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Faculty-Led Research Measures Success of College Football and NFL Recruits

August 24, 2016

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It seems everyone has football on the brain this time of year, especially in South Central Texas. While most people are thinking about tailgating, cookouts, and fantasy leagues, Professor Reza Abbasian, Professor John Sieben, and Amy Gastauer ’16 are looking at probability.

Their recently published paper, “Statistical Modeling of Success in College and NFL For a Star-Rated Football Recruit,” is the first study of its kind related to the ranking of high school football recruits, colleges and conferences that recruited the player, and whether or not they were drafted by an NFL team. Their research examined more than 20,000 pieces of data from 2002 to 2012.

“Our goal was to develop probabilistic models that can be used to calculate the probability of success of a professional football player based on his ranking as a high school recruit,” Professor Abbasian, math and computer science department chair, said.

Since 2002, colleges have utilized a one to five-star rating system to determine the quality of their football recruits with a five-star rating reserved for the best high school recruits.

“Every year, approximately 30 high school seniors are awarded the prestigious five-star rating by recruiting agencies and sports websites,” Professor Abbasian said. “On average, 3,000 high school seniors sign letters of intent to play football with a Football Bowl Subdivision program on National Signing Day. Roughly one out of every 1,000 recruits is branded a five-star recruit.”

Using statistical models to determine the probability of being drafted by an NFL team, their research explored the correlation between the star ranking and a player’s future success, including earning an All-American designation in college. They also looked at the relationship between an athlete’s position in the NFL draft and the athlete’s star ranking, as well as other factors such as playing in a power conference versus a less prestigious conference.

So does a football player’s star ranking increase his chances of success in college and the NFL?

The research found that higher-star players are drafted with a higher probability and are selected earlier in the draft. While the study didn’t find any statistically significant evidence that the choice of a conference affects the probability of the draft, it was determined that playing for a school in a power conference generally results in a higher probability of being selected as an All-American.

“Playing in a power conference like the SEC automatically gives a player a leg up,” he said. “For example, if a five-star player in high school goes to the University of Alabama versus Boise State University, they will go into the NFL draft higher because they went to Alabama.”

For Professor Abbasian and Professor Sieben, their research is also an example of how math and statistics relate to something most people follow.

“Sports has a lot of data and finding the probability of things like winning, losing, or individual success fits well with LOGIT regression,” Abbasian said. “I think this type of research will also be useful in other disciplines like the social sciences and kinesiology. Many people can relate to the topic of sports or football and these are natural applications that make more complex math easier to understand.”