Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The BIG EAST’s Tweet Coast Bias

On New Year’s Eve, 10 private colleges took part in the (re)inauguration of BIG EAST basketball.  The BIG EAST* kicked off the fall season several months earlier, but the primary purpose of the “new Big East” was basketball.  If the conference was born (again) with soccer and volleyball, New Year’s basketball was its baptism.

*OK, that’s enough of that all-caps thing

As a graduate of the school on the western heel of the new Big East’s footprint, I was concerned that the new conference would neglect much of the news out of Nebraska.  Just as Stephen Colbert does not see race, I do not see regionalism.  However, with this anecdote, my friend showed me that it is a legitimate concern.  He went to school out east and, when he introduced himself as being from Minnesota, his fellow student responded with “Oh, cool.  Is that in Wisconsin?”* Almost a month has passed since the coronation of the new conference and I wanted to check in on my concerns.  So, as I think to myself almost daily, thank goodness for Twitter.

*Maybe this ad-campaign should have clarified that Minnesota is a state, and is not a city in WI.

While not necessarily the most accurate assessment of where the Big East shines its spotlight, who it tweets about is an approximation for emphasis.  The official Big East Twitter account, @BIGEAST, has tweeted* 193 times between 12/31/13 and 1/29/14.  Of these, 48 were what I categorized as “general” or “overall conference” tweets – where there was no specific reference to a school or player, just to the conference or conference tournament.**  The remaining 145 tweets referenced the schools (or a player from a school) 227 times, or about 1.57 schools per tweet.

*Or retweeted.  As in, “Elmer Fudd retweeted (from) Bugs Bunny”

**This also included tweets about schools not playing Big East basketball.  Because of the peculiarities of conference realignment, the University of Denver is evidently a part of the Big East’s lacrosse conference.  Which means that if Creighton is the heel of the Big East, Denver must be the snow-soaked sock.

Here is the breakdown, by school, of twitter mentions (ordered as shown on the Big East Twitter page)
Creighton        25
St. Johns         28
Georgetown    20
DePaul            12
Butler              23
Providence      24
Xavier             22
Seton Hall       20
Villanova         32
Marquette       21

The average number of school mentions is about 22.5 which is on par with the theoretical average of 22.7.  With DePaul coming in at about half that, all I can say is those have to be some blue Demons.  The five western-most Big East schools (CU, MU, DU, BU, and XU) averaged 20.6 per school while the eastern five averaged 24.8.  Put another way, the western schools composed 45% of the mentions while the eastern teams had the remaining 55%.  Based on this east-west division, it looks like the schools to the east are gaining a little more attention from the conference.

So now might be time to mention that this analysis does not account for the fact that not all schools are currently playing all of the same sports right now (such as lacrosse or track and field) or that all schools are playing these sports as well as the others and deserving of equal attention.  Nor does it take into consideration the population density or distribution of Big East fans.  Nor does it consider numerous other factors.  But because this is a blog and it is peer-reviewed by one almost-PhD, and not a committee of PhD’s, I am considering my methods sound and my result to be likely statistically insignificant.

Because the overall analysis is about geography, it would be flawed without a few maps.  If you plot the 10 Big East schools, the geographic mid-point would be in Mogadore, OH – a 3,800 person village near Akron.  This assumes that each school is given equal weight.  However, if we find the geographic midpoint with each school weighted according to the number mentions on the Big East twitter account, the midpoint shifts about 33 miles (as the Bluejay flies) nearly straight east to the city of Salem, OH. See Figure 1. In the 1,265 miles between Creighton and Providence, a 33 mile shift from the non-weighted midpoint equates to approximately a 3% east coast bias. 

Figure 1.

Using the center of minimum distance method* of calculation, we get slightly different results.  The non-Twitter weighted center of the Big East is the borough of Sewickley, PA.  If we add the Tweights (Twitter-weights), the center moves 161 miles to the east to Duncannon, PA.  Also a borough.  See Figure 2. This is about a 13% east coast bias factor.

*Essentially this means if three people are flying to meet each other, the point identified will minimize the total travel distance among all three flyers.  There is a detailed description of the two calculation methods here…but once I saw trig functions I got scared and stopped reading so I might have misunderstood the difference.

Figure 2.

The three different tests above all indicate a slight preference for the East (it is in the name of the conference after all).  However, given the flaws in the analysis and that the basketball season is only halfway completed, I think the jury is still out.  But, as Monsters, Inc. will remind you, “Don’t let it happen again…I’m watching you…always watching you.”  Big East, you can expect a post-season follow-up analysis of the Big East account, and the Men’s and Women’s basketball-specific accounts, too.  

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