In a few days, the NCAA will announce automatic qualifying bid allocations to each conference tournament. It's a bit of a black box process to most fans, including me. So to try to better understand what goes into the allocations sausage machine, Black Shoe Diaries hired an expert, RoarLions from BlueWhiteIllustrated and FightOnState, to help explain the process to us.
He did, masterfully. Our following explanation is all thanks to Roar's teaching. And if we screw part of the explanation up, that's a reflection of our ability to learn, and not Roar's ability to explain. In Part 2 found at this link, we look at how Penn State and the Big Ten might make out. But first, let's see how the NCAA makes the sausage.
What Are Auto Bids?
Automatic qualifying bids, in a rare moment of sobriety from the NCAA, are exactly what they sound like. They are guaranteed invitations to the National Individual Tournament on March 20th. Auto bids are earned by wrestlers during the course of the season based on their results from every Division 1 match wrestled, whether the match was a dual meet, dual tournament, or individual tournament. So long as you are a D1 wrestler, and your opponent is a D1 wrestler, the match counts.
The NCAA aggregates the results from all D1 wrestlers at every weight class, and follows a set of rules to determine the top 29 (more on this in a moment). If the Big Ten conference boasts 8 of the top 29 wrestlers at 184lbs, the conference will receive (usually - again, more on this in a moment) 8 autobids.
Although each auto bid is earned by a specific wrestler, those bids do not (yet) belong to the wrestler - they belong to the conference. The conference, after receiving its allocation of autobids, holds its conference individual tournament, and awards the bids in order of finish at each weight. If the Big Ten receives 8 autobids at 184lbs, then the top 8 placewinners will receive the autobid - which, again, is an automatic spot in the National tournament.
How Are Auto Bids Determined?
The NCAA uses four components to determine which 29 wrestlers in each weight class earn auto bids for his conference: 1) Coaches' Poll; 2) Win Percentage; 3) RPI; and 4) goofy rules.
The Coaches' Poll is simple and straight-forward. The NCAA polls coaches for wrestler rankings at all 10 weights. They compile the results, and release a Top-33 ranking for each weight class. Make the Top-33, and you're on your way to earning an auto bid. Fail to make the rankings, and you're already in trouble - but you can overcome it.
The NCAA, like you and I, understand that Coaches are human, and 'to err is human'. (Well - most coaches are allowed to be human; one or two others are not, of course). So, in an attempt to remove human bias, the NCAA also incorporates two purely mathematical calculations: winning percentage, and RPI.
Winning percentage is simple: your wins divided by your total matches. The NCAA, as mentioned above, only counts D1 matches. In other words, you can't try to inflate your win percentage by taking on 100 high schoolers. Once the NCAA has excluded all matches but the D1 variety, they do their long division. Having access to every D1 match result comes in handy for their next math calculation, RPI.
What is RPI?
Rating Percentage Index. Basically, it is strength of schedule. The NCAA multiples your win percentage, your opponents' win percentage, and your opponents' opponents' win percentage, to reach a pure math factor. The higher the factor, the better off you are, because only the Top 33 receive an RPI rank.
Oh by the way - you must have wrestled a minimum of 17 D1 matches in your particular weight class, too. You cannot wrestle 2 matches, win both, and bring a 100% win percentage to the table. However, the 17 match cutoff does not apply to your opponents, nor your opponents' opponents. That is, you don't get penalized for wrestling guys whose season was cut short by injury, or otherwise weren't able to wrestle 17 D1 matches. So we've got that going for us, which is nice.
Let's use David Taylor as an example. He's undefeated, so his Win% is 1.000 - that's pretty good. The Magic Man has also wrestled just about everyone in the top 10, so his opponents' win% is also above average. Let's call it 0.650. And his opponents' opponents' win percentage? You and I have no idea, of course. But let's just call it 50% - 0.500. Multiply those three percentages: [1.000] x [0.650] x [0.500] = 0.325. Hooray! The 0.325 by itself is meaningless. But, when you perform the same calculation for every wrestler at 165 pounds, and then sort them in descending order (after excluding anyone with fewer than 17 matches)....Ta-Da, you have a usable metric.
If, after all of that multiplication and sorting, you have a Top-33 factor, then you get an RPI. The key gotcha here, of course, is that you must have wrestled at least 17 D1 matches. Otherwise, you're excluded.
Putting It All Together
The NCAA looks at the Top 33 from the Coaches' Poll, the Top 33 from the RPI, and your win%. If you're listed in both the Coaches Poll and RPI, and you have at least a .700 winning percentage, you've passed all three hurdles, and you're tabbed "Gold" standard. If you have only two of those three - say, Coaches Poll and .700 Win%, but not RPI because you only wreslted 10 D1 matches due to injuries - you're "Silver", because 2 out of 3 ain't bad. Having only 1 out of 3 is "Bronze". There's no official name for having 0 out of 3 as far as I know, but let's call it "mud".
Generally speaking, the cream rises to the top here. The studs are earning "Gold" status. The guys who've had a couple of hiccups - injuries, youth, trying to hip over David Taylor, etc. - earn "Silver". It's fair, and the ordering of the names usually proves that out.
Then we enter the "on the bubble" territory - the "low Silver" and "Bronze" wrestlers. The NCAA will only allocate 29 auto bids, even though 33 wrestlers enter the tournament at each weight, because they reserve 4 "at-large" bids at each weight class to assign after the completion of conference tournaments. (Quick aside: why reserve 4? Because if David Taylor gets a horrible flu at Big Tens and fails to place - knock on wood - thereby failing to get an auto bid, he'll get scooped up and added to the NCAAs through the At Large process. Insurance for the top wrestlers.)
But, you can't just take the top 29 after looking at those three measures. Just because you're "Silver" doesn't mean you're bringing an auto bid to your conference tournament. Nope. There's one more rule to consider: mandatory minimums.
This year, 2014, the NCAA recognizes eight qualifying tournaments, and each qualifying tournament must have AT LEAST one auto bid for every weight class. Here are the 8 qualifying tournaments: ACC, Big Ten, EIWA, EWL, MAC, Pac12, Southern Conference, and West Regional.
What's the big deal about that? Don't all of those conferences have at least one wrestler at each weight who makes the NCAAs top 29, with a Gold or Silver rating? Actually - no. Not often, but occasionally, a conference won't have a single wrestler in the NCAAs ordered top 29. And since you can't have a "qualifying tournament" if the tournament doesn't have any auto bids which qualify you for Nationals, well - the solution is to make a mandatory minimum rule. Each of the 8 qualifying tournaments gets one auto bid for each of the ten weight classes. Done and done.
Now that we know how the NCAA makes the sausage, let's take a look at how each of our Penn State wrestlers is looking, and how the Big Ten conference is shaping up to receive auto bids, in Part 2. And thanks again, to RoarLions, for his outstanding counsel.