Friday, December 07, 2007

Lehigh Sports Happenings, Dec 7th-Dec 13th

With exams coming up, this weekend will be featuring the last competition from the Lehigh winter sports teams until the week before Christmas. But there's plenty happening this weekend to whet your appetite for Lehigh sports.

For you FCS football fans, you can catch the FCS semifinals tonight at 8:00PM on ESPN2 (Richmond versus Appalachian State) and tomorrow on ESPN at 4:00PM (Delaware at Southern Illinois). My preview of the weekend football slate you can read here.

Wrestling (4-5)
12/7 No. 5 PENN STATE (Stabler Arena, 7:00PM)

With an encouraging 2-1 record over the last week, the grapplers sure could use a strong showing this weekend against a Nittany Lion squad that should provide a great atmosphere tonight at Stabler in the 96th meeting between these two wrestling rivals. Penn State has dominated us the past four years in duals, and with six nationally-ranked wrestlers for the Lions, it's looking like an awfully daunting challenge for our "David" to slay their "Goliath" in this one. The key match of this dual will be the one involving 184 lb sophomore David Craig (and our only nationally-ranked wrestler) facing off against Penn State's Phillip Bomberger, current ranked No. 19 by Intermat magazine.

Women's Basketball (2-5) (Sagarin: 221, down 5 from last week)
12/8 NJIT (1-6) (Sagarin: 304) (Stabler Arena, 3:30PM)
12/10 OHIO (3-4) (Sagarin: 106) (Stabler Arena, 7:00PM)

Although the trip to Florida pretty much went according to the script, the Lady Hawks returned from Jacksonville beach to give LIU a major scare at home before falling 53-49 in a valiant effort. Freshman G Erica Prosser earned her first start and made the most of it with 19 points on 8-for-13 shooting, while sophomore G Alex Ross added 10 points of her own. The problem is, the dynamic duo accounted for more than half of Lehigh's points on the night - but if a consistent inside scorer can emerge, Lehigh could be a dangerous team down the road.

NJIT looks like a good chance for a Lady Hawks win, while Monday looks to be more brutal competition for the Lady Hawks in Ohio out of the MAC, where guard Lauren John (16.4 ppg, 6 rpg) could be a tough guard for the Lady Hawks to handle.

Men's Basketball (3-4) (Sagarin: 269, down 16 from last week)
12/8 HARVARD (4-5) (Sagarin: 211) (Stabler Arena, 1:00PM)

The Hawks look to go into exam time building off their 67-58 win against NJIT... and more time to forget their 65-55 performance against Central Connecticut State. Head coach Brett Reed switched from a 2-3 to a three guard set, giving sophomore G Dave Buchberger his first career start. Buchberger proceeded to make coach Reed look real good by nabbing 21 points and 5 rebounds. Tellingly, Lehigh finally beat a team on the boards Wednesday - outrebounding NJIT 37-33.

Harvard, skippered by former Michigan and Seton Hall coach Tommie Amaker, will hardly be an easy out. The Crimson have battled to a 3-4 record, with brutal games against Stanford and Providence for starters. Although Harvard did lose to Holy Cross earlier this year, just a week ago they shocked Michigan 62-51. If Lehigh hopes to win this game, they had better improve their Patriot League-worst field-goal percentage defense (.433) against Harvard's extremely balanced attack with four starters averaging double figures.

If Lehigh could go into the "exam break" with a big win here to get back to .500, it would be a great accomplishment for the 'Hawks. It will probably take another great game from budding superstar sophomore G Brant Hall.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Is Lehigh on the "Good" List?

I haven't seen Fred Claus yet, but I keep looking at this picture and saying: George Wendt and Santa - separated at birth? (Did I mention I am dying to see Paul Giamatti play Santa?)

In any event, this post was written to post an important question for Lehigh football fans: namely, who should be on our wish list this year in terms of recruits?

It's this time of year where the Lehigh coaching staff travels far and wide to secure commitments for new athletes to come into the program. And although I think the North Pole is a bit far out, maybe it would be worth at least a letter to Santa in regards to getting that stud player that will be a standout player in the class of 2012.

Last year's recruiting class was considered one of the better ones for Lehigh, and we'll need another to keep up with the rest of the league - and especially "that school in Easton".

(Hopefully everyone on the Lehigh coaching staff is on the "good" list.)

