When it comes to RPI, common sense should win out

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The three worst letters in college athletes are BCS. But RPI might be a close second.

The Rating Percentage Index is all over the college basketball news cycle the last few days, mostly because of the mock NCAA Tournament selection last week in which 20 members of the media – including our own Dave Ommen – were tasked with selecting the 68-team field, then seeding them. The RPI is essential to how the field is selected, even though it’s an outdated metric.

It was enough to prompt back-and-forth chatter between basketball writers about why the RPI is bad, why it’s good and even took up the first half of Seth Davis’ weekly Hoop Thoughts column. (He’s a fan.)

ANYWAY, regardless where you stand on RPI – can’t say I hate it, but I don’t have any use for it, either – I rarely see anything about how the metric was developed and who did it. After all, it’s been used since 1980, making it one of those stats that’s been around so long, you just kinda accept it and don’t even think about it as an acronym.

Then I read this outstanding story by John Gasaway of Basketball Prospectus.

It covers everything: the current system; the RPI’s inventor, Jim Van Valkenburg; the NCAA’s first entry into stats and how they eventually chose Van Valkenburg to assist with an increasingly complicated NCAA tournament field to seed and what the RPI’s uses are.

It’s long, but fascinating, particularly with how Gasaway – no fan of the RPI – treats the work involved in creating the RPI and why that in itself deserves respect.

But the last section of the story is the simplest and the best. Common sense always wins out.

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