Moneyball Comes to Women’s Collegiate Sports

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook

photo credit: Rich Pedroncelli, AP

The Penn State women’s volleyball team has a 98-game winning streak.   The only longer winning streak in NCAA Division I history is the Miami (Florida) men’s tennis tam that won 137 consequtive matches from 1957 to 1964.

Coach Russ Rose’s secret?   Mathematics.   He describes his approach in today’s New York Times.

“My decisions in coaching are based on these statistics,”Rose said.

He pointed to shelves in his office lined with binders, filled with decades of handwritten scribbles and diarylike entries.    *** In the late 1970s, Rose wrote his master’s thesis on volleyball statistics. Today, he has a higher career winning percentage (.862) than any Division I women’s volleyball coach in history : and more than 100 points higher than the .751 of Joe Paterno, the far more famous football coach of the Nittany Lions. Rose’s top-ranked team is in the N.C.A.A. tournament for the 29th year in a row, on to the regionals, hoping to win its third consecutive national title this month. ***

Rose . . . spent two years at Nebraska, where his master’s thesis examined the skills most associated with winning. (“Passing predicts the level of play,”Rose said of his conclusion.”Hitting and blocking are most correlated with winning.”)

Official statistics have always bothered him. Most sports tally what the player did, not what he or she failed to do. He sees that as only half the equation. What about the rebound the basketball player should have had? Or the ground ball the shortstop did not reach? Or the dig that the volleyball player blew?

“On that sheet,”Rose said, pointing to a match’s official N.C.A.A score sheet,”if you don’t hit the ball, you don’t get a statistic. On mine, you do. You didn’t hit the ball.”***

Most of his scribbles in the notebook reflect missed opportunities, what his players call”error control.”Rose grades each play, too, on a scale : not just whether the serve was in, for example, but how good the serve was.

The full story is here.  

What interests me is Coach Rose’s emphasis on the non-traditional volleyball statistic of  passing, which is both a player’s not scoring herself (or seizing a scoring opportunity) as well as an essential element of volleyball teammwork.

I’m a tax professor, so perhaps I have a professional affinity for numbers.   I’m also persuaded of the wisdom of applying a variation of the Moneyball approach to law faculty recruiting and assessment.   Paul Caron and Rafael Gely in  What Law Schools Can Learn From Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics, 82 Tex. L. Rev. 1483 (2004), as well as Jim Chen and his c0-bloggers at Moneylaw,  explain  it quite well.

So my follow-on question from the New York Times story is what non-traditional statistics — the equivalent of a volleyball pass or a dig a player misses — might help measure or predict scholarly productivity as a law professor?   Is co-authoring like passing?   What about forwarding speaking and writing opportunities to others when you won’t be able (or don’t want) to undertake them oneself?   What is the equivalent of the missed dig?   Articles not written?   Deadlines not met?   A second-choice article placement?  

-Bridget Crawford

This entry was posted in Feminism and Sports, Law Schools. Bookmark the permalink.