of white kids who need the help also and they have gotten totally written of for being white and lower income to lower middle income. There are a lot of very athletic white kids who have far less chances than the inner city kids because our entire country is ignoring them to take care of these innercity kids. Collette I truly hope you have the guts to print this as this has become a major problem that nobody wants to talk about. When america dominated tennis there were a lot of white kids who were doing that dominating so why all of a sudden act like they aren't good enough athletes. to say we dont get the best athletes is a cop out. Get with and take care of everybody not just the inner city.

Amtex said...

I could have written that response before 'same old thing'. It is the same, old, nonsense that is always posted.

The Williams sisters will be the last Americans to win a slam....until the next great inner city athlete decides to dedicate to tennis. Perhaps we have a chance with Sachia Vickery.

Tennis 20 years ago was not as competitive or athletic, Serbia, Russia, etc. were not putting their best athletes into tennis like they are now. The stiff white kids populating junior tennis in America have zero chance.

Jon King said...

Funny how the black kids dominate hoops, football, track, baseball, etc....yet we need to fund more white kids to save American tennis!

That is beyond silly!! The USTA's multicultural program is a teeny, tiny % of spending. It is worthless in its miniscule size.

The huge money goes into Carson, Boca, and the $100000 trips to Spain.

They need to increase the spending in poor areas 10000 times just to be in the ballgame.

txcollege10s said...

Baylor is a bad example. They refuse to play anyone of substance on the road (one road match all season) and I think it will haunt them down the road in coming years. Several teams felt Baylor took advantage of the situation at home. They were supposed to play Virginia this year, but canceled. I have heard that other schools are going to stop playing them.

As for the current ranking system, Yes, it probably gets the top teams in a respectable area, but the rest is a mess. I think the newer system would give a better synopsis of those teams after the top-20.

I also say this because I am the person who wrote the program.

I did it to try and give a fresh perspective on the tennis. There are over 100 computer models for Division I football and basketball that are publish on the internet. Tennis has the ITA/Coaches Poll/Ranking, that's it. I also feel it is important to include ALL teams, not just a SELECT few.

I welcome the criticism (and praise) of my system. That's why it is there.

Seattle tennis fan said...

same old thing, you are way off base. You are thinking about when America ruled tennis long ago. The past 10 years every country in the world has started sending their top athletes into tennis. The level of athlete has increased dramatically.

Look at the American sports where the playing field is more level such as baseball, football, and basketball. The African American athletes are the majority. Plenty of white and hispanic kids play those sports, but the majority of the elites at the highest level are African American.

Common sense says to play the percentages. Venus and Serena are the only Americans with Grand Slam hopes, and have been for years, they are African Americans from the inner city. The other American sports are dominated by the African American athletes. Any betting person would spend more money playing those odds rather than less.

Saying that the problem with the USTA junior program is that they are spending too much on multicultural and not enough on other kids is ridiculous at its core and quite simply wrong.

same old thing said...

Jon King, Nobody said we need to fund more white kids. Please read the post properly. The post says that lower income whites and lower middle class whites are at a far bigger disadvantage than inner city kids because they are white. It is an absolute fact that blacks and other non-whites are allowed more grant money and help from the U.S.T.A. than white kids. They get to draw from the same pool of money for grants as the white kids and they also get to draw from the multi-cultural pool which is open to everyone that is non white. This is a FACT. This blatantly discriminates against white kids and is indisputable. Nobody said that blacks don't dominate other sports or that they aren't as athletic but no they don't dominate baseball as was incorrectly stated. The facilities you mentioned have no relevance to the distribution of grant money. They do however take care of a lot of minorties in a very disproportionate manner as far as camps that kids are invited to and the free help that is provided for those kids that live near the Home Depot center and these other facilities. I urge you to check into the facts about the grant money and see if that is not 100% accurate because I know it is. As I said lets take care of everyone equally and not go so overboard with the inner city and foreign kids to the point of complete discrimination against the white kids who need help as well. The post stated that when America was in its heyday there were a lot of white kids who helped that American dominance. Now they are talked about as 2nd class athletes. Lets take care of everyone not just multicultural kids. Thats all that was stated.

steven s said...

"same old thing" I agree with you, in fact, what you are stating can almost border on ludicrous. I remember a few years ago, the time, coaching and effort given to all the minority girls at Carson, one in particular I remember was a little girl about 8 or 9, I dont believe she had ever played tennis, but she was being "groomed" because her parents were former college sprinters! I do not know what has become of this girl, perhaps she has progressed nicely? With all the attention she was getting, I would say she was given every opportunity to do so. Now, if the USTA wants to spend their time and $ on speculation, that is fine, but I do agree with you that other kids without "pedigree" should nit be ignored, and that goes for both Black and White.

"Seattle", you say the level of athlete has increased dramatically, and I agree as well. But that does not mean that children of athletic parents are destined to be better tennis players, or have a better chance at PRO success. I bet you if I sent 7 year old "Rebecca Newbie to tennis, with parents who are fat lumps" to Lansdorp, she would turn out to be a much better player then the girl with the sprinter parents the USTA is training. But not everybody can afford $200 per hour on tennis lessons, or even less than that. I feel your argument (Seattle) is that if these two girls had equal training, that the girl with the sprinter parents has more potential and will be a better player. The only thing I will agree with, is that the sprinter girl will be more athletic.

Amtex said...

same old thing and steven s....you are citing a few select cases that are meaningless in the grand plan.

