Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014

BYU professor says Dayton vs. Michigan NCAA final would drive highest TV ratings

By Trent Christiansen, Deseret News

Published: Thu, March 27 5:15 p.m. MDT

 Dayton head coach Archie Miller stands during practice at the NCAA college basketball tournament, Wednesday, March 26, 2014, in Memphis, Tenn. Dayton plays Stanford in a regional semifinal on Thursday.

Dayton head coach Archie Miller stands during practice at the NCAA college basketball tournament, Wednesday, March 26, 2014, in Memphis, Tenn. Dayton plays Stanford in a regional semifinal on Thursday.

(Mark Humphrey, Associated Press)

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.

A few days later, ESPN and the Wall Street Journal ran articles based on their research.

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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1. eagle
Provo, UT,
March 27, 2014

Let's see, I thought last year's Louisville vs. Michigan was one of the highest rated games ever. Not exactly Davids there. I think the highest rated game ever was Michigan State vs. Indiana State. I guess one could call Indiana State the David but it did have Larry Bird and it was undefeated.

I think if Florida would have met say Witchita State, it might have had a similar rating, the undefeated David vs.the powerhouse program.

2. DrGrimshaw
Provo, UT,
March 27, 2014

Since 2000, the HIGHEST rated game was 2010 Duke (Goliath) v Butler (David) with 23.9 million viewers. Last year's Louisville v Michigan was the SECOND highest (23.4 million viewers), but another matchup between big name programs (2009 UNC v Mich St) was only 17.6 million.

3. Who am I sir?
Cottonwood Heights, UT,
March 27, 2014

Obviously giving hope to BYU fans! Can't imagine how a team could be considered a greater Cinderella if they were ever to reach the final four!

4. Rational
Salt Lake City, UT,
March 27, 2014

"On Monday night, March 26, 1979 nearly a quarter of U.S. television sets were tuned to NBC to watch Indiana State (Larry Bird) vs Michigan State (Magic Johnson) play in Salt Lake City’s Special Events Center; the 24.1 rating remains the highest ever rating for a basketball game."

David vs Goliath

5. Rational
Salt Lake City, UT,
March 27, 2014

Few had seen Bird before this:

The Michigan State Spartans of the powerful Big Ten conference were led by Earvin “Magic” Johnson, a flashy, gregarious point guard who represented black and urban America. On the other side, the unheralded Indiana State Sycamores had gone 33-0 on the back of Larry Bird, the reclusive “hick from French Lick” who represented white and small town America.

“You couldn’t have asked for a better dynamic between these two central characters,” said Sports Illustrated writer and CBS analyst Seth Davis to NPR. “On the one hand, they were extremely similar—they were ultimate winners; they were great team players—and yet by the same token, you couldn’t find two guys who were so different on so many fundamental levels, the most obvious being race.”

Johnson was already billed as the game’s next great star, while Bird, having played just three games on TV and avoiding the media spotlight, was almost a mythical figure. Fans who heard of his exploits tuned in to the title game to see if the “great white hope” was as good as advertised.