But what if you've moved around a lot? Or didn't grow up as a college football fan? Or attended school out-of-state? Or attended multiple schools? For which conference should you root, then?
What follows is a first attempt to rank the conferences by criteria that might be important to fans trying to pick the most virtuous conference. For the first year of these rankings, I've divided these criteria into three separate categories: academics, football academics, and football ethics.
Before I discuss the results, I need to stress that these rankings are crude and preliminary. This is but my first attempt to quantify the merits of each conference. Due to this fact, I entertained not posting them at all (hence why it's being posted this late into bowl season) . . . but since I already had the tabulations done, I figured I'd post them and note that a lot more could be done to make these better.
The ACC and the Big Ten are the standouts in the academic category, ranking 1-2 in almost category. The Big Ten is the only conference with 100% AAU membership, but the ACC edges them out for the highest average SAT scores (25th-75th percentile of 1194-1384), highest average ranking in the US News & World Report (49th), and highest graduation rate (83%). The Pac 12 was a clear third, and the SEC, Big 12, and Big East were clustered at the bottom. Only 16.7% of SEC schools are AAU members, but the Big East has slightly lower SAT scores (1070-1265), USNWR rank (112th), and graduation rate (67%).
For football academics, I looked at the NCAA APR rating and the graduation rate of the football teams. The ACC ranked first in both -- 63% of football players graduate. The Pac-10 ranked at the bottom of the category, but the Big 12 has the lowest APR and the SEC has the lowest football graduation rate -- 51% of football players graduate.
For football ethics, I looked at oversigning and years spent on probation. The SEC was the biggest offender in recruiting, signing an average of 25.25 recruits per year despite scholarship limits of 85 per team (meaning a large number of recruits have to be encouraged or forced to leave school prematurely or enroll elsewhere). The Pac-10, however, had the most years spent on probation since 2000 -- an average of 1.83 per team -- in part due to the recent troubles of new conference members Utah and Colorado. The ACC and Big Ten signed the fewest athletes per year (22.16 and 22.28), while the Big East had zero teams on probation since 2000.
The averages in all the categories I described were standardized so that the school with the highest score had 100 points. Overall, the ACC ranked first, with 96.41 points out of 100 and the SEC ranked last, with 80.62 points. This was partially due to the fact that students at ACC schools score about 100 points higher on the SAT than students at SEC schools, and are almost 25% more likely to graduate, but the SEC ranked near the bottom in almost every category. Without further ado, here are this year's rankings:
|Acad||Ft. Acad||Ft. Ethics||Total|
The full results and tabulations can be found here, and here are details the measures that were used to construct the rankings. Each of these measures is problematic in multiple ways, but I'll spare you the full discussion (but please note again that these ratings are essentially an imperfect first draft):
The American Association of Universities is a group of 59 of the most prestigious research universities in the country. I measured the percentage of schools in each conference that were AAU members.
UWNWR Ranks + Grad Rates + SAT scores
A number of the schools reported ACT scores, which were converted to SAT scores using the concordence tables published by both the ACT and SAT folks (which were identical). I used the average SAT or converted score for each conference in addition to the average rank and SAT score.
I used the 10 year average of scholarships awarded per year. Some of these numbers are inflated due to early departures to the NFL and some are deflated due to scholarship restrictions. But since they're a 10 year average and NFL players still have to remain in school for 3 years, the numbers should be pretty strongly correlated with the number of scholarships being awarded to players who are later removed from the team in one of a number of ways (as detailed by SI).
Academic Progress Rate
This is the NCAA's measure of academic progress -- essentially a way for them to assess whether students on the teams are progressing toward graduation. I used the latest APR for each school's football program.
Football Graduation Rate
The percentage of football players who graduate within six years.
Years on Probation
I calculated the total number of years spent on probation per team for each conference between 2000 and 2011.
Other possible criteria for future rankings:
Washington Monthly College Rankings
These rankings attempt to rank schools by their service to society rather than their academic prestige. I entertained the idea of using these rankings and/or pieces of these rankings, but decided against it largely because they were just released and I didn't want to take the time to enter all the data (see what I mean about these rankings being crude and preliminary?)
Sexist Team Names
In a recent study, schools with women's basketball teams who went by different, sexist, nicknames than the men's teams were found to be less likely to hire a female to coach the women's basketball team and gave relatively fewer athletic opportunities for women (as measured by Title IX proportionality).
I originally planned on using this data on number of arrests per team, but it only includes last year's to 25 teams . . . and, as this update pointed out, the two programs with the most arrests have had only two arrests between them in the last 6 months -- one of whom wasn't even a practicing member of the team. If data were available on number of arrests by team, I would certainly use that.
This would be hard to measure, but I'd rather not root for teams that prevent their players from transferring closer to home to be near seriously ill parents
If I decide to do another set of rankings in the future, I'm open to any other suggestions as well . . .