Russia, Croatia, Argentina, Spain and recently some of the Asian countries are targeting their best athletes for tennis. It is what it is. Forget about the old days, the pool of competitors is 100 times what it was 15 years ago.

It is not a mystery why the athletes who excel in other sports in America do so, they are better athletes.

I am talking about getting the BEST athletes into tennis...black, white, asian, everyone. You have to be calculating. If you look at sports that require basic athletic skills similiar to tennis....for example a elite baseball shortstop, or an elite point guard...you calculate how many come from the suburbs, how many from rural areas, how many from the inner cities.

You distribute your money accordingly. If 80% of elite athletes with skills that transfer well to tennis come from farms in Iowa, great. If 80% come from inner cities, same deal, that is where you spend 80% of your money.

Until the USTA figures out a way to do this, we will not have any more Grand Slam winners once the Williams sisters are done.

gsm said...

Txcollege10s, I see your point about the lower ranked teams. However, unlike basketball or football where a Team can start the year outside the top 20 & still win the national title, that simply isn't realistic in tennis. This year is a bit of an anomaly in that so many teams could win, but not anyone outside the top 10 or 12 (& that's only b/c UCLA's ranking is not reflective due to injuries). My main issue with your system is that it places OSU at #2. Their best win is over an injured UCLA in the consolation round of the indoors. They seem to be rewarded more for what they haven't done (namely lose since they have 1 loss) rather than what they have done (I.e. Beat a highly ranked Team). Ironically, OSU has entered the NCAAs over ranked in recent years but will likely be under ranked this year, since they (& a healthy UCLA) appear to be the most talented teams. I also disagree with your Baylor comments. You say they don't play anyone on the road. This year they have played both Fla & OSU on the road. They play UVA & Stanford each year (& USC recently). Next year those matches will be on the road like they were last year. The Virginia match at home was canceled for rain. This is going to be a strange year for rankings for several factors. Even though UVA is likely to be the clear #1 throughout the year (with a relatively weak ACC), they certainly won't be the clear favorite come May. While I don't have a mathematical formula to offer, I feel that a tennis ranking should weight quality wins more than losses & winning (or even doing well at the Indoors) should count to some degree. Even on tour, their is a "best of" component. How you did in your best X tournaments (depending on your ranking/eligibility) & (some of) your worst results are not considered

txcollege10s said...

gsm, I understand your comments, but let me explain the OSU status a bit. Although they have not directly defeated many top teams, they do have a wins over some very good teams like Texas A&M, UCLA and Baylor, who have very significant wins. But to OSU's credit, they do not have any losses to really counteract that and pull them back like those other teams. Indirect wins count.

One thing about scheduling that makes the situation interesting is that the SEC teams get a huge advantage as far as getting to play highly-ranked competition. The PAC-10 gets a bump, but it is a huge advantage for SEC teams that guarantees they will be hosting regionals when all of that top quality is automatically on your schedule.

gsm said...

Very true about the SEC. When a few get ranked high early, then it becomes self fulfilling that the teams remain high. Though they generally have the deepest conference, IMO they don't really have a Title contender this year. Certainly no Team that can really win without playing their best. Hard to win the NCAAs with such a low margin for error. Not that you asked, but my thoughts are that OSU & a healthy UCLA are the top teams. UVA & Stanford would be the next 2. Then there are several darkhorses after that

Austin said...

When healthy I think the big three from the Pac10 are the best teams in the country. Of course, will they all be healthy come May? Who knows.

For the record I've been picking OSU since the end of last year and I'm sticking to it.

txcollege10s said...

I have always thought it was going to come down to UCLA and Stanford, however I think the addition of Chase to the tOSU squad gives them quite a boost. But like we have said, there is no dominant team, so that makes Georgia the favorite, right? LOL

tennis guy2894 said...

Txcollege10's, I am happy to see what you are doing by creating power rankings in college tennis because there seems to be some flaws in the current ITA system. I somewhat disagree with you though on giving a team any boost in the rankings for playing a tougher schedule. A No.55 ranked team for instance playing and losing to top teams doesn't tell you anything on how good that team really is. A loss is a loss and they should get no advantage in the rankings just for playing a tougher schedule. It is all about wins and the formula should be done strictly on wins and losses.
One thing I do think that should be added to your formula is the emphasis on road wins vs home wins especially against top teams. Winning on the road is so much tougher in college tennis and teams should be rewarded for it in the rankings.

tennis guy2894 said...

Another pet-peeve of mine is why it isn't mandetory that ALL Division-1 college tennis programs have live stats during their home matches. Some even have live video during their home matches. It is amazing to me how certain programs do such a better job then others when it comes to the little things like this by letting you follow the matches online!

uhhhhhh said...

One possible flaw in this new ranking formula is where the original values were derived. Did this person go off the last ITA Rankings? Seems like when you do that it's impossible to stray too far from those rankings, which is kind of the case here. Seems pretty similar to me.

txcollege10s said...

I answered tennis_guy's first question on my site. As for the 'live' stats, that is all about budget. Tennis is not a revenue sport in college, so resources are not always there. Heck, there are many DI programs at very prominent schools where the SID isn't even at the matches because they are with the women's basketball team at the NCAAs or NCAA swimming (to use a few situations right now).

uhhhhh has a point about the 'originality' of the start file. For this version, the teams were placed in groups, based on the preseason poll. I have also run it with every team getting the same start point and it was pretty close. I ran another experiment with Stanford 400 points behind the top teams and they were still able to reach the top-10. The key is the iteration and doing it so many times. Finding the right way to start and NOT bias is very much something that needs to be worked on. I agree.