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Hoping for an Advantage?

Publication Date: January 14, 2003

There's a Whole Big World Out There

Sometimes the outside world can do things with no thought to our little sand castles that just turn our whole world upside down. In 1993, the Georgia state legislature made a decision that affected the future of hordes of high school graduates without even a single thought to how it would affect college baseball, and their lack of consideration to what was obviously important in life could have turned the game upside down.

The program that they started was called the HOPE Scholarship (there's a retro-fitted name to go with the acronym, but let's not humor them there), and it represented an interesting piece of social engineering -- using the profits from the state lottery, they would fund scholarships for any Georgia high school graduate who met minimal academic qualification to go to college in Georgia. The students can get full tuition to any Georgia public college or a little over $4000 a year to any Georgia private college. Louisiana has since instituted a similar program. At least a couple of other states, Florida and South Carolina, have similar programs, but they have academic requirements that at least raise them out of the realm of full coverage.

Now, I'm not here to debate the politics of this decision, mostly because I'm not sure how I feel about it. As social engineering measures go, instituting a tax on people who are bad at math and giving the money to kids who want to go to college doesn't strike me as a bad idea, but the inherent inefficiencies of government may make it a rather bad deal for the populace as a whole. What I do want to look at is how it's affected the game of college baseball (see, you knew I'd get back to it in a paragraph or two).

Baseball teams are limited to 11.78 scholarships a year. The chore of splitting those scholarships over a 25-man roster is one of the big challenges of running a program. Imagine, though, that you can recruit any in-state high school player and know that the state would pick up the tab for his scholarship (scholarships for which a player is otherwise qualified are allowed and do not count against the sport's scholarship limit). You can either save all your scholarships for out-of-state kids or at least give smaller pieces of scholarships to your in-state kids so they can cover housing fees and things like that that aren't covered by the state-given money. Wouldn't that have to be a significant competitive advantage? I mean, in football and basketball, they have enough scholarships to fund an entire roster anyway, but wouldn't that have to be a big help in baseball? That's how LSU won all those titles, right?

Don't No Why, But No

I've been looking for a way to quantify this for about a year now, and I think I've finally found a way. I'm surprised by the answer (by the way, most of LSU's title -- and Georgia's one title, too, for that matter -- came before these programs were in place, so that's a red herring). I have a measure called the External Factors Index (EFI) which measures the advantages or disadvantages a team has based on factors completely out of their control -- things like weather, enrollment size, academic standards, and wins by the football and basketball teams. Using correlation studies, I can say that the EFI explains about 65% of a team's success. If there is a systematic competitive advantage outside of those factors, then the teams that have that advantage should theoretically consistently outperform their EFI projections.

Here are the EFI listings for the Georgia and Louisiana schools:


ISR  -- Five-year ISR for 1997-2001
EFI  -- Predicted ISR based on EFI
Diff -- EFI - ISR, negative is overperforming

 Diff  ISR   EFI  Team

 -5.8 101.4  95.6 Mercer
 -2.9 114.9 112.0 Georgia Tech
  0.7  97.4  98.0 Georgia Southern
  3.8  95.4  99.2 Georgia State
  8.1 106.6 114.6 Georgia

 Diff  ISR   EFI  Team

-10.3 110.9 100.6 Northwestern State
-10.1 117.7 107.6 Tulane
 -5.2 106.3 101.2 McNeese State
 -1.9 102.1 100.2 Nicholls State
 -1.7 105.6 103.9 New Orleans
  0.4 120.5 120.9 Louisiana State
  0.8 103.9 104.7 Southeastern Louisiana
  5.0  95.5 100.5 Southern
  5.7  95.0 100.7 Centenary
  7.9  98.3 106.1 Louisiana Tech
 13.1  91.9 105.0 Grambling State

As you can tell if I've explained this right, there is no consistent competitive advantage here. As a group, these schools are actually underperforming their projections. As an example, LSU has an excellent ISR over the period in question, but it's actually slightly lower (statistically, that's easily within the margin of error for break-even) than you'd expect for a large school with a decent football team located in a good baseball weather location having normal academic standards. If you remove Grambling as an outlier or discount for Georgia's unusual underperformance in the mid '90's, the group moves to a slight overperformance, but not by enough to point out any unfairness.

There is still one question that I can't answer definitively, and that's why it's not an advantage when it so logically should be. It may be that, at the current state of funding, baseball scholarships are just not large enough for the most part to significantly affect recruiting in comparison to things like facilities, playing time opportunities, or perceived teaching advantages. I'm also certainly willing to entertain the idea that I'm wrong here, but it'll take evidence to convince.

An Acknowledgement And a Plug

Thanks to Christopher Lakos, the Georgia baseball SID, for answering some questions I had about the HOPE scholarships.

Last week, I did an audio interview with Mark Etheridge of as part of a new feature they're running this year called Talking Baseball. It's in the free section of the site if you'd like to get some of my thoughts in a less edited version than usual. While you're there, check out the rest of the site, they're expanding their coverage of Southeastern baseball for this season quite substantially. As usual, I've got no financial interest here; I'm just rooting for the game in general.

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Boyd's World-> Breadcrumbs Back to Omaha-> Hoping for an Advantage? About the author, Boyd Nation