Academic Moneyball

Inside Higher Ed reports that a group of Massachusetts Institute of Technology academics have created a Moneyball style data analytics model to predict and evaluate tenure track applications and performance.

Here are some of my thoughts on Academic Moneyball from December 2014:

The Moneyball Thesis


Oakland A’s coach Billy Beane faced a dilemma: competing teams poached his high-performance players and the baseball team faced budget restraints. Beane used Bill James’ sabermetrics – the statistical analysis of baseball player skill – to build a team of contrarian baseball players using performance-based optionality; that experienced positive asymmetric payoffs (a winning streak of successful games); and that achieved a dramatic change in competitive tournament rankings.


Definition of Academic Moneyball: develop a Moneyball valuation framework for academic research programs.




Academic: a higher education staff member who does teaching, research, and academic service.


Researcher: a higher education staff member whose main work activity Is to conduct research.


Research Program: a programmatic suite of research activities including collaboration, dissemination, publishing, and contract research.




  1. The University’s Enterprise Bargaining Agreement defines the Minimum Standards for Academic Levels (MSALs): the expected scope and observable impact of an Academic’s teaching, research, and academic service activities (i.e. MSALs establish the baseline for expected performance).


  1. An Academic’s work can be modelled as a Present Value cashflow stream of value creation activities from: (i) undergraduate and postgraduate student fees for the Academic’s units of study; (ii) Higher Education Research Data Collection (HERDC) funding, and Research Support and Research Training program funding, received from the Australian Government for the Academic’s eligible research publications, competitive grants, Higher Degree by Research student completions, and other eligible research income (Category 1 to 4); (iii) consulting and contract research income that is non-HERDC eligible; (iv) intellectual property rights income such as patents, joint ventures, and spin-outs; and (v) Academic contribution to Field of Research scores in national and international performance rankings, such as the Excellence for Research in Australia and Shanghai Jiao Tong ranking exercises.


  1. The gap between the MSALs and the Academic’s Present Value cashflow stream creates a potential spread in terms of work expectations versus value creation activities that create arbitrage conditions. The University can extract Alpha (excess return above a benchmark) through active management of an Academic’s research program, such as gaining new contract research income, exercising options on intellectual property rights, or creating new, scalable research enterprises. Alternatively, the University can extract Beta (passive returns from a market index) through cultivating an Academic cohort / group’s expertise, and matching it to relevant grant and consulting income sources.


  1. Developing an Academic’s research program is one way to change the Future Value cashflow stream from research activities, in a structured process.


  1. Moneyball strategies for research programs include: (i) scalability and international scope; (ii) target journals for publication; (iii) book publisher selection for publication; (iv) research methodology training (as a Doctoral candidate and as a Post-Doc); (v) co-authors or collaborative research team; (vi) international conference attendance for collaborative network and referral building; (vii) matching to grant and consulting income opportunities; and (viii) research enterprise development.