College Football’s “Grid of Shame”

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The annual evaluation is conducted by The Wall Street Journal. 

The Wall Street Journal just published its evaluation of major college football programs. Some schools look good in the WSJ system, while others don’t. That’s because The Journal calls its system, “The Grid of Shame.

Results are presented graphically in four quadrants along two axes—strength of football program (horizontal axis) and quality of off-field performance (vertical axis).

“The simple part…is the horizontal axis,” writes author Andrew Beaton. “It measures how good a team is actually expected to be on the field. On this axis, you want your team to be as far right as possible—where you’ll find No. 1 Alabama.”

“The vertical axis—also known as the shame meter—is the more complicated endeavor,” Beaton continues. “It begins with raw data–a weighted calculation of academic performance, recent NCAA violations and probation, attendance figures, athletic-department subsidies, and player arrests. Schools also got demerits for questionable histories of injury mismanagement, like the many involved in concussion-related lawsuits.”

Based on the system, here are the results for 2017.

Copyright: The Wall Street Journal (2017)

Two quadrants are of special interest—powerhouse/admirable (upper right) and also-ran/deplorable (lower left). Fans won’t find a lot of surprises in either depiction, but one finding in the upper right caught my eye.

Three of the four teams that made last year’s College Football Playoff—namely, Washington, Clemson, and Ohio State—are located in the upper right quadrant. The fourth team—Alabama—almost made it there. That shows schools can have powerhouse programs AND operate with honor … or, at the very least, without shame.

There weren’t any surprises on the other side of the coin, though. Three schools that have been making headlines for off-the-field issues—Baylor (sexual assaults), North Carolina (academic fraud), and Mississippi (head coach’s indiscretions)—also made it into the WSJ’s quadrants to avoid.

At least one of those schools is taking a hit beyond newsprint. After experiencing a period of historic football success, Baylor has now become a football disaster. The most recent example came last weekend. The Bears lost at home to Liberty University–an off-the-radar-screen program.

What it’s all mean? There’s plenty to quibble about in any evaluation/ranking system, and that conclusion certainly applies to WSJ’s version. But the Journal’s system does one thing for sure: it shines a spotlight on something in addition to winning.

Program conduct matters. And that matter should factor into how we evaluate what it means to be a “good program.”

For somebody who cares deeply about social responsibility in sports, I say ‘thank you.’


About Frank Fear

I’m a Columnist at The Sports Column. My specialty is sports commentary with emphasis on sports reform. I also serve as TSC’s Chief Operating Officer and Managing Editor. In that role I coordinate the daily flow of submissions from across the country and around the world, including overseeing editing and posting articles. I’m especially interested in enabling the development of young, aspiring writers. I can relate to them. I began covering sports in high school for my local newspaper. In college I served as sports editor of the campus newspaper and worked in the Sports Information Director’s Office at St. John Fisher College. After finishing grad degrees at West Virginia and Iowa State I had a 35-year academic career at Michigan State. Now retired, it’s time to write again about sports. I strongly support TSC’s philosophy–democratizing voice by giving everybody a chance to write.

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