August 1, 2007

2007 College Golf Guide

What is player growth and how do I use it?

The player growth statistic evolved from one question: How much better or worse are sophomores/juniors/seniors than when they entered college as freshmen? Player growth (PG) is a completely different way of looking at a school; we know of no comparable statistic in college athletics.

Individual improvement as a student-athlete golfer is similar to increased knowledge and analytical thinking for the student-nonathlete. It's part of the growing process, which is why we go to college. Becoming a stronger player during college is important whether you want to get on the PGA or LPGA tours or remain an amateur and play recreationally.

Coaches tend to focus on team accomplishments such as tournaments won. They may not have been as concerned -- or have thought about or even quantified -- player improvement across a roster. But to a parent spending tens of thousands of dollars on an education, or a student signing for loans (or receiving the benefit of scholarship dollars), whether players improve is a factor that can inform their selection.

Here's how PG works: We looked at all players on a school's roster in the last four seasons (2003-'04 through 2006-'07). That includes everyone from last year's freshmen to players who entered college in 2000. If a player met a minimum-round requirement for a season we compared their individual adjusted scoring average to the previous year: sophomore to freshman, junior to sophomore, senior to junior.

We counted the players who improved/declined and expressed the totals like a fraction (12/10 means 12 players improved, 10 declined). For the second PG number, the rate, we took the difference between the sum of all improvements and sum of all declines. Some overall rates are positive (collective improvement), some negative (collective decline).

Not surprisingly, schools at or near the 100th percentile in PG are those where players average in the 80s, 90s and higher. Taking a shot or two off their average is much easier than for someone shooting in the 70s. Yet a handful of schools with the country's lowest team adjusted scoring averages have PG rates as high as the 80th and 90th percentile. The gains aren't as large in those schools -- it's measured in hundreds or tenths of a stroke. But a high improve/decline ratio and positive PG rate identify a school where growth is fostered.

Every golfer has an equal chance to improve. The player in the 70s and the player in the 100s may improve by different amounts, but what is important is whether they improve.

Some coaches say PG isn't fair because it's far easier for players in the 80s or 90s to drop a shot or two than players in the low 70s. Those coaches misrepresent the statistic's use.

PG helps compare schools of like qualifications. When a family shops for a car, it generally searches in one price range or for a set list of features. A golfer searching for a college considers schools with similar academic qualifications and teams of similar scoring averages. Anyone looking at the country's best academic schools bypasses low-rated state universities; anyone shooting in the low 70s and sought by contenders for the NCAA Division I crown isn't looking at schools where players average in the 90s. But the 70s shooter and 90s shooter can use the Player Growth numbers of the respective colleges they are considering to learn about those programs.

In our ranking formulas (Academics First, Balanced and Golf First), adjusted scoring average is given double the weight of PG. That's because overall team performance is the strongest mathematical measurement of a program. PG is a contributing factor in our assessment but is given half the weight so it doesn't skew the importance of adjusted scoring average.

PG can indicate a number of things. Let's say you're evaluating five schools with almost identical adjusted scoring averages:

   College   Adj. Scoring Avg.   Player growth

Improve/Decline       Rate College A 75.58 14/10      0.34 College B 75.59 20/5       0.59 College C 75.64 10/9      0.05 College D 75.66 20/7     0.92 College E 75.73 27/15     0.70

Here are some observations we can make about these schools.

--College E has the largest number of players who meet the minimum round requirement (27+15=42). That means a lot more students compete in tournaments compared to the other schools. This team might score better if it used only its five top players in each tournament, but that would likely go against the coach's philosophy.

--College D has the best cumulative rate of improvement (0.92). That could mean the coach recruited players with a higher potential for improvement. It may, like College E, indicate healthy competition outside tournament play (practice and qualifying).

--College C has the lowest cumulative rate of improvement (0.05). That could mean the coach recruited proven performers near the peak of their ability. It could mean little direction or motivation was given concerning improvement. It could indicate a coach open to players making swing changes and weathering temporarily higher scores to eventually realize lower numbers. Finally, because this college has the smallest number of players (10+9) it may field underperforming or struggling players.

--College B has the best improve/decline ratio and a strong rate of improvement. This indicates a program where improvement is expected and fostered, even though it may not be reflected in tournaments won or stature compared to other schools. This can be an especially important factor for someone who hopes to turn professional.

--College A ranks in the middle of both measurements. This could indicate any combination of the above observations and raises questions worth exploring.

Coaches responding to the College Guide survey in 2006 told us they appreciate a prospect and family who ask lots of questions, especially those giving coaches the opportunity to discuss their philosophies, expectations and goals. Player Growth can prompt such questions and aid your decision of which coach and school are best for you.