Musings on "Parity"

April 25, 2016

Parity: The state or condition of being equal.


That's right. I googled it.


Too bad google didn't tell me what parity meant when people are talking about football conferences though. I think when most people talk about parity, they are trying to say one of two things:

"Every team has a fighting chance of winning each week," or

"More than one team has a legitimate chance of winning a conference championship."


So in an attempt to tell you, dear reader, which conferences should have the most parity next season, I have developed a metric to rate each team's relative parity. The metric has four inputs - standard deviation of projected conference winning percentages, standard deviation of team ratings within the conference, absolute difference in point differential between the top two teams in the conference, and standard deviation between rating of teams in the top half of the conference. If you've read some of my other posts, you know that I like using z-scores to compare metrics on different scales, and that's what I did here also. I then averaged a conference's z-scores across the four inputs to determine their parity rating. A higher rating means more parity, and a lower rating means less. Results are below.

As expected the Empire 8 and ODAC reign supreme. When considering how closely every team in the conference is distributed, the E8 is in a class of its own. The top-rated team in the conference (St. John Fisher) is favored by fewer than 11 points versus the lowest-rated team (Hartwick) this season. Ten other conferences have a larger point spread between their best team and second-best team! The ODAC also has amazing parity among their top half, with their top 5 teams all projected to finish within one win of each other in-conference. 


On the other end of the spectrum are several teams with one or two outstanding teams at the top of the conference, and several teams at the bottom of the conference with very poor ratings. This metric for parity is far from perfect however, seeing how the NJAC, MIAC, and ASC all have had multiple conference champions over the last two seasons, but the metric used here is focusing purely on projections for the upcoming season. A more accurate metric for long-term parity should also consider actual historical results, i.e. how difficult/easy is it for teams to improve their conference record from the previous season, and how frequently does the conference champion change from year-to-year?


While my metric isn't perfect, it does provide a gauge for what to expect in the upcoming season's conference races. Could the ODAC have a five-way tie for first? It's happened in the Big 12 before. Is Mount Union ever going to lose a conference game while a Kehres is in charge? I wouldn't bet on it this season.

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