Case: Revising College Sports Rankings (Part III)

“The Pitch”

Sport: A Case by Case Basis | January Edition | Part IPart IIPart III

After questioning the completeness of college sports rankings in Part I and analyzing the legitimacy of that claim in Part II, we finally arrive at possible solutions the problem in the third and final portion of January’s case study. I believe this is the most important and yet the most omitted portion of sports analysis articles as writers often seem quick to voice concerns and point out mistakes, but rarely take the final step to offer a path to resolution. Thus, I wanted to make sure that I held true to my belief so I will provide you with some possible solutions to building a complete and balanced (between student and athlete) performance ranking system for college sports. Please note that I am definitely not claiming these to be the solutions, but simply suggested solutions that may represent one of several ways in which to answer the question I originally raised.

1.) Current Year Rankings — these rankings, similar to the AP Top 25 or USA Today Polls, would rank teams according to the current year’s performance. Thus, any past performance outside of the given period (i.e. that season) would not be factored in.

Ideally, I wanted to develop formula that included stats like Graduation Rate, Honor Roll athletes in a performance statistic that could be built with similar mathematical logic and structure to other rankings like the BCS or performance metrics like Total QBR or WAR. After some research on the different metrics, I settled upon creating a metric that would build off of the BCS Formula as this would help ground the “Integrated Athletic and Academic Performance Ranking” in a pre-existing and widely accepted (though sometimes disputed) athletic performance ranking. Basically, I wondered: what if we just used similar concepts to the BCS to essentially “bake-in” some academic rankings and scores? However, I first realized there are actually two types of current year rankings that are distinctly different:

a.) Weekly or In-Season Rankings

Why Would These be Important? As teams are evaluated each week based on performance on the field, the integrated student-athlete ranking should also incorporate academic performance on a weekly basis. This would enable us as fans to track teams’ overall performance throughout the season and not just as a “look-back.” Why might that be important? As I mentioned in Part II, the marketing to and buy-in from the fans (i.e. the money-providers) is first and foremost in starting a movement toward a respected and valued integrated on/off field performance ranking. This would be a gold-mine for truly integrating academic performance into a “total ranking,” but after much analysis and review I realized there were some significant short-comings and limitations.

What is the Catch? The sad truth is that the actual success or effectiveness of incorporating academic metrics like GPA into an integrated formula is that it may likely encourage further “facilitation” by schools to inflate or misrepresent athlete GPAs in order gain ground in the rankings. I really wish and hope that this wouldn’t be the case, but given a track record of never-ending cases of recruiting scandals, I highly doubt that every school will proceed legally. Because when higher GPA = higher rankings and higher rankings = more money, then many schools may choose the “easy” way to increase GPA (i.e. cheating in some way) so that they can make money quickly. Also, given the reporting cycle for academic metrics and accessibility of academic data like GPA or Graduation Success Rate, this type of ranking could be flat out infeasible to generate each week. With that, I turned to the other type of current year ranking…

b.) Beginning/End-of-Season Rankings

Why are these better? May be the more feasible option given the reporting cycle for academic metrics and accessibility of academic data like GPA or Graduation Success Rate. However, the down-side is that the ranking can really only be produced, at maximum, twice a year – the beginning and the end of the season. And fewer publications means less viewership and less viewership means reduced buy-in and valuation by fans and, subsequently, schools.

How would it become “important” to fans and schools? What if these beginning/end of season rankings could be factored into the Bowl Game money-making machine? That is what ultimately drives many of the decisions at these schools and programs. What if a team’s ranking in the overall “end-of-year” integrated academic-athletic poll determined what % of the total available bowl “revenue” that a team could claim? That way, a school would not be necessarily “hampered” by any academic metrics in being able to play in the bowl game that they deserved given on-the-field performance. BUT they would be penalized for sacrificing academics to get that athletic performance if they were able to claim less revenue for the Bowl appearance. AND what if the remaining % of available bowl “revenue” that went unclaimed was instead donated to programs like the Academic All-American program to promote academic achievement? Or donated to something like the NFL players association pension fund to help support retired NFL players that might be struggling to survive (since their schools never taught them how to be truly successful in the careers outside of sports)? That would definitely help balance the outputs of the BCS / Bowl system money machine from purely athletic incentives to some mix of athletic and academic incentives.

