Saturday, December 22, 2012

Fact or Fiction?: UConn Has Questionable Academics

Dooley's Ruling: FICTION

I am unsure when this rumor began, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it started as soon as the University of Connecticut Men's Basketball program received a 2012 postseason ban as a result of an APR score of less than the required 900 between the 2007-08 through 2010-11 seasons.  In reality, the low APR scores of note occurred between the 2007-08 and 2009-10 seasons.  The National Championship 2010-11 team achieved a robust 978 score while providing college basketball with one of the most magical postseason runs in the history of the sport.

As is the case with most negative perceptions, the actions of the few (in this case, a few players from the men's basketball team five years ago) envelop the many.  During the same time period, the football program achieved an average score of 963 (11 points higher than the average FBS program), and the women's basketball program achieved a score of 990 while winning two national championships.  The baseball team achieved a perfect 1000 score in 2010-11 while advancing to the NCAA Super Regionals. The men's cross country, women's tennis and men's golf teams all achieved perfect multi-year scores of 1000 and the field hockey, men's tennis, women's tennis and women's cross country teams also all achieved perfect single-year scores for the 2010-11 season.

While these posted scores are stellar accomplishments by the entire booking of UConn's athletic programs, the university's complete academic profile has also received impressive rankings and acknowledgements. U.S. News ranked the University of Connecticut the 21st ranked public national university and 63rd ranked university (there is a 5-way tie for 58th ranked and UConn is ranked next) in 2013.  The ranking places Connecticut ahead of Purdue, Rutgers, Minnesota, Michigan State, Iowa, and Indiana. Rankings are nice to have but they do not always guarantee a chair in the musical conference realignment game.  For example, the Atlantic Coast Conference recently inexplicably invited the University of Louisville for full membership, despite Louisville's putrid 160 ranking (Louisville now is, by far, the lowest ranked school in the ACC).

After her hiring, UConn President Susan Herbst has dedicated most of her efforts to expanding the university's research profile. UConn has 7 NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduate programs. UConn is already classified as one of 108 RU/VH Research Universities (very high research university) in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Learning (this list includes public and private universities), but Herbst has continued her efforts.  The university recently announced a collaborative effort with Jackson Laboratory with the state of Connecticut to construct a new facility that will allow for unprecedented genetic research to prevent, treat and cure human disease.  The university also announced a $7.5 Million partnership with General Electric to focus on the energy industry.  UConn will also begin construction on a new Technology Park soon.

Of course, President Herbst is seemingly positioning the University of Connecticut for acceptance into the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU).  Much like, conference realignment, acceptance into the AAU is by invitation only and requires a 3/4 affirmative vote from current members. Criteria used to evaluate university performance include, but are not limited to: research spending, doctoral degree and post-doctoral appointees.  UConn measures very favorably in these criteria:

•#40 in the nation in awarded doctoral degrees - UConn is ranked higher than 26 of the 61 AAU members;

•#49 in the nation for doctoral student enrollment - UConn is ranked higher than 23 of the 61 AAU members; 

•#77 in the nation for research expenditures - UConn is ranked higher than 10 of the 61 AAU members.

UConn is also in the midst of an unprecedented faculty hiring period that would bring almost 300 new faculty to UConn, and it has been noticed by some important folks:

"The university's hiring strategy runs counter to what is happening at many universities and colleges around the country", according to Gwendolyn Bradley, senior program officer for the American Association of University Professors"We haven't heard of any other large-scale hiring plans for large public universities or really anywhere," Bradley said. She noted that large public universities have been particularly hard-hit by the recession and tend to be cutting faculty rather than adding."

President Herbst is also attempting to raise UConn's endowment fund to $1 Billion.  It currently stands at $329 Million, a figure that is short of other universities in major conferences, like the B1G.  Adding close to 300 additional faculty members to an already accomplished faculty that includes 100 endowed professors, 168 Fulbright Scholars, and members of the National Academy of Engineering and Institute of Medicine will definitely help Connecticut get closer to Herbst's endowment goal.  

The University of Connecticut should shoot up in the US News' rankings in years to come as a result of these unprecedented expansions and initiatives.  The flagship public university of New England is located in the part of the country that offers top quality K-12 education to its area children and should benefit from a pool of top applicants.  The average student SAT score is 1228, which outpaces the national average by 217 points.  UConn also has a 93% freshmen retention rate and had a 6 year graduation rate of 78% in 2009, which was 23% ahead of the national average.

So how does all of this tie in to conference realignment?  UConn has demonstrated a unique ability to provide outstanding education while fielding championship level athletics.  If UConn can gain acceptance into the AAU sometime in the next few years, it would solidify UConn's already stellar conference resume and its rapidly growing image of being a "public ivy".  Yes, a few players from the men's basketball team struggled a few years ago and, unfairly, it created a perception that UConn academia was poor.  As you can clearly see, that perception needs to change.  

Friday, December 21, 2012

Fact or Fiction?: UConn Only Had 3,000 Fans At The 2011 Fiesta Bowl

Dooley's Ruling:  FICTION

Had the statement read "UConn only sold a little less than 3,000 tickets of the university's allotment of 17,500 tickets to the 2011 Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma", then that would be fact.  Unfortunately, common perception with sports fans across our country is that the University of Connecticut only had 3,000 in TOTAL Glendale, Arizona on New Year's Day to watch the Huskies first ever BCS bowl game.  Before I continue any further, I want to show you two photos that I have come across.  They were snapped off by a fan inside University of Phoenix Stadium the night of the Fiesta Bowl that pitted Connecticut against Oklahoma.  I like these photos because they are both taken from the same vantage point, behind an end zone that splits the stadium at a perfect horizontally symmetric angle.

