A Look at Margin of Victory in College Football vs College Basketball


With my beloved Purdue Boilermakers having played the Arizona Wildcats in both basketball and football this year, the thought entered my mind after the Boilers took the Wildcats to the shed in basketball, “How impressive of a win would Purdue need in the Foster Farms Bowl to blow out Arizona in football worse than they blew out Arizona in basketball?”

 

Okay, it ended up being moot as Purdue choked away a big first half lead and won the game on a miracle catch by a guy from Paris, France.

 

But a moot point has never been enough to stop me from digging into the data. So off I went.

 

Using data from Ken Massey’s amazing data page, I was able to take the final scores of the last 10,000 NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball games, as well as the final scores of the last 10,000 NCAA Division 1 Football games and compared margin of victory. I was surprised at how closely they aligned:

For the most part, the college basketball distribution is normal, while the college football distribution has spikes at margins of victory that are multiples of 3 or 7 (or sums of 3+7), unsurprisingly.  But overall, the trend seems fairly aligned.  When you dig into the details, there’s a little more nuance:

  • The median margin of victory is 11 in college basketball, while it is 15 in college football.
  • Both college football and college basketball have one in six games (roughly) end with a team winning by three points or fewer. Close games!
  • A blowout (as defined by a 90th percentile margin of victory) in college basketball is 30+ points while that same mark in college football is around 40 points.
  • Despite the tendency for college football scores to be a bit more lopsided, the biggest margin of victory in the last 10,000 games is 83 for college basketball (Lipscomb vs Fisk on 1/5/2017) and 86 for college football (Valparaiso vs College of Faith on 9/19/2015).

 

Now, with the helpful table below, you can compare victories across the two sports. Circling back to my original question, Purdue football would’ve had to win by 35 to match the Purdue basketball 25 point victory over Arizona.  So check out the table below and be sure to leave a comment with any of your interesting findings!

 

Margin of VictoryCBB gamesCFB gamesCBB PercentileCFB Percentile
14113424.1%3.4%
24872379.0%5.8%
358586914.8%14.5%
450832019.9%17.7%
551725525.1%20.2%
652529730.3%23.2%
745979934.9%31.2%
846325839.6%33.8%
945910244.1%34.8%
1043242748.5%39.1%
1145121753.0%41.2%
1239712556.9%42.5%
1336517860.6%44.3%
1433845764.0%48.8%
1532115267.2%50.4%
1628715270.1%51.9%
1725131972.6%55.1%
1822824474.8%57.5%
1921014476.9%58.9%
2021520479.1%61.0%
2116637980.8%64.8%
2215213882.3%66.2%
2315412583.8%67.4%
2412827385.1%70.1%
2512919486.4%72.1%
261068987.4%73.0%
279417288.4%74.7%
289327689.3%77.4%
29719290.0%78.4%
308710090.9%79.4%
316620591.6%81.4%
328611292.4%82.5%
33747393.2%83.3%
345414193.7%84.7%
355818494.3%86.5%
36514994.8%87.0%
37497595.3%87.8%
384214795.7%89.2%
39399696.1%90.2%
40273796.4%90.6%
41327696.7%91.3%
424011697.1%92.5%
43253297.3%92.8%
44254197.6%93.2%
45279597.8%94.2%
46253998.1%94.5%
47262898.4%94.8%
48194198.5%95.2%
49167198.7%95.9%
50142098.8%96.1%
51152099.0%96.3%
5294299.1%96.8%
5392599.2%97.0%
5471499.2%97.2%
5583199.3%97.5%
5675899.4%98.0%
5751299.4%98.2%
5851699.5%98.3%
5973199.6%98.6%
605999.6%98.7%
611599.6%98.8%
62131399.8%98.9%
6312099.8%99.1%
642899.8%99.2%
653599.8%99.2%
6611999.8%99.4%
674799.9%99.5%
681199.9%99.5%
691899.9%99.6%
7021099.9%99.7%
711199.9%99.7%
721399.9%99.7%
7343100.0%99.8%
7405100.0%99.8%
7501100.0%99.8%
7606100.0%99.9%
7703100.0%99.9%
7814100.0%99.9%
7901100.0%100.0%
8001100.0%100.0%
8110100.0%100.0%
8201100.0%100.0%
8310100.0%100.0%
8401100.0%100.0%
8500100.0%100.0%
8601100.0%100.0%