Do the Best Teams Win? Part Three

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.

Previously, we looked at dominant teams and those that survive and how both should be valued as some of the best teams ever. Today, we evaluate this in more depth.

When you evaluate the best team ever, you need to consider both dominance and determination. Dominance is the fact of teams that just pummeled everyone. An example of this would be taking a top team and putting them in a tournament with all very weak teams. Determination is gained as a tournament unfolds. A team gets better at winning quizzes that they otherwise would not. For an example of this, check out the Pittsburgh Steelers. They have won their last 3 games be close margins. This ability to pull out a game will serve them well in the playoffs and they need to win a close game.

Ten months ago, I wrote about the best coach ever, and I said that Paul West brought the most dominant teams. While not using this terminology, I said that Randy Thaxton brought the most determined teams. Once is a coincidence, twice is a trend, but if Illinois can win 5 AACS titles in 7 years without ever averaging more than 2% of the points per quiz of their closest opponent, they obviously had some quality that leads them to this. I am calling this quality determination. While I am not attached to that term, it is the one I have chosen.

Determination is what allowed Athens to win AACS two years ago, when almost everyone had Old Paths as the better team. Ditto Woodside last year. Almost every team that wins these days needs at least some determination, as there are so many good teams. I have frequently been quoted as saying that “Quizzing is Deeper, not better” than it was in the past. This increased depth means that any champion in the past 5 years needed determination, while 15 years ago, it might not have been as necessary.

There are two ways to look at the best teams ever. The first is to evaluate it on a one year basis. The second is to evaluate it in chunks of years. This is done more commonly, and when it is, it has been commonly said that the Tennessee teams of the 70’s, the Colorado (South Sheridan) teams of the early to mid 80’s, the South Carolina (Southside) teams of the late 80’s to early 90’s, the Florida (Master’s) teams of the early to mid 90’s, and the Illinois (Schaumberg) teams of the late 90’s were the cream. Another article will evaluate this a bit.

As for the one year teams, those are tougher to evaluate with the scant data. While I have gathered sophisticated AACS data from 1992 forward, I have nothing prior to that. However, I would like to look at that data. I created a formula of the champions for every year from 1992-2004. First, I looked at average score, compared to the other teams. Then, I made adjustments of up to 7% for records in quizzes decided by 20 points or less. Then, I compared them to the 2nd through 5th place teams. Then there is an adjustment based on where you finish. Why the top 5? While certainly arbitrary, it seems that the complaints of lack of depth in some years would easily be solved and evaluated in a top 5, and I need to choose a given number of teams that remains consistent.

Determining where they rank in this hierarchy provides some unique data. The result is a number where a 50% would mean that you were very good. It theoretically means that you would get 50% of all “stressful” questions in a three-team quiz against two other top 5 teams from any of the 12 years. Only 4 champions had scores of 50 or more, which would seem about right. Looking at the top 6 champions gives us the following information. Illinois in 1996 (74) and 2000 (50), and the top two champions–1994 (78) and 1995 (81) Florida. The other championship teams who would also get over 40% of such questions were 2001 Colorado and 1997 Illinois (both 46). When I looked at 2nd-5th place teams, only one of the top 7 was a 2nd place team. Three others cracked the top 12. 1997 Colorado and 2000 Florida were closely behind their first place counterparts, suggesting that those two years had a clear top two. The third of those teams was 2004 Pennsylvania, which for the second year in a row “should have” won. Other than those two years, the only other team to do so was the statistical outlier of 1993 Florida, which not only finished #1 overall, but the accompanying 1st place team (GA) was easily the lowest of the champions.

Now, what does this suggest? First, that normally the best team wins. Second, that Old Paths has been unfortunate. Third, that even the best teams can lose. Obviously, if we could implement other data, like SCQANIT or Athens NYC, which of course is not always entered by all teams for many reasons, the final data may be more sound. Finally, some would say that the data is skewed toward earlier years (which when the lowest champion was from the first year seems ludicrous, but…). However, it does not skew that way. I thought about this and changed the data. If Old Paths had won the last two years by the same narrow margins by which they had lost, they would have had one team #3 and another in the top 10. Therefore, I disagree with the bias of yesteryear assertion. I do say that it supports my synopsis that Bible Quiz is deeper, but not necessarily better.

It is clear that the 5th place teams from recent years are more capable of winning (5th place teams are now getting 20% of those questions, as opposed to 15%). It is also true that the teams that win in later years get more testing to win. However, it may be possible that based on the same logic I used last week, I did not punish teams enough for finishing 2nd. The only thing that is known is that 12 teams have won in that period and regardless of what the Lindsay Formula comes up with, they will always care more about their championship.

Come back next week, when Ron Zyhaus and I interview each other, including our thoughts about the best teams of three years or longer.

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