NCAA must release its data

The most recent NCAA News talks about perhaps the single most important facet of the NCAA championships selection process: the data.

In recent years, the NCAA’s selection process at the Division III level has been, at times, laughable. How else do you explain tournaments where the brackets keep changing after they’ve been released, where the number of teams in each pool needs correction, and the regional rankings are based on incorrect records?

This past offseason, the Capital Athletic Conference proposed a way to end all of this embarrassment: Release the data.

We here at know it is not easy to wrangle the amount of data that we and the selection committee have to deal with. There are more than 11,000 basketball games in a Division III season and while we here at know the rules as to what is a regional game and what is not, not all of the schools do, and everyone with access to the system can change the status of their own games, not to mention report scores, sometimes incorrectly.

However, the beauty of the system is that all of you can see the data and suggest corrections. And you do, frequently.

The NCAA keeps all of this hidden. Not just from the fans, not just from us, but even from the coaches and the schools. They can’t see their OWP or OOWP without coming to our site, or their “official” regional record unless they happen to get into the regional rankings. Only if you are on a regional committee do you get a login to view this information.

So when the CAC suggested opening the data for all to see, we saw it as a great thing.

The NCAA did not. They threw up roadblocks to this request, claiming that it would take six figures worth of budget to allow everyone access, that it would require training and other things that would make it unappealing to the membership. Never mind that they already have a system in place to give some people access to it. It might require more processing power to expand that to all 800 schools, but most of the work involved is in the generation of user accounts.

The benefit is that everyone who creates a schedule in any sport would have the opportunity to be more educated as to how that schedule affects the NCAA Tournament selection process. You’d have instant access to your opponents’ winning percentage and their opponents’ winning percentage. Coaches would see the proverbial man behind the curtain.

Eventually, of course, the proposal was withdrawn.

Our source at the NCAA convention last month told us, “There was a look of distinct relief on the faces of those on the dais.”

Now, admittedly, they have gotten a little better this season, at least in basketball. But how are we to know everything is correct?

Responding directly to the concern about errors, it discussed improving the score-reporting program’s current ability to flag conflicting information submitted by institutions, by adding a function that automatically would trigger e-mails to regional advisory committee (RAC) members and institutional representatives when such errors occur.

Sponsors of Proposal 8 asserted that ranking and selection decisions have been made in the past without resolving such conflicts in data. The Championships Committee wants to clear up such errors before each ranking of teams by a sports committee.

Read the article for yourself. It’s good they are trying to fix things, and indeed, this year’s regional rankings have been based on far more accurate records than in recent years.

But it’s not even close to being enough. The selection process is difficult enough as it is. Let’s at least make sure the right data are being used.