Here's what would be on my wish list:
  1. Two speedy defensive backs. You always need lots of speedsters in the secondary, but our defensive backfield, with the greatest number of graduating seniors, will need more replenishment this year than most years. Santa, could you give us a speedy three-year cover corner and a powerful hitting safety?
  2. Two big, talented "O" linemen. Like speedsters in the defensive backfield, every year you need lots of hogs for your "O" line, but with two all-League players graduating, Lehigh needs the extra depth. Santa, you were so good to us last year, getting us freshman OL William Rackley and freshman OL Ricky Clerge. Could you give us two more big run-blockers that can step in right away and challenge for spots?
  3. A Playmaker at WR. Santa, I don't think I'm being too greedy here, but last year we didn't have one wideout that really stood up week in and week out to become a go-to receiver. Santa, could you leave that Kody Fedorcha that we've been waiting for since 2001 under the tree?
  4. P Jason Leo's heir apparent. Junior P/K Jason Leo has been a revelation for us, no doubt: but next year he'll be a senior and we need a punter that will be the guy to carry us beyond 2008. That sounds like a good stocking-stuffer to me.
  5. Another QB in the mix. Looking over at "that school in Easton" shows the value of having enough quarterbacks. Could we get at least one more quarterback to be in the quarterback mix in the preseason?
Wouldn't filling everything on this list mean all Lehigh fans would be able to say, "Merry Christmas!" (That and hats and shirts from the Lehigh Football Nation store... look for an exclusive "Rivalry" shirt coming tonight or tomorrow!)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Lehigh And Academic Standards

One thing that the long offseason affords me is the opportunity to look at things like Lehigh's 2006 self-study report and some of the academic numbers in there. And taking a fresh look at them certainly raised my eyebrows.

Lehigh's sports teams this year have been struggling more than usual. Men's soccer, a year removed from a magical season including wins in the NCAA tournament, ended this year with a whimper. The men's wrestling team, usually in the Top 25, is unranked. The President's Cup standings put us, amazingly, in sixth behind the service academies.

That begs the question, posed by LUFan in one of the forums: "Is it a coincidence that all the sports or struggling, or could it be that the academic standards are going through the roof and all the athletic programs are paying the price?" It's a good question, which prompted me to take a look at the self-study and if this could be the case. Are standards affecting all sports (except, perhaps, ultimate Frisbee)?

Standards And Competitiveness
First of all, I want to say how wickedly hard it is to judge how academic standards affect competitiveness in a broad sense. When a team loses, is it the head coaches' fault? The athlete(s) that made mistakes? Or a lack of talented athletes? It's really not easy to determine.

For example, in football, Lehigh beat the Ivy champion in Harvard and were competitive versus Yale, the runner-up. Does that mean we have the equal of Yale and Harvard in athletes? We also got blown away 59-10 by Holy Cross. Does that mean that we stunk up the joint on one day, or is Holy Cross now fielding better athletes than Lehigh across the board?

Opinions vary, but it's a game that has no clear, measurable answer.

Furthermore, academic standards are subjective, and in the Patriot League, admissions departments have veto power over recruits. Athletes have to go through the admissions office just like everyone else. In the Patriot League, admissions offices could definitely keep coaches from getting everybody they might want.

The Patriot League also uses something called the academic index as a tool to make sure that athletes generally represent the academic makeup of the incoming class. Now this doesn't mean that an athlete needs to have scores that exceed the average to make in into Lehigh - only the average of the entire class needs to be up to one standard deviation off from the overall. So there is flexibility in AI formula.

(For a full discussion on this topic, refer to this link for the piece I wrote for the College Sporting News.)

In theory, raising academic standards (whether implemented by zealous admissions people or squeezed by AI calculations) makes it harder for schools like Lehigh to get the athletes they might want. If you used to be able to recruit kids that were 3.0 in core GPA and had a 1190 board score but now have to recruit kids that have a 3.2 core GA and a 1300 board score, a lot of potential athletes are no longer on your radar screen.

The Numbers
Lehigh's self-study gives us an opportunity to look at the raw numbers per sport and to compute the numbers for the entire incoming class. And the numbers point to one thing.

