Do the Best Teams Win? Part II

Bill James is a famous sabermetrician. This means that he studies competitions that are normally not evaluated beyond wins and losses and looks at the numbers inside the event. Bill James event of choice is Baseball. Today, mine is Bible Quiz.

Last week, we looked at dominant teams and those that survive and how both should be valued as some of the best teams ever. This week, however, we will talk about the effect on teams outside of the top 5-6 battling for a mild upset to get into the top 5.

Brant Callaway, Tex Poston, and Ron Zyhaus frequently say that each team going into a tournament should have a distinct goal. Matt West once emailed me that “it is impossible to hit a target you cannot see.” So each team needs to know what their goals are. Now, honestly, some teams overvalue their own skill. A certain unnamed team was irritated when they were ranked 9th on this website last year. Of course when they finished 9th at their only tournament, they had excuses (most of them were even valid).

An NFL coach once answered a media question about whether his team was overrated with, “People can say whatever they want about this team, but the fact is we are 6-3 and our ranking is that we are 3 games behind those 9-0 and 6 ahead of those 0-9.” This quote has stuck with me for a few years largely because of its profundity. We all talk about “What Might Have Been” and “Who Should Have Won” and as make-believe journalists that is our job. Nonetheless, the only thing we can point to that is substantial is what actually happened.

Last week we mentioned that dominant teams don’t always win. The last two years, Old Paths has been the most dominant each year, yet they still haven’t won anything they consider to be a big time championship. Now, I love Old Paths, and I believe they will win soon, so I am not looking to insult them. I merely want to point out that what we consider to be the “best” team is not always the winner. Now, let’s break this down to a level below the top 5 and evaluate it on the 6th-10th place level. David Marriott (or one of his many name thiefs) brought this up after my last poll and I was blown away by my own inconsistency.

I clearly make teams win tournaments before I place them with others that have won, but I have been known to place a team that “seemed” better over a team that beat it when we are ranking 8-10. This is not right. Now, if those teams were in a tournament all by themselves they may certainly end up in a reverse order. However, the facts dictate that when they quiz in a real tournament, they may have to go against an Old Paths team with Tim Keenan, Matt Harwood, and Grace Keenan. In such an elimination quiz, being able to beat each other only is not good enough. In these quizzes, Old Paths frequently wraps up 15 questions all by themselves, leaving only 5 for the others. We are usually looking for the team that can get 3 questions against both the other team and Old Paths. While these may be the only three they would get against the other team, they still win the quiz. This is why a survival team is clearly BETTER than a dominant team at the 6-10 place level.

Parenthetically, let me also say that ranking a team #6 should not be an insult. In the past year, I have seen over 100 teams from over 60 ministries participate in Bible Quiz. This is tremendous not only from the standpoint that we have many students memorizing Scripture, but also because we think you are better than 94 of them. Why are we like this in competitive events? I have never heard someone to tell their child who got a 1500 on the SAT that they are a failure. Nonetheless, I have seen a second place team at Bible Quiz get upset at their team. Now, clearly, some teams should do better, but for every overachieving team that we praise, there has to be at least one underachieving team. So, those teams that are ranked #6 and feel they have something to prove, feel free to prove it, but be honored that we are giving you the dap we are!

Last year, because of a dual-enrollment issue, Jesse Startup did not quiz with TMA early in the year. Because TMA had their 4th coach in three years and he was fired in the middle of the year, everyone else on the team checked out early and they quickly became a bad team. Parenthetically, when a few of the others got the “Jesse-boost”, they began to work again and the Middle School team was very solid all year, so by the end of the year many feel they may have been a contender. When Jesse was added to the team, he immediately got 6 every quiz and led his team to a 4th place finish in the FQA Finals (not to mention a 6th place finish at Athens). Now, clearly, there were many teams that could have easily beaten this team in a two team quiz, but that doesn’t mean they should be ranked higher. Fact is Jesse almost always got them middle wins. Similarly, Jenni West in 1996 led her TMA team to a 4th place finish in AACS without a single question being answered by someone else.

There are other examples outside of Florida you may wanna plug in if you are so inclined. None of these teams, however, had any chance to win tournaments and there were several teams that finished below them that could have won in a two-team championship. But the facts remain; we should look at what HAS happened. So when looking at teams just outside the top 5, we need not evaluate them on how well they would do against each other only, but also how they will do when they quiz each other in a three-team quiz against one of the top five teams. This is the most likely elimination scenario in big tournaments.

So when evaluating if the best teams win, we must also see if the best teams always finish tenth. The answer to me was that I needed to rethink how I ranked those in the lower half of my ballot. Granted, I have biases and I am not perfect, but at least starting with a better system will help me. Now, let the trash-talking of ballots begin!!!

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