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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.

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:

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.


Anonymous said…
Nice article on a very complex question. Indeed, it is impossible to tell whether this past year's result arose out of any increase in academic standards..such conclusions would have to be drawn out over time. I don't see the increased academics as being the being the root cause. Other than the stinker against Holy Cross, Lehigh has shown over the past two years that could compete against very good teams (Villanova, Harvard, Yale, Princeton), yet at the same time had significant letdowns against Holy Cross ('07), Lafayette ('06), and Fordham ('07). 2006 had so many close losses, it is hard to say we had dropped that much. However, with 2007 on the heels, one needs to keep an eye on the issue. I assume this is a topic to be coming up shortly among the PL Presidents. It was my understanding that they would be having another pow-wow around this time as a follow-up to their October meeting??
Anonymous said…
Its truly frustrating when you suggest that Lehigh is no longer a power because Fordham and Holy Cross have lower AI's.. First of all the AI isin the same ballpark (not a tremendous disparity). When Fordham was at the lower end of the PL standings for many years - and HC as well (over the last decade) you or anyone else didnt say a thing. Now its because the AI. lol..How about some credit where its due. Good players, recruiting, good coaching. Poor Lehigh. You want to be snooty --How about you, Lafayette and Bucknell form the PL (Pennsylvania league) and play each other 4x a year. This way you can all go around stating your academic prowess. Trust me -If Fordham and Holy Cross left the PL (which I hope they do) you'd be crying your eyes out. You 3 schools can talk AI all day in anonymitity.
Anonymous said…
Lehigh's crappy season was due to average players and poor coaching. Stop crying. You sound like a child. Well you guys kicked our ass but "Im smarter than you." HA. Hope you finish last in the PL next year.
Chuck B '92 said…
anonymous, read this post again. I am not suggesting that Holy Cross and Fordham's AI numbers are behind Lehigh's decline. I am saying that Lehigh's own admissions department may be behind this decline based on the numbers publicly available in the self-study.

It could be that a 162 point jump in SAT scores from Lehigh's incoming football class is simply an aberration, but I am wondering about that since in other sports there were no such jumps.

This is not a commentary on the AI as much as Lehigh's own admissions department. If Lehigh's admissions are turning the screws on football admissions, that would affect the football team greatly.

Nowhere did I suggest that Fordham or Holy Cross did better due to lower AIs. Matter of fact, I said that we don't know what their numbers are. The AI has nothing to do with this - nor does whatever Holy Cross or Fordham do.

Holy Cross' admissions department, as I understand it, is actually more stringent than the rest of the Patriot League.

Where does anyone get that I'm saying Lehigh is smarter than HC or Fordham or I'm making excuses about Lehigh's tough years? If Holy Cross or Fordham all of a sudden were only admitting athletes that had 1260 SATs instead of 1100 SATs I'd hope you would be saying something too.
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