College football is often as much about scandal as what happens on the scoreboard, which means that every program must be judged on two separate and sometimes conflicting criteria: How good are they? And how ashamed should fans be about rooting for them?
With the season kicking off for most of the country this weekend, there is no better time to settle both arguments with The Wall Street Journal’s annual Grid of Shame, an exercise that quantifies how every school rates both in terms of playing football—and the nefarious depths it has waded through to attain that status.
The Grid answers both these questions for the top programs in the country—all 64 teams from the five major conferences, plus a handful of others that belong in any college football conversation.
The horizontal axis shows how good the team is projected to be based on a survey of preseason evaluations. Some of these use the old-fashioned eye test, others rely on complex algorithms. That’s the easy part. What’s harder is what happens on the vertical axis—or shame meter.
We begin with cold numbers, a weighted calculation of academic performance, recent NCAA violations and probation, attendance figures, athletic-department subsidies and player arrests. Schools were also dinged if they have a dubious history with injury mismanagement—like the handful of programs involved in concussion-related lawsuits.
But those figures don’t capture everything, and no program demonstrates this better in 2016 than Baylor. How do you rank a school that mishandled sexual assault cases involving football players, a scandal so seismic that it cost president Ken Starr and football coach Art Briles their jobs?
This is where the “ick” factor comes in. When the numbers didn’t capture the magnitude of the problems at a particular program, we punished the teams that brought shame to their fans in a way that didn’t show up in any data set....
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