Appropriate selection of parents for the development of mapping populations is pivotal to maximizing the power of quantitative trait loci detection. Trait genotypic variation within a family is indicative of the family's informativeness for genetic studies. Accurate prediction of the most useful parental combinations within a species would help guide quantitative genetics studies. We tested the reliability of genotypic and phenotypic distance estimators between pairs of maize inbred lines to predict genotypic variation for quantitative traits within families derived from biparental crosses. We developed 25 families composed of ~200 random recombinant inbred lines each from crosses between a common reference parent inbred, B73, and 25 diverse maize inbreds. Parents and families were evaluated for 19 quantitative traits across up to 11 environments. Genetic distances (GDs) among parents were estimated with 44 simple sequence repeat and 2303 single-nucleotide polymorphism markers. GDs among parents had no predictive value for progeny variation, which is most likely due to the choice of neutral markers. In contrast, we observed for about half of the traits measured a positive correlation between phenotypic parental distances and within-family genetic variance estimates. Consequently, the choice of promising segregating populations can be based on selecting phenotypically diverse parents. These results are congruent with models of genetic architecture that posit numerous genes affecting quantitative traits, each segregating for allelic series, with dispersal of allelic effects across diverse genetic material. This architecture, common to many quantitative traits in maize, limits the predictive value of parental genotypic or phenotypic values on progeny variance.