Monday, August 27, 2007

Dead Horse

I know a lot of bloggers have signed on to the concept of not bashing other conferences or getting involved in pissing contests. That's fine. I agree to that as well.

However, I haven't forgotten, and I won't soon forget, the elitist, borderline-racist snobbery of Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, as evidenced in his letter to Big Ten and College Football fans after his conference champion's embarrassing performance in the BCG National Championship Game. The exact language:

"I love speed and the SEC has great speed, especially on the defensive line, but there are appropriate balances when mixing academics and athletics."

The Wizard of Odds (an excellent college football blog) posts today that perhaps Delany has been vidnicated by the fact that few Big Ten recruits from this season have failed to meet initial eligibility requirements, while significantly more SEC recruits have failed to meet initial eligibility requirements and/or to receive admission into the University.

Unfortunately, this isn't vindication at all. In fact, it merely draws more clearly how wrongheaded and offensive Delany's comments were.

First off, there are a couple of logical flaws at play here. Let's take this one by one.

1. Speed on the field has little to do with academic standards (or at least meeting NCAA initial eligibility).

As an anonymous commenter pointed out at The Wizard of Odds' post, none of the players on the field in the BCS National Championship Game was ineligible. Every one of those players had to meet initial eligibility requirements, obtain admission to the university, and remain academically eligible. If one team had more speed or talent than the other, it wasn't because one team suffered from increased eligibility requirements while the other did not. Florida's eligible players were faster and more talented than Ohio State's eligible players.

2. The failure of several SEC schools to enroll all of their recruited players this recruiting season has nothing to do with on-field comparisons.

The harm resulting from a player failing to meet initial eligibility requirements or obtain admission to a university is felt by that very university. If players are not admitted or can't meet initial eligibility requirements, it follows, necessarily, that those players aren't on the team, and therefore can't help that team in terms of speed and talent. Florida wasn't faster than Ohio State because of certain players who failed to gain acceptance and eligibility, because those players weren't on the field. So the fact that several SEC recruits failed to matriculate serves no purpose to support Delany's argument - because those who fail to matriculate aren't involved in the comparison of on-field abilities at all.

3. A small number of players failing to matriculate does not directly mean that there are increased academic standards.

Taking Delany's words for what they are, it's either a completely illogical argument (Big Ten players aren't as fast/good as SEC players because the SEC players are more often ineligible, but if they're ineligible how are they playing?), or it's simply an unfounded assertion that Big Ten eligibility and admission requirements are more rigid than SEC eligibility and admission requirements.

Let's take a look at that latter proposition. The evidence provided by The Wizard of Odds may actually work against that. Assume that the NCAA initial eligibility requirements are a baseline for all schools. Certain schools may require incoming recruits to meet higher standards than that, and gain admission. Merely passing the clearinghouse isn't enough at a lot of places. However, when a school increases the requirements above the NCAA baseline, wouldn't it follow that certain recruits wouldn't meet those increased standards? The fact that players are failing to matriculate may actually be evidence that the schools have increased admission/eligibility requirements. The fact that players are matriculating isn't evidence that the standards for admission/eligibility are higher. That fact that recruits are matriculating may be that standards for admission/eligibility are merely at the baseline (against the argument), or it may be that the schools are self-selecting players that are already known to meet increased standards. Either way, however, small raw numbers of players failing to meet eligibility/admission requirements does not directly mean there are increased standards. It may mean a number of things, most notably, that Big Ten schools take fewer risks on players who may or may not meet eligibility or admission requirements. But this more conservative approach does not equal academic superiority - if a school takes a risk and the player is eligible, he meets the standards; if a school takes a risk and the player isn't eligible, he's not at the school, so it doesn't matter, academically.

4. Delany's argument must, necessarily, only serve to insult eligible and admitted players at SEC schools.

The only reasonable implication from Delany's statement is that players who were eligible and admitted at SEC schools would not be eligible and admitted at Big Ten schools. There are no other reasonable interpretations. Delany provides no evidence to support this claim. The suggestion that the SEC fails to enroll far more recruits than the Big Ten is a null argument (if they aren't eligible at SEC schools, they aren't eligible at SEC schools, so they wouldn't be properly comparable).

What other evidence is there for this statement? When we can only look at players who actually did enroll, we're left with few opportunities to compare academic standards. Perhaps we could compare the use of Junior College transfers, prep school delayed-initial-enrollment recruits, or partial qualifiers? The flaw in comparing those is the assumption that any of those recruits are necessarily less academically qualified. If the NCAA and the school finds that a JUCO transfer has met initial eligibility and admission requirements, why should we interpret that as an academic failing on the student' s part? How can we presume poor academic qualifications in a person who meets requirements?

The only way to objectively prove Delany's assertion is to provide examples of recruits who failed to meet increased standards of Big Ten schools, but then did meet lower standards of SEC schools. I have not seen such information.

Without objective proof, Delany's claim that the Big Ten recruits a higher caliber of athlete is simply ad hominem against those current SEC players who have met initial eligibility and admission requirements.

