Just a couple of years ago when the American Baseball Coaches Convention was held in Philadelphia, the annual question and answer session with coaches from around the country was professional, yet somewhat argumentative in nature.
One group of coaches discussed the inequality of the always controversial Rating Percentage Index (RPI) and how it benefited the southern teams, yet destroyed the northern programs, who are forced to travel early in the season because of weather. Some southern and western coaches, as you might expect, had the “if it isn’t broke don’t fix it” mentality.
Michigan coach Rich Maloney and West Virginia coach Greg Van Zant have spoken for northern coaches the past few seasons. Maloney has earned an influential role with the ABCA and people listen when he talks thanks to some of the success he has experienced. Van Zant, meanwhile, used his valuable time to put together what he called a new and improved RPI formula.
Both coaches, and perhaps all coaches in the northern half of the country finally breathed a sigh of relief on Wednesday when the NCAA Division I Baseball Committee announced it put forth a proposal that some believe will reform the RPI formula.
The proposal, which wouldn’t go into effect until the 2013 season, still must be approved by the NCAA’s Division I Championship/Sports Management Cabinet. However, it’s believed the measure will be approved.
“I always felt like to some degree, there needed to be some sort of adjustment to the RPI, otherwise it’s extremely difficult when you’re a northern team and you’re on the road all the time early in the season,” Maloney said. “It’s similar to what basketball has in place and I think it’s a step in the right direction. Getting more credit for winning on the road is a positive and it’s refreshing there’s some movement in the right direction from an equality standpoint.”
The committee’s proposal is interesting to say the least. Strength of schedule (SOS) will continue to be a major factor in the overall RPI formula. However, an important piece to the puzzle are the latest potential changes.
For instance, the value for each road victory in 2011 was weighted at 1.0. Under the revised RPI formula, the value would be 1.3. Each home win would be valued at 0.7 instead of 1.0. And interestingly, each home loss would count 1.3 against a team’s RPI and each road loss would count 0.7 against a team.
“It’s fantastic news. I think the NCAA should be in the business of trying to make things as equal as possible and level the playing field as much as possible,” Connecticut coach Jim Penders said. “If you look at these changes, it definitely helps accomplish the goal of making the playing field a little more even. We know as northern schools we’ll probably never be some southern schools in terms of budgets and things like that, but this is a nice trade-off. It’s making an effort and it’ll be nice to get rewarded for playing more early season road games.”
The weighting of the revised formula was devised from the NCAA’s research that 62 percent of home teams win games in Division I baseball, while also taking into account there are many programs – primarily in the southern United States – that are able to play 35-40 of their allowable 56 games at home, while others may only play 20 home games.
Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan, certainly accustomed to playing at home early in the season, welcomes more moves for equality in college baseball, granted it doesn’t diminish the importance of playing strong non-conference schedules.
“I don’t have anything at all against helping northern schools. That’s not an issue to me. I’m all for a fair system for all,” O’Sullivan said. “A lot of people put so much emphasis on the RPI, but the bottom line is you have to win games. Home or away, you still have to win. The RPI won’t matter at all if you don’t win baseball games.”
Louisville coach Dan McDonnell had contrasting points of view throughout the day. Once told about the rule change he was ecstatic. However, he, as with O’Sullivan, is a little worried about how schedules may come into play with the new rules.
“I’m all about balance and things being 50-50. I’m in that world of playing home-and-homes with people, so I’m all about equality. I don’t want to see teams play the first 22 games of their season at home,” McDonnell said. “But I’m a little concerned because it seems like if you don’t sweep an inferior team at home, it’s almost like a bad weekend with how much they benefit from one win and you benefit from two wins. It’s hard to sweep anyone in college baseball and I’m not sure if this change wasn’t a little steep.”
The NCAA said the rule wouldn’t go into effect until 2013 primarily because they want to hear what coaches think about it during the next year. And with the ABCA Convention coming up in Anaheim, Calif., in January, you can bet this will continue to be a hot topic.
Other changes to the RPI formula also are interesting. For instance, under the revised RPI formula, no bonuses would be given to any teams beginning in 2013. Currently, teams receive bonus points for beating top-75 non-conference opponents on the road and penalty points for losing to bottom-75 non-conference opponents at home. The top bonus is for a road win versus a 1-25 RPI team, while the worst penalty is for a loss to a bottom-25 opponent.
“I don’t really think what formula you use really matters, but you need to be rewarded to the fullest extend for playing a tough non-conference schedule,” O’Sullivan said. “Coaches have the opportunity to create their own schedule and tough schedules should be rewarded. Period."
Also, values for neutral site games will remain the same at 1.0. However, the NCAA plans to reevaluate what exactly constitutes a neutral site contest over the course of the next year.
While the debate about the revised RPI formula will continue until it officially is in place, you can go ahead and chalk the NCAA’s recommendation as a win for northern programs, and some of the southern and western programs that often hit the road against power conference teams.
It’ll be interesting to see how everything plays out.
“I’m curious what this change would have done for RPIs the past few seasons?,” Maloney said. “What changes would have occurred? The telltale sign will be just how much this will change RPIs of some teams the next few years.”
INSTANT REPLAY TO THE COLLEGE WORLD SERIES: Florida fans will be particularly relieved to know the NCAA Division I Baseball Committee proposed instant replay be used in the CWS moving forward. The proposal, if passed by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel on August 11, only would be used in the CWS and not in the first two rounds of the NCAA postseason.
Additionally, instant replay only would be used in situations that include deciding if an apparent home run is fair or foul, deciding whether a batted ball left the playing field for a home run or ground-rule double, or spectator-influence plays on home run balls.
“We have 17 camera locations available to us,” NCAA Division I Committee chairman Tim Weiser said. “If we are really driven by getting the call right, and we have a working model that Major League Baseball uses, it was an easy decision to take advantage of the technology.
It’s worth noting the instant replay review would have to occur before the next pitch or play. Should it occur on a game-ending play, it must be called before umpires leave the field.
NEW LEADERS OF THE COMMITTEE: With Weiser’s time as committee chair near completion, the NCAA Division I Committee has designated Big South Conference commissioner Kyle Kallander as the chair of the committee for the 2012 season, pending approval by the Division I Championships/Sports Management Cabinet. Big West Commissioner Dennis Farrell was elected vice chair and will take over as head chair for the 2013 season.
Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Perfect Game USA and has covered the sport for over 10 seasons. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org