Penalty Shouts: A chat with Nate Silver

Credit: Anna Boyle/Art Editor Credit: Anna Boyle/Art Editor

This is Penalty Shouts, The Tartan’s sports column inspired by the The New Yorker’s column *Daily Shouts. This satire-fueled column will focus on anything and everything funny in the sports world that is deserving of our comedic attention.*

Earlier this week, the NCAA released comically bad men’s college basketball power rankings (NET) using a new algorithm. Undefeated Ohio State University earned the number one spot after tough wins against the Samford Bulldogs, Cleveland State Vikings, and Fort Wayne Mastodons, and the 8–0 Loyola Marymount Lions are in the top 10 after their grueling schedule against Florida A&M, Central Connecticut State, and Bethesda University of the National Christian College Athletic Association, or NCCA. It all feels like a poorly written sketch for Key and Peele. However, renowned political analyst and sports statistician god Nate Silver, founder and editor-in-chief of statistics-driven website FiveThirtyEight, has come to every fan’s rescue again to tell us just how stupid the rankings truly are. Penalty Shouts sat down with Silver for a short interview about the rankings and what they mean.

First, Silver explained to me the intricacies of numerical ranking systems, specifically how they often feature the number one team as “the best” and the last team as “the worst.” Continuing, he explained that “more often than not, one plus one equals two, but in these rankings, the Ohio State University plus Loyola Marymount equals poo.” I thanked Silver for his original and insightful analysis and quietly left.

After our interview, Silver’s trigger fingers turned to Twitter, and he coherently and mathematically described and analyzed the issue with the NET rankings: “I think, philosophically, NET suffers from a ‘throw random crap at a wall and see what sticks’ problem, which is often characteristic of doo-doo head algorithm designers that care more about their paycheck than doing meaningful work for the only good thing left in the world: college basketball.”

While Silver’s use of excrement imagery colored his analysis in a peculiar, brown light, the core of it rings true. The new NET ratings are s---. There are a multitude of complications coming from the worst ranking system since Buzzfeed Listicles, and since the ranking’s release the NCAA has only doubled down on its confidence in the system, which it will use for the national tournament in March. The NCAA expects the ranking system to winnow out the bad teams by the end of the season, but the NCAA should be prepared for a corporate takeover if the ranking proves to be as incompetent as the first iteration seems to indicate.