Sunday, September 02, 2007


Academics and Football

I'll be honest: I love watching college football; it's my favorite spectator sport. I have season tickets for Baylor, and break my usual Saturday schedule for those 12 great Saturdays in the fall to keep track of what is going on. I love the fact that college football is part of the identity of a school, and I know what that means. What I don't think, though, is that college football at the Division I-A level correlates in any way with a school's academic reputation, or that a good team (in the long run) makes a school much better. Certainly, a good football program can help achieve some definite short-term goals: For example, at Baylor, a strong football program would help attract more male students (addressing a gender imbalance), and a huge season usually results in more applications. In the long-term, though, most football programs can't be justified by saying it makes the school better.

If you really think there is a correlation between academic quality and football prowess, just consider this list of the top 20 undergraduate institutions in the US (it's the 2008 U.S. News List for national universities, the grouping that includes most of the Division I-A football schools). ALL of those 20 academic powerhouses with a football team are either in Division III, Division I-AA, or seem mired in perpetual football mediocrity:

1) Princeton (I-AA)
2) Harvard (I-AA)
3) Yale (I-AA)
4) Stanford (devoted to perpetual mediocrity)
5) Penn (I-AA)
6) Cal Tech (Div. III)
7) MIT (Div. III-- would be Div. IV if there was one)
8) Duke (devoted to, and achieving with spectacular results, perpetual mediocrity)
9) Columbia (I-AA)
10) Chicago (Div. III)
11) Dartmouth (Div. I-AA)
12) Washington Univ (Missouri) (Div. III)
13) Cornell (Div. I-AA)
14) Brown (Div. I-AA)
15) Northwestern (devoted to perpetual mediocrity)
16) Johns Hopkins (Div. III)
17) Rice (devoted to perpetual mediocrity)
18) Emory (No team)
19) Vanderbilt (devoted to perpetual mediocrity)
20 Notre Dame (as of this year, devoted to perpetual mediocrity)

Doesn't the fact that (as of today) the lists of the top 20 academic schools and the top 20 football schools have no overlap whatsoever-- that not one team appears on both lists? I'm no mathematician, but the odds are very much against that, if there is anything close to a random distribution.

If there is a lesson to be learned from this list, it is that what works for a strong academic institution is to ally yourself with other good schools that aren't so good at football. Remember, the Ivy League is a sports league. It is a huge benefit to Brown, for example, to play so-so football against Harvard and Yale every year. Their association with those academic powerhouses bolsters their academic credibility in a way Baylor's association with, say, Kansas State does not.

Who is not in the academic top 20 anymore? Texas. Michigan. Hmmm.

What would it be like to have a league with Vanderbilt, Rice, Baylor, SMU, Duke, Northwestern, and UVA? Could it be good for Baylor?

Great suggestion. Although Duke's hoops program is a high administrative and financial priority for their school - we definitely would win a helluva lot more games if we joined a conference with them.
Duke and U. Va. need the ACC, so they would never move. But if you want a good southern academic football conference, how about this:

Eastern Division:

William & Mary
Johns Hopkins

Western Division:

Air Force
Emory has no team, and W & M and Georgetown are I-AA (I'm not sure about John Hopkins). Thus, some teams would have to jump to a new division one way or the other if you keep them in.

Building on your suggestion, I do think a one-division conference of the following current I-A schools might work:

plus the service academies, if you can get them.

This would be a league (like the MAC) that could easily be in I-AA or I-A.

That may be a more realistic list than mine, and would be a great grouping of schools.
I'm way out of my league (ha ha) in this discussion, but is there some correlation between the fact that those US News' top 20 are all private institutions? And most of the football powerhouses are public? I don't know--what do y'all think?
lets see:

Air Force

That would be the worst conference (football wise) ever created. Navy would win every year. But it sure would set records for Academic All-Americans.
I'm not a huge supporter of football at W&M, but I must say the creation of I-AA was a good thing. William & Mary has become a winning team that often makes the playoffs. The Div IAA playoff in Williamsburg a couple years ago was VERY cool. It raised school spirit quite a bit.

Now, I have to ask.... Did you post this before Appalachian State beat Michigan or after?
IPLG-- After the App. State Game... and also, perhaps more importantly, after the Baylor game

Tom-- The worst football conference ever would probably be this one:

Eastern Michigan
Florida International
No, that Sun Conference is the worst conference ever-- Louisiana directional schools, schools that only exist in theory, music schools-- it has it all.
Prof. Osler,

I need to talk to you before tuesday. I sent you an e-mail on your baylor account.

The academic schools in the ivy league don't offer athletic scholarships. They can't compete with the big public schools in recruiting. Similarly, the big public schools, as a general statement, lack the history and tradition of academic success of teh ivy league schools and can't compete in recuiting the top tier academics. Seems the academics made a choice to place less importance on athletics.
Rice is in the division for baseball.

Duke is in for basketball.
I'm tellin' you...this is where the Notre Dame wannabees should just go home.

Go. Home.
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