Dissecting the numbers on how expansion would benefit the Big 12

May 6, 2016

I think we can all agree that conference realignment is a hopelessly confusing subject.

The only thing more confusing? Math.

You've undoubtedly seen a lot of numbers floating around this week in regard to a report prepared for the Big 12 by Navigate Research that assessed how much potential expansion would improve the conference's playoff chances. You may also have noticed some of these numbers conflicted with one another and/or seemed wildly disparate.

That may be because Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby tried to recite them off the top of his head to those of us covering his conference's meetings in Phoenix earlier this week. And because sportswriters generally don't hold a high-level comprehension of math.


I now have the official numbers courtesy of the Big 12 and will attempt to explain/clarify them below.

-- First, it's important to note that Navigate did not base its study solely on the two seasons played so far with a four-team playoff. Its data is based on the past 10 seasons.

-- Second, there is no one set number by which the league's playoff chances would improve because the ADs and coaches were presented several different scenarios, each of which results in a different percentage. For each scenario, Navigate ran 40,000 simulations.

-- Finally --€“ and this where it gets really tricky -- there are two different ways to quantify percentage growth. One is the straight-up point difference. For instance, say your boss tells you there's a 50 percent chance of you getting a promotion, then comes back the next day and says it's now 60 percent. Your odds increased by 10 percentage points. However, 10 is also 20 percent of 50, so your odds grew by 20 percent.

The following data will list both numbers for the league's three most likely scenarios.

1)  If the conference keeps its current model of 10 teams playing nine conference games but adds a championship game, its playoff chances will increase by 4 percentage points, creating 6 percent growth.

2)   If the conference expands to 12 teams, keeps its nine-game schedule and adds a championship game, its playoff chances willincrease by 11 percentage points, for a growth of 18 percent.

3)   And in the most favorable scenario, where the conference expands to 12 teams, drops from nine league games to eight and adds a title game, the odds increase by 13 percentage points, for a growth of 21 percent. Note: That includes an assumption that the extra non-conference game is against a "quality opponent."

Still confused? Then this might help you. 

CBSSports.com reported this week per a source that Navigate determined the league's current playoff chances to be 62 percent. If that's the case, we can apply the aforementioned numbers accordingly.

-- With 10 teams and a championship game, playoff chances go from 62 percent  to 66 percent.

-- With 12 teams, nine conference games and a title game, playoff chances increase to 73 percent.

-- In the same scenario but with eight league games instead of nine, playoff chances increase to 75 percent.

In the end, that projected 21 percent growth for 12 teams/eight games is even higher than any previously reported number and has to be pretty eye-opening to league officials.

However, as I wrote Wednesday, playoff chances are just one of many aspects school presidents will ultimately consider. The biggest issue is how much the conference would increase its television revenue with whatever schools it's considering adding. The conference has employed a different consultant to prepare those numbers.

Which means more math to come.