By Ruth A. Pagell*
(28 April 2017) Who won the March Madness (NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship) in 2017? Duke, Princeton, Bucknell or University of North Carolina?
Who won the 2017 Women’s Basketball Championship? Stanford or University of South Carolina?
Who is number one in U.S. universities based on student-focused metrics? Stanford or Princeton?
Sports fans around the world have their favorite football, rugby or cricket teams. In the U.S. sports fans root for their favorite college football or basketball teams. What does this have to do with bibliometrics and college rankings?
At the end of September 2016, Wall Street Journal and Times Higher Education published a new ranking of U.S. universities and then the WSJ took it a step further and looked at the rankings of universities relative to the ranking of their football teams (Beaton, 2016). This article compares the new WSJ/THE rankings with THE’s global rankings of U.S. universities and with the traditional U.S. News U.S. college rankings. The article examines the rankings in relationship to the top teams in the recently completed National Collegiate Association (NCAA) basketball tournament “March Madness” and calculates who would have won if the competition were based on university rankings.
STANDARD COMMERCIAL RANKINGS
Wall Street Journal /Times Higher Education College Rankings 2017
This new ranking lists over 1,000 institutions that offer bachelor degrees and have over 1000 students with 20% or less studying online. It uses a methodology that differs from its global rankings. It uses the same four pillars as its newly released Japanese university rankings (RR News Flash on Japan): Resources, Engagement, Outcomes and Environment. The individual indicators and weightings are different. Detailed information and top performers in the pillars are available in the Digital Supplement (Baty, 2016). The top 20 in Resources are the top 20 overall. The top 20 in Outcomes are in the top 25 overall. Student engagement. and environment have rankings that vary from the overall rankings. Only four of the top 20 in Engagement are in the top 100 WSJ/THE US rankings (Digital Supplement, pg. 6). Only one is in the top 100 of THE’s world rankings. For environment, none of the top 20 are in the WSJ/THE top twenty and only three are in the top 100 in the world, all from California (DS, pg. 12). (See Table 26:1. A. for methodology).
Times issued its first individual world ranking in 2011 after offering joint rankings with QS starting in 2004. THE world rankings use a different methodology, basing almost 70% of the rankings on reputation and publication metrics.
- U.S. list: All the top 10, 24 of top 25 and 42 of top 50 are private, including 13 national liberal arts colleges not ranked on the world list
- World list: 15 of the top 25 are private and 26 of the world’s top 50 are private. 50% of the World’s top 50 are on the U.S. top 50 list. See Table 26.2
U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges Rankings
U.S. News released its first rankings of U.S. colleges in 1983, based on a reputation survey of college presidents. The four top universities in 2017 are the same as the top four in 1983.
In 2017, it covered 1,384 schools divided into categories based on The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education: National comprehensive and Liberal Arts and Regional comprehensive and Liberal Arts. Carnegie uses three levels of research universities: Very High, High and institutions offering doctoral degrees. U.S. News does not distinguish in its rankings of comprehensive research universities.
The methodology uses input and output measure, most of which differ from WSJ/THE. Colleges are the main sources for data. When colleges do not supply their own data, U.S. News uses publicly available data. See Table 26.1B for methodology. See also posts by rankings guru Robert Morse (Morse, 2016). U.S. News has separate rankings for the different Carnegie classifications. Based on national comprehensive universities,
- Eight of the top 10 are the same as WSJ/THE (in different order) as are 22 of top 25
- All of the top 10 are private as are 21 of the top 25.
See Table 26:3 for a comparison of the top 25 rankings
MARCH MADNESS: College sports and university rankings
In many areas of the U.S. the fan base for college football and basketball exceeds the alumni base. State flagship universities may be more popular for the success of their sports teams than for their U.S. News College rankings and certainly more popular than our global university research rankings. These sports are big business and bring in large TV revenues for the premier conferences (Gaines, 2016).
With falling government financial support, most universities depend on tuition, while the top ranked research universities have large endowments and the major sports schools get money from TV. More viewers watched the final NCAA basketball than last year’s professional NBA finals.
11 of the universities on the WSJ/THE top 25 list are not part of the TV-driven Division I sports world and the eight Ivy League schools do not give sports scholarships. None of them has been a football or basketball champion. For my personal bragging rights, all eight schools in my Division III Conference, the University Athletic Association, are in the top 40 U S News National Universities (see Note below).
The role of college sports within universities is controversial. There is a shortage of funds, especially for US public universities; most universities do NOT make money from their sports and those that do get the TV money turn it back into athletics, not into improving teaching, learning and research. It has an impact on policy decisions where schools are chasing the football and basketball rankings. Spending for athletics, special admissions and alumni pressure has an impact on the resources and quality of teaching and learning, just as an emphasis on research by our top global universities may detract from the students’ teaching and learning environment (Repanich, 2017). The University of Louisiana at Monroe announced it was removing its natural history collection to make room for a new track. The announcement caused enough furor to be reported in Science.
