Who really has the ACC's Top Athletics Program? It's Florida State.
By Bill Roth
So, which school really has the best overall athletics program in the ACC? It's Florida State
How did we crown the Seminoles as the conference's "All Sports Champion?" for both 2017-18 and as the ACC's best overall athletics program since the start of the 2004-05 season?
First, some background on this project. We wanted to create a fair way to determine a true league all-sports champion. And from a historical perspective, prove which program has been the best.
But, if we named the ACC's best program solely based on league titles, we would give an unfair advantage to schools that offer the most overall sports. Only two ACC schools, North Carolina and Duke, participate in all 27 sports offered by the league. By comparison, Florida State offers just 19 sports and Georgia Tech only participates in 17. So, we want to be fair to every athletics department, big or small.
Secondly, if we determine our result by success in NCAA Tournaments and post-season competition, which is what the Learfield Cup does, we completely omit regular season success. For example, in the Learfield standings, the 2018 Virginia men's basketball team received the same number of points as Texas Southern or Bucknell because it lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It gets no credit for a 31-3 season including a 17-1 ACC mark, or for winning the ACC Tournament. In the Learfield standings, those two accomplishments aren't considered.
So we went year-by-year. Every team. Every sport. Head-to-head within league play to determine which school actually performed the best on an annual basis. Surprised at the result? Well, don't be. FSU has finished either first or second every since year 2004-05.
Also, some ACC schools are very successful in sports outside the ACC umbrella, such as Boston College (men's and women's ice hockey) and Notre Dame (football).
What we wanted to do was to devise a formula that's fair to all and gives an equal playing field to all 15 schools.
And we also wanted to look big picture, and so we went back to the 2004-05 season when the ACC expanded to include Miami and Virginia Tech. We went through every school, every team, every sport and looked at head-to-head competition within the ACC. That gives us 14 years of data, and thousands of games to include in our analytics which is far more accurate and essential for this to work. Why? Because in the ACC, schedules are unbalanced. For example, not everyone plays everyone else in basketball and football each year. But over 14 years they do. We don’t need divisions, because everything is head-to-head over 14 years. Thus, we have much more data and more balanced analytics for all teams.
Didn’t the ACC do this before?: Sort of. The Carmichael Cup was awarded each year to the league’s “All Sports Champion,” but it didn’t take into consideration schools that don’t compete in every sport. North Carolina won just about every year and the competition was phased out completely.
Ok, here's where we get a little tricky and start talking about denominators and quotients. But remember, we want to be fair to all so if only five teams play lacrosse in the ACC, and all 15 play basketball, how do we handle it?
To make it fair, we give each school a 'denominator,' which is the total number of sports each ACC team competes against within the league. For example, UNC (320), Virginia Tech (291), and Georgia Tech (239) each has a different denominator.
Points are awarded based on the number of competing teams in a sport (e.g. – 14 teams compete in ACC baseball, giving the winner 14 points, second gets 13, etc. Six teams compete in wrestling, awarding six points to the winner). A program's points total is divided by the total number of teams competing in the sports the school fields and that quotient ranks the teams in the final standings.
So again, it's the quotient that enables us for example to compare UNC to FSU even though the Tar Heels have far more athletes and teams competing in the ACC than the 'Noles.
Regular season standings are used in all sports except: cross country/track & field, swimming & diving, golf, rowing, and fencing. For these sports, placing at the ACC Championships is used.
We looked at some other conferences to see if anyone had a similar league-wide scoring system. The SEC and Sun Belt use similar formulas. The Sun Belt awards additional point for conference tournament champion. The SEC weighs Cross Country/Track and Field as one sport:, (XC = .25, Indoor T&F = .25, Outdoor T&F = .50. In our formula, we treat each sport as its own team.
What about Boston College (men's and women's ice hockey) and Notre Dame (football) which have very successful teams outside of the ACC's umbrella? We ran the numbers and named BC a hypothetical ACC hockey champion every year since 2006. Even with that boost, BC finishes 16th in overall standings. (Yes, 16 teams because Maryland's data must be included since it competed against BC (and everyone else) in this matrix before it left the conference.)
If we count Notre Dame's five football games per year vs. ACC teams into the equation and give the Irish points for football, Notre Dame moves up one spot -- from fifth to fourth -- in the overall standings since it joined the league in 2013.
The Brain behind this:
The brain power behind all this is analytics whiz and stats guru Damian Salas. Damian has been involved in stats at Virginia Tech since 1995 and is currently the Senior Director and Webmaster for hokiesports.com.
He's developed incredible live-stats formulas and displays for media, and is another in a long line of successful Virginia Tech analytics experts.
Damian provided the computer formulas and I provided ... well ... I provided the ice, which is very important.
Ice is very crucial when you're sitting around for six weeks discussing, tweaking and adjusting a formula that is fair to all, takes into consideration expansion, unbalanced scheduling, and examines data over a 14-year period.
So, in terms of actual head-to-head competition and the actual results of thousands of games over a 14 year period, it's Florida State that rises to the top of the ACC as the conference's top overall program.
Interested in the raw data? Below are two charts which show data for the 2017-18 season only. It shows that this year was a good one for NC State (its highest finish in 12 years) and Virginia Tech (its highest finish in eight years.)