We received this email this morning from Bruins Nation:
I am hoping I got your attention with that subject header.
So that is one of the main argument that is advanced time and time and time again by lots of Dorrell supporters (close to UCLA athletics I believe) as one of the excuses of why Tedford is running laps around Karl Dorrell.
I am really interested here your takes on it and if you can take apart that argument providing concrete information, that is something I would be interested in highlighting on BN, and basically calling out UCLA athletics administration to come out and disprove whatever arguments/facts you provide.
This could be a teachable moment for all of us.
Keep up the good work gents.
Really enjoy reading your blog.
I can’t be sure how much they really enjoy reading our blog, and I can’t help but have the suspicion that this was a topic they wanted to address themselves, but wanted us to research. But since I’m a consultant and have no engagement to work on (the alternative would be even more Mega Man X), I’m a sucker, and I did some research.
I went through Scout.com’s recruiting profiles for all UCLA and Cal commits since 2003 (the year Dorrell took over, and Tedford’s second year), to see if there really is any evidence of tougher academic standards among the two schools’ academic programs. First I took a look at the total number of recruits and broke it by year;
Cal did end up recruiting more players (116 to 99) during this time period, although I don’t think anyone could honestly suggest that that has anything to do with lower academic standards. However, one common complaint that I’ve seen before is that the quickest way for a program to get healthy is to recruit the Juco ranks heavily; after all, they’re older players that are probably much more ready to contribute immediately. Though the cynic would say they’re usually players who weren’t smart enough to qualify in high school and essentially did an end run around the system. So let’s take a look at that.
We may be onto something here, as there is a significantly larger number of Juco players at Cal than at UCLA (both in proportion - 22% to 9% - and absolute numbers - 26 to 9). Still, it’s debatable whether or not the fact that a program is more willing to recruit Jucos in and of itself proves that that program has lower academic standards. Being a cynic, I would agree to some extent, but I don’t think that by itself constitutes significant proof.
As I mentioned before, I did most of my research for this piece on Scout.com. The site did not do a very comprehensive job of tracking a player’s academics before 2005 season, as hardly any recruits had listed GPAs or SAT scores. To this date, not all recruits have their academics listed, although a good number of them do. Also, some of these scores are not the final scores that they went to school with, as many had to retake the SAT in order to fully qualify to play. Still, because I could not find any more comprehensive source, these numbers were all I could come up with. Sample sizes were also listed because they varied from year to year, and between the two programs. Some numbers were scaled for effect so that the charts would not be wildly disproportioned.
So with that said, perhaps the easiest metric across all recruits is GPA, because all of them (theoretically) went to school and took classes that could be considered roughly the same in difficulty.
It’s quite clear from the chart above that the average GPA of football recruits at UCLA exceeds that of the average GPA of Cal football recruits. With the exception of this past year, where only one UCLA recruit had his GPA listed, the average GPA of UCLA recruits was greater than the average GPA of Cal recruits. It’s worth noting (and will be mentioned repeatedly) that the sample sizes here are very small - and would be even if I had information for all recruits. 19-25 players per recruiting class just isn’t enough to draw a definitive conclusion, although it certainly seems here that UCLA has the edge.
Next we’ll take a look at SAT scores; the average score across all five years may not be a good indicator because the test was changed a few years back from a maximum score of 1600 to 2400, so comparing the year-by-year test scores may be more helpful. Though again, that reduces the sample sizes even further.
You’ll notice that the total average SAT score for Cal recruits is greater than that of UCLA recruits; this is because the 2007 Cal class had an average SAT score of 1459 for seven recruits, whereas no UCLA recruits had their SAT scores listed. I’m inclined to call this a wash.
Perhaps the best measure of the standards of the schools by comparing side-to-side each program’s recruits that also had an offer from the other. In other words, compare UCLA recruits who also had an offer in hand from Cal and Cal recruits who had offers from UCLA. This isn’t necessarily the best way to measure who was recruiting whom, because players may or may not get offers for various reasons, but as a cursory way of looking at things, it’s not bad.
Both schools had 16 players who had offers from the other school, so that helped somewhat. What’s noticeable here is that the average GPAs for these common recruits was exactly 2.9, and that recruits who had offers from both but chose Cal had a higher SAT score on average. Is this because they perceived Cal to be a superior school academically? Hard to say. But what this should prove is that the two schools do go after the same students, even ones that you or I might consider poor because of that sub-3.0 average GPA.
So does this prove that UCLA has higher academic standards? Conclusively, no. The sample sizes are just too small. What could prove it perhaps would be a significantly lower average SAT score and/or GPA on the part of Cal recruits, but that just isn’t there. The vagaries of recruiting also don’t let those outside the process know why students do or don’t get offers from particular schools, as well. With us having all gone through the admissions process, you and I alike know that high school students may prefer one school over another for any number of reasons. Schools may not bother offering a scholarship to a player they know is highly unlikely to accept, making it an empty gesture and a waste of time and effort on their part.
Without going into much further detail on why we’ll never know exactly why recruits go where they do, what I am inclined to say is that the argument that higher academic standards can probably only apply to a few schools - the Ivy League ones. While some recruits do have more trouble than others getting through the admissions process, I find it hard to believe that if Karl Dorrell wanted a borderline student badly enough for his program, he wouldn’t find some way to get them in. The fact that both Cal and UCLA recruited so many students with similar academic profiles (a profile that was hardly outstanding) should speak to this. So the next time the head of your favorite Division I-A program says they can’t compete because of academics, it’s probably something else. It almost always is.