The self-study looks at the numbers from fiscal year 2003 to fiscal year 2005 (before President Gast came here). Here's the raw data for Lehigh football recruits:

(Note: this is a core GPA, not overall GPA):

FY '03 Incoming: 20 students, 3.08/1100
FY '04 Incoming: 35 students, 3.25/1124
FY '05 Incoming: 23 students, 3.28/1262

GPA's are not available for incoming classes, but stadardized test scores can be computed for the entire class from the self study:

FY '03 Total Incoming: 1,137 students, avg test score 1294
FY '04 Total Incoming: 1,065 students, avg test score 1302
FY '05 Total Incoming: 1,232 students, avg test score 1315

For Lehigh's overall class, average test score leaped up 8 points in 2004, then 13 points in 2005. Taking another Patriot League school for comparison, Bucknell's test scores went up 6 points in 2003 and 9 points in 2004: a bit smaller, but basically in line with Lehigh's numbers. The incoming class standards across the Patriot League, unquestionably, are going up.

But look at the football team's academic numbers. Core GPA leaped from 3.08 to 3.28 GPA in this two-year period, and a whopping 162 points in test score in that time. This is not simply reflecting a 20 point rise in average test scores. When looking at Bucknell's self-study from 2002 to 2004, test scores for their football team were on the rise as well but only by 50 points over that stretch.

I don't believe that a 162 point jump can only be explained by rising indexes.

Other Sports
And the questions only get louder when you look at other sports at Lehigh. For the sake of comparison, I only looked at sports or aggregates which had more than 5 recruits, since I don't think it's statistically useful to look at sports with only two recruits:

Men's Baseball:
FY '03 Incoming: 5 students, 3.65/1238
FY '04 Incoming: 5 students, 3.33/1228
FY '05 Incoming: 7 students, 3.55/1236

Men's Track/X-Country:
FY '03 Incoming: 6 students, 3.80/1223
FY '04 Incoming: 16 students, 3.64/1282
FY '05 Incoming: 12 students, 3.57/1245

Women's Track/X-Country:
FY '03 Incoming: 8 students, 3.93/1202
FY '04 Incoming: 20 students, 3.62/1238
FY '05 Incoming: 18 students, 3.82/1277

Men's "Other Sports" (includes wrestling):
FY '03 Incoming: 23 students, 3.53/1249
FY '04 Incoming: 27 students, 3.51/1263
FY '05 Incoming: 19 students, 3.47/1245

Women's "Other Sports" (includes softball):
FY '03 Incoming: 24 students, 3.82/1207
FY '04 Incoming: 28 students, 3.82/1205
FY '05 Incoming: 35 students, 4.00/1195

The first thing that jumps out at me is that football's average is in line with the rest of athletics. As a matter of fact, only women's track had a higher test score average than football in 2005. That's pretty striking when in 2003 football was about 100 points below all the other sports' average scores.

On a related note, no other sport had nearly the same upheaval as men's football. Every other sport either had a decline in GPA, test score average, or both during this period.

Finally, the last striking thing is how GPA's for women are so much higher than the men, even though their board scores are strikingly even. I mention this not because I think women are smarter than men - I mention this because GPA is part of the Academic Index calculation, and if (on average) women's GPA's are inflated (as this data seems to suggest), then AI calculations adversely affect men's sports much more deeply then women's sports.

Conclusions
There is only one sport that seems to have been profoundly and immediately affected by stronger academic standards from 2003 to 2005 - that's football. Whether that's due to academic index standards or admissions departments is a different debate, but the data suggest that the standards on the football team specifically have increased more than the other sports.

Has that affected competitiveness? I can't say for sure: nobody can. But that incoming class of '04 -- this year's football seniors -- went 5-6.

UPDATE: For comparison's sake, I added the numbers for other Patriot League schools that are known through self-studies or other means:

Football:
2005 Colgate (unverified) 3.26/1105
2005 Lafayette 3.46/1079
2004 Bucknell 3.49/1132

Every one of them are a full 100 points below Lehigh's numbers. We can assume safely that Georgetown's numbers were much higher than these (and ours), while (importantly) we don't know where Holy Cross' and Fordham's stand for the football team specifically.

Overall Class Numbers:
2007 Coglate Total Incoming Class: 729, avg test score 1355 (NOTE: these are not 2005 numbers)
2005 Lafayette Total Incoming Class: 596, avg test score 1261
2004 Bucknell Total Incoming Class: 905, avg test score 1297

The academic numbers for the overall classes of Holy Cross are lower than Lehigh, Lafayette, Colgate, Georgetown and Bucknell. But as I mentioned before, the admissions departments at Fordham and Holy Cross may choose to adhere to more stringent standards than the AI might allow.
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