How Would it Be Calculated? Utilize logic similar to the initial suggestions from the “BCS Guru” and Real Clear Sports – fold in end of year academic data like the Graduation Success Rate, SAT scores, GPAs and representation on the Academic All-American list to get a “look-back” on combined academic and athletic performance for a given year.  This combined statisitc or what I’ve termed the Integrated Athletic/Academic Ranking (IAAR) would be calculated as follows:

NCAA Football:  Integrated Athletic/Academic Ranking (IAAR) = (Harris Poll % + Coaches Poll % + Computer Poll % + APF %) / 4

NCAA Basketball: Integrated Athletic/Academic Ranking (IAAR) = (AP Top 25 % + Coaches Poll % + APF %) / 3

Where the poll % is calculated liked in the BCS formula where points are assigned in reverse order (e.g. 25 points for 1st place, 24 points for second, etc) and APF % is total percentage of points a team garners in the Academic Performance Formula or APF (named by yours truly).  The APF is similar to the BCS formula in that it utilizes the same point system, but with a top 50 instead of top 25 ranking where points are awarded on reverse basis with 50 pts for first, 49 for second, etc.  The APF is also an average of three different “rankings”:  1) Graduation Success Rate (from NCAA GSR), 2) Average SAT Scores for all team members, 3) Average GPA for all team members.  Each school would get points for ranking in the top 50 in each of these “rankings” and the APF would average the team’s score across all three (just like the BCS averages across the ranking in the Harris Poll, Coaches Poll and Computer Poll).  There is also a bonus component of an additional 5 points per Academic All-American representative for that given season.   This 5 point boost is extra credit for the highest academic achievers with typically only 1-2 per team.  It is equivalent to 0.033 percentage points in the APF (5 out of 150 total) or 95 pts (out of 2875 total) in the Harris Poll or 49 pts  (out of 1475 total) in ESPN Coaches’ Poll or 3 pts (out of 100 total) in BCS Computer Polls.

2.) Long-term Success Rate / Impact Rankings

These rankings would provide a totally new dimension to the “student-athlete” experience: long-term (5, 10, 15 years out) impact of attending and playing at a given school. The key would be that the scope of the evaluation does not just look at a given athlete’s sports career, but would look at a student-athlete’s entire career, both as an athlete and as a regular professional. I believe this ranking would hit upon the very important and much forgotten aspect of college sports: colleges should not just be building these kids into great athletes, but should be building them into mature and intelligent professionals that can succeed as athletes OR in the general work place. Thus, my long-term metrics are aimed at measuring a school’s ability to help build these kids into successful people not just successful athletes.
How Would the Metrics Work? The metrics would be organized and structured as snapshots of career progression and longer-term professional success. These snapshots would be assessed and calculated once per year and would evaluate the success of student-athlete alumni in order to better understand the long-term professional outlook for these athletes. A notion similar to how business schools track metrics like “starting salary out of school” and “# of years to make back what the school cost.

What Would the Metrics Measure? These snapshots would include:

  • Student-athlete’s academic record during undergraduate time at the given institution will also be included (e.g. GPA, years attended, graduation date) as certain parts of this may prove to be a strong corollary to future success (or failure)
  • Career Statistics such as:
    • Median Salary (current athletes at pro level)
    • Median Salary (all people NOT in sports)
    • Average Years at the Professional Sports level (for those that played)
    • Average Employment Duration  (caveat — may be very hard to feasibly collect)
    • Total number of professional certifications (would have to be self-reported, a definite limitation)
    • Total number of advanced degrees (also self-reported, a definite limitation)
    • Total number of players that have filed for bankruptcy (publicly available data)
    • Total number that have applied for unemployment (publicly available data)
    • Total number on disability (publicly available data)

Final Take:

Will the NCAA or any school ever decided to take me (or anyone else) up on an idea to actually create, refine, market and support an IAAR (Integrate Academic/Athletic Ranking)? Probably not any time soon. However, as a college sports fans, I think we do have the responsibility and the power to unite as a community and decide that we will push for schools and the NCAA push to change. For them to build and support a student-athlete program that is balanced in its commitment to building successful individuals and successful athletes.

Well, I don’t know the exact answer, but I do know what questions we should all ask of ourselves and our schools: If schools and the NCAA are only demanding and supporting athletic performance which leads directly to school revenue, then are these schools and programs just exploiting young kids for additional money? Isn’t that reflecting their lack of care, investment or interest in long-term well-being of their students? Isn’t that care, investment and interest the job of a school or university? Schools should and need to be held accountable for this.

Sources: BCS Guru, BCS Know How, Wikipedia

Didn’t catch Part I or Part II?  Check out “The Look-In” (i.e. Part I) and “The Sign” (Part II) for January’s Case.
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This article is part of the monthly three-part series entitled “Sport: A Case by Case Basis.”  Each monthly series features a condensed case study analysis that will be broken into three parts: “The Look In,” “The Sign” and “The Pitch.”  See the overview page in the About the Site section for more information.

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2 responses to “Case: Revising College Sports Rankings (Part III)

  1. Pingback: Case: Revising College Sports Rankings (Part I) | The Drive·

  2. Pingback: Case: Revising College Sports Rankings (Part II) | The Drive·

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