Everyone roots for the underdog in the NCAA tournament. But Cinderella teams are much more significant than just an up-and-coming, feel-good team. When a Cinderella team makes the Final Four, it actually drives college basketball interest and TV ratings.
Scott Grimshaw is a statistics professor at BYU. He wrote a paper with BYU student Paul Sabin projecting what Final Four matchups would attract the most viewers. BYU released a short article about it, and it started to pick up steam.
The research paper started when Grimshaw was researching the TV market and demand for BYU sports on BYUtv. He quickly became interested in the college basketball TV demand for a national audience.
“At the core what we were trying to understand is in this new media market, is college basketball a handful of teams with national followings, or are college basketball teams kind of a regional or a local phenomenon?” Grimshaw said.
In their research, Grimshaw said they reviewed three different types of Final Four matchups. The highest rated type of matchup is the standard David vs. Goliath format. In his research, Grimshaw found that the best-case scenario for a finals matchup this year would be Dayton vs. Michigan, an 11 vs. 2 seeding.
“We found out that the name of the school doesn’t matter,” Grimshaw said. “What matters is really good games with a lot at stake that is expected to be close.”
Grimshaw said to be a Cinderella or a David, a team must be low seeded, it must come from a minor conference and it can’t be well-known to the general population without its success in the tournament. People gravitate toward Cinderella teams.
“The only type of team that unifies us all and gets viewers everywhere is the Cinderella teams,” Grimshaw said. “But the catch is that those Cinderellas have to win. To make it to the Final Four as a low seed means you have to be playing really good basketball and you’re beating teams you’re not supposed to beat.”
The lowest rated matchup is a Goliath vs. Goliath matchup. Grimshaw said that big schools don’t have as big of influence as people generally think they have. Rather, schools like Duke, North Carolina and Florida all have huge local audiences but not as much national interest.
Grimshaw found that the lowest rated Final Four matchups would be Stanford vs. Connecticut and Baylor vs. Tennessee. These are potential bad matchups because the nation already knows about these schools.
Grimshaw said that the ideal matchup would be a David vs. David matchup in the championship game. There have been plenty of David vs. Goliath matchups in the championship game in the past, but two Davids have never faced off for the national title. The closest was Butler vs. VCU in the Final Four in 2011. Grimshaw said there was a bigger bump than expected when they squared off in the Final Four. He only speculates what kind of draw two Davids in the national championship would bring.
“The data suggest that everything would be beat by two Cinderellas,” Grimshaw said. “And I think that makes sense because it would be such a rare event. That would just be such a huge media story that would bring the largest of all audiences.”
But what are the odds that Dayton actually makes the championship game? Grimshaw deferred to statistician Nate Silver for those odds.
“Silver on his blog gives Dayton a less than 1 percent chance of winning the championship,” Grimshaw said. “But they have a 3 percent chance of at least getting there.”
Follow Trent Christiansen on Twitter @TheRealTrento.
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