Lucky for all you softball fans out there, in my free time I like to prepare softball data for analysis. This time I went through every game of the 2017 NCAA playoffs and tallied the victories per team. I then matched up the teams to their respective conferences to see which conferences performed best in the 2017 postseason. Everyone knows which teams performed best on the field, but when taking into account every game of the postseason, which conferences did best? What are the top softball conferences in the country, in order? I expected the SEC would be far and away the best conference by every measure including number of teams, number of victories, and number of wins per team. But what I found was not quite as black & white as that. Let's go to the data!
2017 Playoffs—Conference Rankings
1. Big 12
I have to hand out the #1 ranking this year to the Big 12. Not only did the Big 12 have the championship team in Oklahoma, but it also was far and away the most successful conference on a per-team basis. The Big 12 only entered 4 teams into the postseason (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, and Baylor) but those 4 teams racked up 21 wins. And while Oklahoma accounts for 11 of the 21 wins for the Big 12, the conference still put up a remarkable wins-per-team ratio that was far and away the best of the 2017 playoffs.
The SEC has the strongest claim to the #2 slot because of the sheer volume of teams and wins. And being the only other conference with a team in the WCWS final (Florida) doesn't hurt either! I know this sounds crazy, but every single SEC softball program made the postseason! They were a perfect 13 for 13! And those 13 teams racked up 48 victories! There were 136 total games in the 2017 postseason and the SEC accounted for 35% of them! Unreal! The SEC would have taken the top spot but for a Big 12 team winning the title, and for being so far behind in the victories-per-team numbers.
The numbers for the Pac-12 really surprised me. The Pac-12 sent 7 teams to the 2017 postseason and they accounted for 24 victories. But on a per-team basis, the Pac-12 was as strong as the SEC with 3.42 wins per team. I like to talk about the shifting locus of softball from the West Coast in the Pac-12 to the Southeast in the SEC. But the Pac-12 teams performed equally as well as the SEC. Based on this data, maybe it is more accurate to say the SEC and Pac-12 now share the distinction of the best conference in college softball. For these reasons the Pac-12 is my #3.
The #4 ranking was harder to award than #1 thru #3, but I think the ACC, which entered 3 teams in the tournament, has to take the prize. The ACC entered strong teams including North Carolina, Florida State, and Notre Dame. These 3 teams won 7 games and earned a 2.33 win-per-team ratio. The Big 10 was considered for the #4 ranking, but while the Big 10 had more teams in the postseason with 5 and more overall wins with 9, the Big 10 fell short of expectations and only managed 0.8 wins-per-team. The Big 10 even had the #1-ranked team in the country at the time in Minnesota, but could not bust into the top 4 in wins-per-team. And that failure cannot go unnoticed! For that reason the ACC takes the #4 slot in my mind.
So there you have it! The top 4 conferences ranked! The Big 12 takes top honors with the #1 team and most wins-per-team. The SEC takes #2 with the most teams and victories, and the 2nd-most (tie) wins-per-team. The Pac-12 surprises by equaling the SEC in wins-per-team, and the ACC rounds out the top 4 with the 4th-most wins-per-team. The Big 10 is left out in the cold after performing below expectations.
Now if someone asks you what the best conference in college softball is, you can tell them you can rattle off more than the top 1, you can rattle off the top 4 in order!