The NCAA monitors compliance with its rules as infractions are a big problem. The real winner (as opposed to Ruth’s winner) of the 2017 tournament has been under investigation for ten years (Ridpath, 2016).
The end of March beginning of April is “March Madness”, the time for the NCAA basketball championships
College sports are divided into divisions and conferences and for the basketball championships, the winner of every conference participates. After reading the WSJ article (Beaton, 2016), which ranked conferences and an article in Inside Higher Education that ranks men’s teams based on NCAA metrics (Lederman,2017), where Bucknell was the winner, I decided to see who would have won the tournaments based of the 2017 WSJ/THE U.S. college rankings.
Ruth’s men’s tournament semi-finals saw Princeton (8) losing to Duke (7) in a tight rankings battle with Michigan (24) getting by UCLA (26) and Duke being the winner. If we used US News rankings, Duke would have defeated UCLA for the championship.
North Carolina (30) won the men’s tournament for the sixth time, beating Gonzaga (215). The men’s university rankings were surprisingly better than expected. The lowest ranking school (out of >800) who made the Sweet 16 was 380. 19 of the pool were ranked 100 and above. See Table 26.4.A.
My women’s semi-finals had University of Pennsylvania (4) playing UC Berkeley (37) and Stanford (1) against Miami (30) with Stanford beating Penn. Realistically, Penn did not win a game, Miami and Berkeley made it to round 2 and Stanford did make the final 4. The real final four were Connecticut (110) vs Mississippi State (482) and Stanford (1) versus South Carolina (256) with South Carolina beating Mississippi State for the championship. Mississippi State was the lowest ranking school to win a game. See Table 26.4.B which shows the real rankings and my rankings.
The addition of the WSJ/THE U.S. ranking do not add much to the top schools. The Environment and Engagement pillars add additional dimensions to the standard metrics used by U.S. News. There are many other U.S. university rankings but they do not have the comparability that U.S. News has with WSJ/THE.
The top schools in both rankings are elite private institution with large endowments. 11 of the top 16 performing men’s teams and 12 of the women’s are public universities and three of the four semi-finalist teams are public. Only one of the men’s and one of the women’s semi-finalists were in the top 100 WSJ/THE rankings.
It is questionable if high profile college athletics really add value to their institutions, but they do provide a good escape from the realities of the world around us for spectators.
For more information about the organization of college athletics go to www.ncaa.org.
NOTE: Ruth Pagell was the NCAA faculty representative for Emory University (a top Division III academic and athletic school).
Baty, Phil. (Sept 2016). WST/THE US college rankings digital supplement http://digital.timeshighereducation.com/THEUSCOLLEGERANKINGS2017/html5/index.html?page=1&noflash
Beaton, Andrew (12 October 2016). If College Football’s Rankings Were Based on Academics… The hierarchy of the power five conferences shifts dramatically when you rank teams by strength of its university. Wall Street Journal (online) available only through subscription.
Gaines, Cork (Oct. 13, 2016). The 25 schools that make the most money in college sports. Business Insider http://www.businessinsider.com/schools-most-revenue-college-sports-2016-10/#25-ucla–969-million-1
Lederman. D. (13 March 2017) All academic Men’s tournament brackets. Inside Higher education. Annual look at who would win the NCAA’s men’s tournament if academics trumped athletic skill https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/03/13/ncaa-mens-tournament-bracket-if-academics-mattered-most
Morse, R., Brooks, E and Mason, M. (12 Sept 2016) How U.S. News calculated the 2017 best colleges ranking. https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/how-us-news-calculated-the-rankings
Repanich, Jeremy (30 March 2017). The Real Insanity of March Madness:
The NCAA’s harshest critic explains how college sports went so wrong, and how they can get right. Good Sports. https://sports.good.is/features/ncaa-tournament-hurts-schools
Ridpath, D. (25 October 2016). North Carolina Major Infractions Case Takes Another Curious Turn. Forbes, accessed at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/bdavidridpath/2016/10/25/north-carolina-major-infractions-case-takes-another-curious-turn/#71f2614a31c0
Top 25 Largest School Endowments, 2016 (July 6, 2016) Forbes online at: https://www.forbes.com/pictures/efhm45fhgd/the-25-wealthiest-univer/#c3ad8ca5a4d5
Wolverton, B. and Bauaman, D. (9 October 2016). As Sports Spending Soars, Programs Scramble to Keep Up Chronical for Higher Education, subscription only
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*Ruth A .Pagell is currently an adjunct faculty [teaching] in the Library and Information Science Program at the University of Hawaii. Before joining UH, she was the founding librarian of the Li Ka Shing Library at Singapore Management University. She has written and spoken extensively on various aspects of librarianship, including contributing articles to ACCESS – https://orcid.org/0000-0003-3238-9674