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Parity Index

There is one question that is bound to rile up even the most casual college football fan: Which conference is the most competitive?

Well, that's an interesting question and the answer depends solely on the context of the question itself.

The way this essay will approach the presented question is by determining the parity, or non-parity for that matter, associated with each Division 1-A football conference. Through an examination of parity, several valuable insights may be made, including:
  • What conferences are most prone to parity thus making each conference game all that more important;
  • Perspective can be given to "upsets" by placing them in the context of the conference they occur in; and
  • Insights may be made as to relationship between parity and the intangibles associated with each D-1A football conference.

For more information on the parity index check out Ken Pomeroy's recent essay on subject as applied to college basketball. The game may be different, but the principles behind the index are still applicable to this discussion.

What you'll find below is the parity index values for all D-1A football conferences for the 2004 season. The closer the number is to 0, the closer the conference was to being a complete model of parity. The larger the number, the less fun it was to be stuck watching conference games on regional television.

Parity Index - 2004
ConferenceParity Index
Big 1025.5613
Big 1224.4738
Sun Belt22.3357
Big East21.8217

There are a couple surprises here that are worth noting.

The first is that the PAC-10's high Parity Index value is due almost exclusively to USC running roughshod through the conference and Washington, well, not. When there is a large discrepancy between the top and bottom of a conference, there will naturally be shown a dearth of parity.

Secondly, I find the SEC's high placement a little odd. Like most football junkies, I usually am of the opinion that year in and year out the SEC has the most talented football teams in the country. Working under that assumption, it is reasonable to believe that the SEC's Parity Index value would be closer to where the Big 12 finished up because the conference's elite teams, ideally, would be splitting the games between each other.

What ended up occuring was that since the SEC had six teams finish with three or fewer wins, the discrepancy between the basement of the conference and the penthouse was exacerbated to the point where any kind of perceived parity was simply the result of inherently misplaced assumptions. Tennesse and Auburn all but dominated their conference foes leaving me to wonder whether fans juxtaposed a slew of good games for actual parity.

Next, to all the Big East and Conference USA fans out there, Maalox thanks you for your continued patronage. You're now free to move back from the edge of your seat.

Finally, a note on the Big 12 and the ACC. If these two conferences shape up the way they did last season from a parity standpoint, these will be the conferences to watch each week in 2005. With the combustible combination of solid ball clubs and a relatively high Parity Index value, the opportunity for meaningful upsets are palpable.

You couldn't ask for more as a college football fan.

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