Australia-New Zealand University Challenge

Fifty universities compete in five conferences across the entire Oceania region, culminating in a sixteen team finals series. A fictional competition inspired by the NCAA college sporting system in the United States.


Until I'd married someone who really cared about US college sports, I didn't know very much about them. But now I can appreciate some of what makes them so popular, especially when compared to their professional counterparts. There is the unpredictability of results game-by-game as a large pool of serious but as yet unprofessional athletes learn to deal with high pressure situations, sometimes making the big mistakes seasoned pros may not. There is also the unpredictability year-on-year due to the high turnover of students entering into and graduating from university, making even a big name university with massive resources reliant on recruiting well to keep the narrow window of ultimate success open for more than a couple of years. Not to mention the endless arguments week-in, week-out that fans can have over the mysterious polls that decide the top 25 rankings. Lastly, there is at least the certainty that your team (whether you studied there or you follow them for other reasons) will more than likely still be around in five, ten or twenty years time - with little risk of being moved away to another city at the whim of an ultra-rich owner, as the threat goes for a professional US franchise. There's no knowing which conferences they might jump around in a brazen attempt to make more money, though.

But with no personal attachment to any US colleges themselves, as a neutral I tried to imagine how a similarly serious competition might look between the forty universities currently in Australia. I soon added New Zealand and other nearby neighbours with shared sporting interests to increase the pool of available universities by a further ten. With teams playing at first within regional conference boundaries, there is plenty of scope to maximise fierce local rivalries (and, unlike the real NCAA of recent times, there will be no teams hopping between conferences). From each conference the best performing teams move on to an NCAA basketball style knock-out tournament, where all results can be extremely unpredictable and even a hot favourite going on to win a championship is never assured.

Stage 1: Conference League Play

  • There are five conferences, with each conference consisting of ten teams. The conferences are loosely classified by state or geographical regions, with university allocation based on traditional primary campus locations (with some exceptions in order to keep the number of teams across all conferences equal).
  • Each team plays the other teams in their conference once.
  • In each conference match three points are awarded for a win, one point for a draw, and zero points for a loss.
  • In each conference match the favourites are given a 66.67% probability of winning, the underdogs are given a 16.67% probability of winning and there is a 16.67% probability of a draw.
  • Favouritism is based on the finishing positions from the previous season, ie the team with the higher conference position is considered the favourite (for Season 1, teams are ranked based on the number of conference championships won in an earlier prototype of this competition where 90 seasons were simulated).
  • At the conclusion of conference play, the conference championship is awarded to the team with the most points. In the event of a tie for any place, the team with the lowest ranking at the start of the season (ie, the underdog who overcame the odds) is placed higher.

Stage 2: Play-off Finals Series

  • The best sixteen teams from across all five conferences qualify for the finals, based on the number of points gained in conference league play:
    • The 1st to 5th seeds are allocated to the five conference champions.
    • The 6th to 15th seeds are allocated to the second and third placed teams in each conference.
    • The 16th seed is allocated to the best performing fourth placed team from one conference.

  • When allocating seeds, the strength of each conference is deemed to be equal. Subject to the three groups of seeds outlined above, a team with a higher number of points gained in one conference will be given a higher seeding than other teams with a lower number of points in the same or any other conference.
  • When multiple teams across different conferences have the same number of points, the highest available seeding will be allocated to the team whose conference was the most successful in the previous season's finals:
    • First priority goes to the conference of the previous season's premiers.
    • Second priority to the conference of the previous season's losing Grand Finalist.
    • Third priority to the conference(s) of the Semi Finalists.
    • Fourth priority to the conference(s) with the most Quarter Finalists.
    • For Season 1, conferences are ranked based on the number of premierships won in an earlier prototype of this competition (where 90 seasons were simulated).

  • The play-off finals see the sixteen seeds drawn against each other as follows:
    • Match A:  1 v 16
    • Match B:  8 v 9
    • Match C:  5 v 12
    • Match D:  4 v 13
    • Match E:  3 v 14
    • Match F:  6 v 11
    • Match G:  7 v 10
    • Match H:  2 v 15

  • The quarter finals see the eight winners from the play-off finals drawn against each other as follows:
    • Match I:  Winner A v Winner B
    • Match J:  Winner C v Winner D
    • Match K:  Winner E v Winner F
    • Match L:  Winner G v Winner H

  • The semi finals see the four winners from the quarter finals drawn against each other as follows:
    • Match M:  Winner I v Winner J
    • Match N:  Winner K v Winner L

  • The grand final sees the two winners from the semi finals drawn against each other:
    • Match O:  Winner M v Winner N

  • In every finals match each team's probability of winning is based on the difference of their seedings (draws are eliminated):
    • Difference
      in Seeds