Rankings are all the rage these days when it comes to picking colleges.
So when Sports Illustrated released its rankings for the Top 200 Sports Colleges in the United States last week, you can bet lots of heads turned.
The special report titled “America’s Best Sports Colleges” appeared in the special Oct. 7 issue of Sports Illustrated. The report ranked the top 200 of 324 Division I athletics programs that Sports Illustrated surveyed and included a short blurb on each school. Yale ranked sixth among the eight Ivy League schools.
Yale placed 95th, behind Harvard (41st), Princeton (56th), Penn (72nd), Cornell (74th) and Brown (92nd). Dartmouth (108th) and Columbia (166th) rounded out the rest of the Ivy League.
Two big surprises in the Sports Illustrated rankings include placing Harvard before Princeton and Cornell before Yale. The Sears Directors’ Cup rankings, the widely accepted authority on collegiate athletic programs from the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, placed Princeton before Harvard and Yale before Cornell in its 2001-02 rankings.
“Nobody here was upset about it one way or another,” said Jerry Price, Princeton’s director of athletics communications. “People took [the Sports Illustrated placement] for what it was. The Sears Cup — which may have its flaws too — is a much better indication of the across-the-board athletics that you have.”
Despite the controversy, Yale reactions to the Sports Illustrated rankings remain subdued.
Tom Beckett, director of the Yale Athletics Department, said he has not given a lot of attention to the Sports Illustrated rankings and does not intend to make any changes in the athletics department based on Yale’s placement.
“I am very pleased with where Yale is whether [Sports Illustrated] puts us ahead or behind,” Beckett said. “I have no control over what Sports Illustrated does, and I should not worry about things that I have no control over.”
Athletics administrators at Harvard could not be reached for comment.
Many people question the criteria that Sports Illustrated used in the rankings.
In the article, Sports Illustrated listed the criteria: performance during the 2001-02 season in five major sports (baseball, football, hockey, and men’s and women’s basketball); position in the 2001-02 Sears Cup; number of varsity, club and intramural sports; range of recreational facilities; and whether or not spirit-boosting events like Midnight Madness took place.
But the article did not describe how the information was weighed and interpreted.
Especially troubling to Yale coaches were the largely qualitative standards.
“Sports Illustrated — like U.S. News and World Report in ranking colleges — set up their own criteria for these rankings,” head football coach Jack Siedlecki said. “It is a very arbitrary judgment on their part.”
The magazine’s methodology for collecting information raised similar questions. The Yale Daily News obtained copies of the original two e-mail surveys sent by Sports Illustrated to Yale.
The first e-mail specified that the information collected was “NOT going to be a comprehensive ranking of all Division I schools.”
But then a subsequent e-mail said, “I do want you to be thorough, because there may be some sort of ranking, after all.”
Steve Conn, Yale’s director of sports publicity, handled Sports Illustrated’s request. Conn said he was confused as to what type of information Sports Illustrated wanted and how detailed this information had to be.
“It seems like those who were more creative with the reporting were rewarded,” Conn said.
Andrea Woo, a Sports Illustrated reporter who worked on the special issue, said the intended focus of the rankings was to go beyond the statistics and records to provide the readers with a more holistic perspective on the sports atmosphere of the respective schools. Woo said for this reason, the criteria used in the evaluation included many qualitative factors and factors which did not relate to varsity athletics programs.
“The target was to give the general interest reader a look into college sports that they may not have had before,” Woo said. “As far as I understand it, it wasn’t for student athletes trying to choose which college to go to. It wasn’t a measuring stick for college athletic programs, either.”
Beckett said the rankings would not affect recruitment for varsity teams or alumni donations to the athletics department or the University.
“The [recruits] look at individual programs and ask themselves what is it like to be a basketball player at Yale, what is it like to be a football player, what is it like to be on the squash team, and base their decision on that,” Beckett said. “They’re not going to be swayed by what they see in Sports Illustrated.”