Meet the Iowa State fan behind the website at the heart of the Big 12 tiebreaker fiasco

Meet the Iowa State fan behind the website at the heart of the Big 12 tiebreaker fiasco

As the Big 12 fixed its confusing football tiebreakers, bball.notnothing.net emerged as a go-to. The website’s founder warns that not everything is solved.

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

| Nov 16, 2023, 6:00am CST

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

Nov 16, 2023, 6:00am CST

NORMAN — Meet mred.

He’s a 44-year-old actuary from the greater Milwaukee area. 

He holds a degree in electrical engineering from Iowa State.

His online name — mred prefers to stay anonymous — is derived from a 1960s sitcom about a talking horse. 

And, since about 6 p.m. Saturday, his website, bball.notnothing.net, has been at the heart of the Big 12 Conference’s football tiebreaker fiasco.

“Yeah, man,” he told Sellout Crowd Wednesday morning. “It’s been a crazy few days.”

He spends his spare time breaking down tiebreakers. Around the Big 12 this week, that became everyone’s business. 

With six programs bunched together at the top of the conference standings, the league’s title game tiebreaker scenarios have come into focus in the early weeks of November. As such, the collective attention has settled the league’s set of poorly articulated or ill-conceived tiebreakers for its first and only football season with 14 teams. 

On Tuesday, Sellout Crowd’s Berry Tramel reported a clarification on the tiebreaker rules related to a potential three-way tie involving Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State, sparking reaction on campuses in Norman, Stillwater, Manhattan and beyond. 

The league’s athletics directors met Wednesday morning to discuss the tiebreakers. Later in the day, the conference released a statement confirming the clarification placing precedence on head-to-head results.

“If all the tied teams are not common opponents, the tied team that defeated each of the other tied teams earns the Championship berth,” a Big 12 statement read. “There have been no changes to any rules regarding Big 12 football tiebreaker procedures, which were agreed upon prior to the season and went into effect August of 2023.”

Long before fans, reporters and evidently some officials in the league office threw themselves into the intricacies of the Big 12’s football tiebreaker scenarios, mred was doing it first. Over at bball.notnothing.net, he has models on the tiebreaker procedures for 32 college basketball conferences as well as the Big 12 football league. 

At its core, his website is a place to go for understanding the trickiest tiebreaker scenarios and playing out the wildest possible conference outcomes across college athletics. Fool around with the remaining Big 12 schedule long enough and you can concoct an eight-team tie for first place in the final conference standings.

Simply put, mred understands tiebreakers better than most of us, and the website he runs as a hobby is an effective tool across all seasons. 

In a moment like this, as the Big 12 is forced to address its tiebreakers with two games remaining in the regular season, his perspective is more insightful. It can even help explain just how we got here. 

“When it was a true round-robin, it was easy to figure out,” he said. “Anyone could do it with pencil and paper. My site just made it faster.” 

“Now it gets really difficult,” he continued. “As we’ve all discovered, there’s a lot of things that are ambiguous.”

So, how does one come to spend their free time programming models for tiebreakers from the Big 12’s football conference to women’s basketball in the Horizon League? 

Mred, an avid Iowa State and Chicago Cubs fan with a background in engineering who works as an actuary in the healthcare sector, calls it a marriage between his strongest interests. 

“There’s the part of me that likes making things based on a specification like tiebreaker procedures,” mred said. “And there’s the part of me who is interested in the data side and how things might interact. And then, I’ve been a sports fan my whole life.”

The moniker “mred” was born in 1995. Mred was picking out a name for his student email account at Iowa State when his mind inexplicably turned to “Mister Ed”, a sitcom that ran for six seasons from 1961-66. The show, of course, starred a talking Palomino.

As for the website that generates thousands of clicks typically around March Madness each year, the genesis came in the early 2000s. 

A passionate follower of Iowa State’s women’s basketball program, he started tracking Big 12 women’s basketball conference tiebreakers in a spreadsheet. Soon, he was doing the same for men’s basketball in the Big 12. By 2007, the website bball.notnothing.net, still only tracking Big 12 hoops.

He eventually added the Big Ten to the site, and then started tracking the rest of the power basketball leagues before expanding into the mid-major conferences. In 2021, he added the Big 12 as the lone football conference featured on the site. Today, bball.notnothing.net is the go-to for tiebreaker models in 65 leagues across men’s and women’s college basketball and Big 12 football.

“It’s just on a cheap shared hosting site,” he said.

OU players this week largely downplayed any attention being paid to conference tiebreakers and results across the league. Sooners coach Brent Venables this week stiff-armed a question over whether he’d familiarized himself with the math required to get OU into the Dec. 2 Big 12 title game. 

“I just know that I’m trying to win this week,” he said. “That’s where I can utilize the time that I have in the best way.”

Fans across the Big 12, however, have turned tiebreaker crazy. 

Mred says the busiest times of year on the website tend to hinge on the college basketball schedule. When late-season basketball approaches conference tournament time each year, visits to bball.notnothing.net spike. Early November is often quiet.

Not this year, though. 

Without its round-robin format, the Big 12 race has been stripped of its relative simplicity in 2023, sparking confusion and questions surrounding all the possibilities for the conference title game through to the Big 12’s update Wednesday afternoon.

As a result, roughly since OSU’s loss at UCF went final on Saturday, bball.notnothing.net has blown up. With people flocking to the site, mred spent three hours Tuesday night updating his models based on the expected Big 12 clarification. 

“There were like 35K views on Sunday,” he explained. “That’s on par with a week out from regular season basketball. But that’s with 64 tiebreakers. For one league like the Big 12, that’s quite a lot of people. Monday it blew up to 89K. I usually only see that at the very end of a basketball season.”

From 2011-22, the Big 12 operated with 10 football teams. The conference’s 14-team league in 2023 was always going to prompt changes to the tiebreaker language. But the late-season drama Big 12 watched play out this week surely could have been avoided. 

Mred is not the ultimate authority on Big 12 tiebreakers. He holds no insider insight into how the league determined its tiebreaker rules for 2023 or how they went about clarifying them with two games left to play. 

By his work, he does have a theory on how the conference’s latest quagmire came to be. 

“I think one of the big issues was I think they took pieces from other tiebreakers that made sense,” he said. “But the problem is that they didn’t take into account some of the interactions of those pieces.”

Mred also cautions that the latest update for the Big 12 doesn’t solve all the problems in its current tiebreaker language. 

“There’s still going to be plenty of ambiguous things that I really don’t know the answer to and I’ll just kind of have to make my best guess as to how to interpret them,” he said.

The Big 12 appears to have its conference tiebreakers sorted. On Dec. 2, two of its teams will meet at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Visitors to the football end of  bball.notnothing.net will drop off.

As for mred, he’ll gear up for basketball season soon. 

He’s considered moving to the site to a stronger platform to offer more resources around peak times such as March Madness. At one point, he also had plans to expand his football coverage on the site, broadening to the other power conferences. 

He’s less sure of those plans now. 

“We’ll see about that,” he said. “After as crazy as this has been this year I wonder if I want to open myself up to that.”

 

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Eli Lederman reports on the University of Oklahoma for Sellout Crowd. He began his professional career covering the University of Missouri with the Columbia Missourian and later worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette before two years writing on the Sooners and Cowboys at the Tulsa World. Born and raised in Mamaroneck, New York, Lederman grew up a rabid consumer of the New York sports pages and an avid fan of the New York Mets. He entered sportswriting at 14 years old and later graduated from the University of Missouri. Away from the keyboard, he can usually be found exploring the Oklahoma City food scene or watching/playing fútbol (read: soccer). He can be reached at [email protected].

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