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Joe Lunardi Responds to Accusations Big 12 is Rigging NET Ratings

Big 12 Basketball Logo From Cincinnati vs. TCU Game

The Big 12 has been the standard in college basketball for a few years now, with a team from the conference winning two of the last three national championships and a team from the league playing in three of the last four title games.

Despite that, some oppose that sentiment and will jump at any chance they find to discredit what the league is doing.

Recently, Clemson head basketball coach Brad Brownell claimed that the Big 12 was rigging the NET, saying that the league is well-represented in the rankings because of the league’s weak nonconference slate.


“A couple of things that folks don’t understand, you can manipulate the NET,” Brownell said in a radio interview. “And there’s a strength of schedule dynamic where the Big 12 has managed it with their scheduling. Their nonconference scheduling, they’re playing 300-level teams and winning by 40 and 50 points to increase their offensive and defensive efficiency numbers, which is a big part of the NET tool. So that’s why you see teams trying to win at the end of games by 30 or 40 points instead of putting in your walk-ons.”

The claims have sparked conversation among many of the sport’s biggest names, and ESPN’s Joe Lunardi decided to get in on the discussion, despite being reluctant to do so.

“I’ve been reluctant to wade into the ‘Big 12 is gaming the system’ debate, primarily because it’s impossible to know (and those who insist they know are simply more insistent than they are correct),” Lunardi wrote on Twitter, prefacing a thread in which he laid out the facts on the matter.


“Here’s what we actually do know:

• There are seven Big 12 teams with a non-conference schedule rankings worse than 300.

• Those seven teams played 32 games against the bottom 100 teams in Division I (more specifically the bottom 112 teams, NET 251-362, but you get the idea).

• The expected margin of victory in those games given the respective strength of the teams involved would be, on average, 28.8 points per game.

• The actual margin of victory in the 32 games was 32.6 points per game.

• Five of the games (3 from Iowa State and 2 from BYU) resulted in a 50+ point spread. Without those outliers, the average MOV in our sample drops to 28.4 points per game (essentially an “as expected” outcome).

• The NET doesn’t exclude the extreme blowouts, nor should it.”

Bottom line: Is it reasonable to conclude that five games–out of almost 400 played by Big 12 teams this season–are enough to skew the whole system? I’m not smart enough to know that answer, but I think most unbiased observers would say it’s unlikely.”

As Lunardi points out, the Big 12 did play a weak nonconference slate. There’s no denying that. However, with a league that includes nine teams set to make the NCAA Tournament, and two others hanging on by a thread to try and sneak in, there are no breaks once January hits.

In other words, how could you blame the programs for taking the chance to play lower level competition to get things figured out before the gauntlet begins? Furthermore, the number of “300-level” teams that the Big 12 played isn’t truly enough to skew the numbers, but don’t tell Brownell that.

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