With that, I'll gladly provide some similar ad hominem, showing what the supposed increased admission standards of Big Ten schools has led to:

HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE (some dropped, others not)
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
HERE
and of course, HERE

Intellectual Honesty Disclaimers:

----- Illegal or reckless behavior does not equate academic failure. I recognize this.

----- I also recognize that all conferences have their share of illegal or reckless conduct among their players. However, other conferences' commissioners aren't claiming superiority and calling into question another conference's players' faculties.

----- To the extent that the argument about schools failing to get their recruits admitted and eligible is actually about recruiting rankings and not a particular school's academic stature, I don't think anyone disputes the rankings' failings. Recruiting rankings that rate signed players rather than enrolled players are little better than meaningless.

Actually, I think I'd like to get into this topic a little deeper - on the "risk" issue. The raw numbers of SEC recruits who have failed to gain admission or eligibility provides strong evidence, but not conclusive proof, that SEC programs take risks on and sign players whose academic abilities might not meet standards. The few Big Ten recruits who suffered the same fate also provides strong evidence of, but not conclusive proof, that those programs don't take such risks. [I say evidence of, not proof, because there could very well be other reasons - such as the possibility that certain Big Ten programs actually have lower academic standards than some SEC programs.]

My thought on this is simple: why are any programs uncomfortable with the "risk" of offering a scholarship to a player who might not gain admission or eligibility, but whose abilities are strong? The risk, for the most part, isn't on the program, but rather the individual. Think of it this way: Player A is an exceptional athlete, marginal student. Elite U knows Player A would benefit their team significantly. Elite U offers him a scholarship. At that point, two things can happen, and neither is of Elite U's doing: (a) Player A meets the eligibility requirements and gains admission; or (b) Player A doesn't meet eligibility requirements or doesn't gain admission. If (a), then there's no issue regarding the academic reputation of the school - Player A met the requirements. If (b), then there's no issue regarding the academic reputation of the school - Player A didn't get in, so he's no blight. Either way, signing a risky player shouldn't affect a school's reputation. Now, once a player is enrolled, then keeping the player's eligibility is important - but that's also something that the program may have an ability to affect. Taking this a half-step further, I think there's an issue about the role of "hope" in taking these risks. When a recruit fails to gain admission/eligibility, that failure is on the recruit's shoulders - not the school's. No matter how elevated a particular school's standards are, that school relies on the recruits to do what needs to be done to gain admission. I think there's something kind of OK with offering a marginal kid a scholarship with the hope that he gets his act together (naturally, there are some situations that are special or where it's virtually impossible). There are way too many success stories about kids who were supposedly marginal students, or partial qualifiers, or something like that, who, once they get out of their home community, have structured rules and mentors to guide them and are given the opportunities to succeed, end up graduating and succeeding. Taking a risk on a particularly talented athlete has two outcomes. If the kid doesn't make it, there's no stain on the reputation of the school (as the kid never made it there), and the only downside is that the program may have to play catchup on signing other kids in the future (basically, reshuffling scholarships for future signing days). If the kid does make it, he's still no stain on the reputation of the school (unless the school fails the student once he's actually there - and in that case the school earns the stain), the program benefits by the player's abilities, and the opportunity is there for the supposedly marginal student to turn into a good student and productive member of the university community. To me, the positives significantly outweigh the negatives. So I don't really know why some programs don't take risks on marginal academic recruits. Note: I think character concerns are a different story - my thoughts on this above are limited solely to academic concerns.

If you couldn't already tell, too much of this post is thanks to the peerless archives of the inimitable EDSBS.

7 comments:

Chg said...

Two players signed by Spurrier met NCAA minimum standards but were denied by the USC admissions department. One was actively recruited by Minnesota after being denied by USC, but opted to enroll in Fork Union and reopen recruiting next season, potentially to return to USC.

peacedog said...

As Mike over at B&B has said, the midwest also has a stronger public school system than what we typically seem to get down hereabouts.

Much like how geography affects scheduling (and how much of the people criticizing/bragging about this or that scheduling data just ignored this basic fact), it also affects your recruiting base.

If the Big 10 schools were strapped with our public school system, and vice versa, things would probably be different.

Also, Delaney is a stupid-head.

Hobnail_Boot said...

The reason Elite U doesn't offer the Superstar/Mediocre student is because the moment that kid gives his verbal committment, other kids who play the same position back off.

If he ends up academically ineligible, then Elite U is left with a hole on the roster. It's much safer to offer the 3* athlete with solid grades than the 5* athlete who probably won't make grades.

LD said...

This is true, Hobnail. A definite drawback of risky recruits.

Chg said...

One further point. Delaney did not claim the Big Ten "recruits a higher caliber of athlete" than the SEC. After the bowl season, that would have been the talk of a crazy person.

He offered an excuse/rationale for why the Big Ten recruited an inferior caliber of athlete. Pretty big difference.

LD said...

Insert "academic-wise".

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