Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Moneyball, Volleyball, and Faculty Productivity

Bridget J. Crawford (Pace), Moneyball Comes to Women’s Collegiate Sports:

The Penn State women’s volleyball team has a 98-game winning streak. ... Coach Russ Rose’s secret? Mathematics. He describes his approach in today’s New York Times. [For Penn State’s Volleyball Coach, the Streak Is Beside the Point]:

 “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. ...  [He] 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. ...

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 co-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?

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

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