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Sunday's Word(s): A.I.

As you may or may not know, I'm on vacation this week and I wrote this blog posting sometime last week. By now we will know a clearer vision of the Patriot League title race. Either Colgate or Lafayette will have one loss. Bucknell will either be effectively reduced to the role of spoiler by Holy Cross - or Holy Cross will have been shockingly upset by the Bison, adding another team to the playoff mix. And Georgetown will either wreck Lehigh's season, or Lehigh will win this week and move on to "Hate the 'Gate" weekend on South Mountain.

But I still wanted to get out a "Sunday's Word" this week, and so I am doing so now. It's a familiar topic, the "academic index", or A.I. But the changes to the academic index haven't been really explained in any sort of media outlet. I talked with the Patriot League commissioner this week about the changes that are in effect for football (and basketball) as of this incoming recruiting class.

Here's the changes for football as they were explained to me.

First of all, one of the things that sets the Patriot League (and Ivy League) apart from other athletic leagues is that they implement an "Academic Index" (or "A.I." for short) to ensure that the makeup of their teams is broadly representative of the academic qualifications of the rest of the incoming class. Each prospective athlete is given a score, and the A.I. for the team has to "fit" in with the A.I. for the rest of the class.

(It's important to remember that this only reflects their high school scores when entering a Patriot League school. Once you're in, even if you earn a 4.0 average, you're still reflective of your AI score when you entered school.)

The Patriot League adopted this mechanism in football in 1987, the first year of the league, but as the executive director of the Patriot League Carolyn Schlie Femovich told me, it was due for some tweaking. “It was the first review of the AI since it was put into place in the 1980’s," she told me. "Presidents, athletic directors and admissions directors [were involved], as well as coaches’ groups. I think it was a positive step for the league to review how it was working."

The first major change to the AI involved making it a standard calculation for all its member schools.

The index for the Patriot League has always been 50% test scores and 50% high-school performance, and this will not change. However, in the past a school would have been able to figure out “high-school performance” any way they desired: for example, one school might use GPA, and another class rank. Now, only GPA will be used to measure high-school performance.

This is not as minor a change as it sounds. “Getting a rank in class is becoming increasingly difficult since your better high schools prefer not to rank their students,” Ms. Femovich said. “The methodology is being changed to make sure all the schools are calculating their indexes in the same way.”

In addition, the method used for computing the “academic index” for transfer students were also standardized.

Hard Floor & Bands
Standardizing the computations for incoming freshmen and transfers across the Patriot League enables the league office to implement the second part of their AI reform: a “banding system” and a league-wide AI number that will be considered the “floor” of the League.

This “banding system” involves grouping series of athletes with similar AI scores. In these “bands” each school can only recruit up to a certain number of players in a certain incoming class, and no Patriot League school will be able to recruit athletes below a certain league-wide AI number. The idea is that it forces a distribution of athletes with a variety of scores. (The implementation is somewhat similar to how the Ivy League implements their academic index, though their AI number is different than the Patriot League's number.)

The league-wide AI floor is 168. Under that number, you cannot gain admittance to a Patriot League school. From the perfect AI score of 200 down to 168, your distribution will be fanned out in be four "bands", or AI ranges, determined by the standard deviation of your incoming class.

Without dusting off your statistics textbook from college, here's the net of it.

Let's say your entire incoming class has, on average, a 3.6 grade point average, or a B+ average. An AI number of the class will be able to be calculated - in this case, call it 187.

From that, one can statistically determine the standard deviation for the entire class. It's not impossible to do, but for the sake of this example and to make it easy, we'll call it 6.

From a recruiting class of 32 kids in a particular year, this school's bands for football would then be:

Band I: AI of 187 and above: 5 athletes
Band II: AI between 181 and 187: 10 athletes
Band III: AI between 174 and 180: 14 athletes
Band IV: AI between 168 and 173: 3 athletes

If you chose not to recruit the maximum number of athletes in one band, you could bump up the number of athletes in the band above it. For example, if you recruited only two athletes in Band IV, you could recruit up to fifteen athletes in Band III.

It also is based on a rolling four-year average. If you only get one Band IV athlete one year, the next year you could recruit five Band IV athletes the following year if you wanted to. (Of course, the class AI average might increase.)

"The floor allows all Patriot League schools to have access to the same pool of athletes," Ms. Femovich said. "We're trying to encourage coaches to recruit a variety of student-athletes but certainly ones that all fit within the academic profile of the institution - and the profile of the league as a whole. It's also to create internal equity and partiy in terms of admissions standards, but also to make sure there's enough flexibility in our system to allow our schools to be competitive with other conferences.

"It gives admissions offices flexibility if they determine that the individual can do the work. It doesn't say, however, that they will make those decisions. The final decision will continue to rest with the admissions office (not the athletics office)."

What does it mean?
The new system looks and feels a lot like the Ivy League system. The numbers are different - the computed AI for the Ivy League is different from that of the Patriot League - but functionally, with its use of bands, it's extremely similar.

Hovever, compared to the bands of the Ivy League, more athletes are allowed at the "floor", not least because of the extra band. In theory, this would allow a wide variety of Patriot League schools to get more athletes between one and two standard deviations below the class average than before.

Should the athletics department in conjunction with the admissions office choose to avail themselves of it, no school would benefit more than Georgetown (whose incoming classes always have the highest AI numbers in the Patriot League) from these changes.

Fordham would benefit the least simply because their average AI numbers are lower than the others. Though I don't have their Patriot League AI numbers, my feeling is that the incoming classes they already get should fit fine in the existing framework. The possibility does exist that the AI could act as a "reverse straitjacket", forcing the football team to have a higher AI than the incoming class, but with Band III being so large I don't see that as a problem upon first view.

The upshot for the league is that this system appears to increase the pool af athletes available to play football at more Patriot League schools.

It also would communicate a clear, league-wide formula to the outside world - and may show a potential high-academics university expansion target that their school would not have to worry about their school being squeezed academically. In football, the index is flexible, and the standards are the same for everyone.

Add football scholarships to that mix, and it gets even more interesting.


Anonymous said…
How do such lower level academic schools such as Duke, Stanford, UVA, etc get players? The whole system is a joke as is the Patriot League.
Doug H said…
The high end academic schools like Duke, Stanford, Northwestern, etc... have high standards and full rides which covers the high cost for those private schools.. They also have higher attendance as a rule... My question is how small private schools like Wofford swing a full scholarship football program???? Or even Elon???? I guess part of it is playing money games against big schools like Citadel is doing in a few weeks at Florida... Drawing a few thousand of paying fans to home games ( most at Lehigh get in free due to being students, staff, parents or special alumni) won't pay for a big time program... And Lehigh draws more than anyone else in the PL....
Anonymous said…
How does Monmouth which draws less than Lehigh afford scholarships?
Good sports programs get you attention and more applications.
Anonymous said…
Can you post the formula? Also the AI must accept ACT scores in lieu of SAT scores(since colleges accept either), so how does that factor in the calculations?

Also, with GPAs how do admission ofices factor in the HUGE differences in grade inflation between and rigor between public ans select prevate schools?

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