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Did math figure out the best way to build a modern college basketball roster?

Plus: conference naming rights updates, what happens to softball, and more:

Good morning, and thanks for spending part of your day with Extra Points.

The correct strategy for building a college football roster that is good enough to compete for a national title isn’t rocket surgery. You just need to sign as many elite recruits as you possibly can. It’s possible that the expansion of the College Football Playoff and the proliferation of the transfer portal could change the calculus a bit, but the data over the last decade has been remarkably consistent.

You need to sign more blue-chip recruits than three stars recruits. If your recruiting isn’t clearing the Blue-Chip Ratio, you’re not winning a national title. You’re probably not even sniffing a four-team playoff.

This makes sense…football is a sport that requires a lot of depth, especially over the course of a 12 game+ season. One or two dudes playing absolutely out of their minds can’t elevate a middling roster to championship contention…not when there are 22 players on the field at once. We don’t exactly have enough data to state how much of a championship roster needs to be recruited out of high school, or at what positions, but we know that if you want to win big, you need stars, and lots of ‘em.

But I think us reporters err when we try to apply that neat narrative to roster building philosophies in other sports. Individual players can change the trajectory of a basketball or baseball roster substantially more than football players, after all, to say nothing of the outsized role that experience can play into roster construction elsewhere.

We’ve seen basketball rosters, after all, of deeply experienced but more athletically-limited players, defeat teams stocked with freshmen, even if those freshmen will be in the NBA next year.

So in a world where seemingly half of college basketball hits the portal every summer, and where coaches can find talent not just in the portal, but in high schools, JuCos and the international world…what’s the “best” way to build a roster?

I have no idea. I’m a college basketball casual. But I’m also a sucker for a good spreadsheet, and Evan Miyakawa might have crunched the numbers enough to come up with a good answer.

Miyakawa, the proprietor of the excellent EvanMiya blog, looked at player and team data over the last three years across all of D1. Based on his data and analysis, he came away with these three recommendations for “Roster Construction Best Practices”:

1) Fill your roster with good basketball players (regardless of where they came from)

2) Returning players should account for at least 50% of the playing time

3) Prioritize recruiting players who will play for at least two seasons

Miyakawa’s analysis found that among the best college basketball teams, returning players account for more than 60% of the available minutes, and that high-major programs that missed the NCAA Tournament entirely were more likely to rely on transfers for larger shares of playing time.

Building a roster that can stick to this best practice means threading a difficult needle between recruiting really good high school basketball players…but not players that are so good that they will bounce to the NBA (or a bigger program) after one season. It also means having the discipline (and the buy-in from your AD) to not try and turn over a roster entirely via the transfer portal, and allow your existing players to grow into larger roles.

Of course, it doesn’t matter how much of your roster comes from transfers vs returning players if none of those players are actually good at basketball. You’re gonna need Top 50 caliber players to make any sort of March run, and if the portal is the only place to get ‘em, then that’s where you go.

I’d be interested in additional research here, as well as breakdowns of what best practices might look like for other sports, like hockey, baseball or volleyball. I have a sneaking suspicion most sports won’t fall into a neat little axiom like the Blue-Chip Ratio.

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What do I think about the Big 12 (and others) potentially selling conference naming rights?

In case you missed the headline that launched a thousand memes, the Big 12, along with Conference USA and potentially other G5 leagues, is reportedly strongly considering a lucrative naming rights deal that would change the name of the dang conference, perhaps to something like the Allstate 12.

Navigate, the analytics firm that also helps many P4 leagues understand broadcast media rights valuations and other projects, penciled out a naming rights deal potentially being worth roughly “$3 million per year” for each Big 12 program. Presumably, a similar deal would be worth less for members of CUSA or the AAC, but even $500,000 annually for each school would be a lot of money.

After having a few days to think about this (and talk to other ADs), I have a few thoughts on these type of deals…

  • I completely understand why conferences would look at selling league naming rights…and honestly, why they’d look at selling naming rights for literally anything they possibly could. With revenue sharing, House-related penalties and potentially future litigation looming, everybody is desperate to find new revenues to forestall deep and painful cuts. Selling naming rights allows an entity to earn meaningful revenue without giving up equity, without asking athletes to do anything extra, and without having to fire anybody. Seems like a win-win, no?

  • Plus, if we’re being honest with ourselves here…the leagues that are most public about looking into this are not exactly collegiate brands with two hundred years of history and brand equity. The Big 12 has only existed since 1994. Conference USA started in 1995, and it feels like about a third of all FBS has spent at least a season as a league member. The AAC, as we know it today, only dates back to 2013. There are not generations and generations of people who will profess deep feelings toward these conference names.

  • One concern I would have…selling naming rights to a league could risk diminishing the value of other commercial sponsorship packages (the “Allstate 12 Championship Game, brought to you by Dr.Pepper” doesn’t quite pop as much as a sponsorship with only one brand in the title, after all). It’s also an asset that could depreciate, rather than appreciate, with time. Let’s say the conference only lets Allstate buy the naming rights for seven years, and then the league sells the rights to Monster. How many people are still gonna call the league by the old name? Doesn’t that diminish the value prop for future brands? We already see this with stadium naming rights.

Everything in college sports is pretty transparently already for sale, so I’m not going to sit here in this newsletter and pretend that some sacred standard of amateurism would be diminished if a college conference adopts corporate branding. NASCAR did it. The English Premier League did it. Golf does it. Eventually, we’ll get used to it, as long as the brand isn’t something like a weapons manufacturer.

But if college sports leaders are hoping to keep everything afloat by slapping more ads on everything, instead of building more sustainable revenue streams (and cutting costs)…then we’ll have this same problem again in four years, only with stupider conference names and uglier stadiums.

But hey, if a few more of you guys buy ads or Extra Points subscriptions, will we take a run at buying some conference naming rights? I’m not saying no!

A few quick hitters to add to your to-read pile:

This newsletter is also brought to you by Short’s Travel Management

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Thanks for reading. For all of you who are wondering when more video game news is coming, good news, I’ll have more info for you in the next newsletter or two. For everybody else, I’ll see you on the internet.

Would you want your conference to do a naming rights deal?

Lets say the company isn't embarrassing and the money is at least mid six figures, per school, per year

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