First, to the right of the photographer, you can see the "Oklahoma side" of the stadium...

Second, to the left of the photographer, you can see the "Connecticut side" of the stadium...

After viewing both "sides" of the stadium, now try to tell me that UConn only had 3,000 fans in attendance.

On the Oklahoma side, you can clearly see waves of red in the lower tier and filtering up into the upper tiers of the stadium.  But that is what you would expect from Oklahoma, right?  Sooner fans have a pretty good reputation as a traveling fanbase and it surprises nobody to think that Oklahoma had 15-20,000 fans inside the stadium that night.  But would it surprise you to learn that Oklahoma had similar difficulties selling their 17,500 allotment?  The Big 12 bought 10,403 unsold tickets for roughly $1.9 million to offset any losses that Oklahoma would have incurred.  Oklahoma still had to shell out an additional $337,080 to purchase 1,530 unsold tickets.  Using simple math estimates, Oklahoma came up 11,933 tickets short of selling out their 17,500 allotment.  In other words, the school sold 5,567 tickets.  Does it look like there is 5,567 Oklahoma fans in red inside University of Phoenix Stadium that night to you?  I don't think so.

On the Connecticut side, you can clearly see waves of blue and white in the lower tier and filtering up into the upper tiers of the stadium.  But this is NOT what you expected to see from Connecticut, right?  Why is that?  Because Connecticut fans have been branded as a poor traveling fanbase by several media outlets and fans across the country.  Most of this reputation stems directly from Connecticut's "poor showing" at the Fiesta Bowl.  Granted, Connecticut only sold 2,771 tickets out of their allotment of 17,500, resulting in the university absorbing 14,729 unsold tickets worth $2,924,385. But unlike Oklahoma, Connecticut did not receive additional money from the Big East to help offset losses that the school incurred from their unsold tickets.  So, as a result, UConn's loss of roughly $2.9 million on the game made national headlines and became the punchline of many college football fans' jokes.  Oklahoma, thanks in large part from their Big 12 bailout, turned a profit of $9,350 on the game.  I want you to take another good look at the "Connecticut side" picture again.  Does it look like there are 2,771 Connecticut fans in blue inside University of Phoenix Stadium?  I also don't think so.

So, if Oklahoma only sold 2,796 more tickets to the game than UConn, why are UConn fans unfairly branded as the ones who don't travel well to bowl games?  Both schools priced their tickets and ticket packages to this game well above the average cost of a ticket on other various ticket websites, like StubHub, partly because the schools had to buy their allotment of tickets at a higher cost.  If you could buy a decent seat location ticket on StubHub for $20, why would you pay $111 for upper deck corner seating?  You wouldn't.  And fans from both Connecticut and Oklahoma didn't.  There is no way of knowing how many tickets that were purchased from online ticket sites like StubHub were by Oklahoma fans and how many were purchased by Connecticut fans.  But you can be sure that the majority of the 67,232 tickets purchased for the game were through much cheaper ticket agencies and not through the more expensive packages offered by the two competing schools.

A pessimist might ask "hey Dooley, how do you know all of the fans in blue are UConn fans?" and it's a good point, I don't know for certain.  But there is somewhat of a double-standard here.  Oklahoma obviously has a much longer history in bowl games, especially bowl games of this stature, and have had many nationally televised football games in the past several decades.  Because of the history, fans watching on TV across the country automatically assume that when they see sections painted in Sooner crimson, that they are Sooner fans.  Connecticut football does not have that same history of nationally televised games and recognizable painted fans.  So, college football fans who do not know anything about Connecticut football read headlines that tell them that UConn sold 2,771 tickets and lost close to $3 million at the Fiesta Bowl and jump to a quick and unfair conclusion that "Connecticut doesn't travel".  The average college football fan who does not know anything about Connecticut football fails to realize that UConn's costs and subsequent losses were driven up by the fact that the band and equipment had to be flown to Arizona (Oklahoma bussed theirs at a much cheaper cost because of the closer location) and that both schools sold similarly disappointing ticket amounts but Oklahoma received a substantial and very generous bailout while Connecticut did not.  The average college football fan who does not know anything about Connecticut football reads the headline stating what UConn lost on the game and the headline stating that UConn lost the game and assumes that UConn couldn't have had more than 3,000 fans at the game.  Conversely, Oklahoma fans have been "grandfathered" in by the average college football fan who does not support the Sooners and the assumption is that they traveled well to the game.

It is very possible that Oklahoma had the support of more of their fans than Connecticut had at the game.  In fact, it is probable given the closer distance and longer history.  But there is no question that UConn was well represented inside University of Phoenix Stadium that night.  2,771 seats in a 63,400 seat stadium would only fill a few lower tier sections.  As you can see in the photograph above, there is a significant overflow of blue and white in all tiers of that side of the stadium and are not confined to just a few sections.  What is more likely: a school that has historically traveled very well to basketball Final Fours really only had 3,000 fans at the Fiesta Bowl OR thousands of UConn fans searched the internet to price their own ticket packages and flights at a much cheaper cost than what was being offered through the school?

I'll let the visual evidence presented above and common sense economics speak for themselves.