Smart Quarterbacks, the Super Bowl, and SAT Scores

January 31, 2011 at 3:01 am 14 comments

This weekend, when the Pittsburgh Steelers take on the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV, it’ll be a match-up pitting a very smart quarterback against, well, a guy who’s not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer.

If you’re like most of the world, you probably don’t perceive Ben Roethlisberger to be very smart.  He attended Miami University, but information about what he studied is considerably harder to find, and few would call him intelligent. After all, he rides his motorcycle without a helmet, frequently fraternizes with underage co‑eds, and associates with people who occasionally urinate in public. So it will come as no surprise that Roethlisberger scored lower on the Wonderlic test — the 50‑question, 12‑minute exam administered by the National Football League to measure the problem-solving ability of players who will enter the draft — than Aaron Rodgers.

The maximum possible score on the Wonderlic test is 50. Roethlisberger scored 25, Aaron Rodgers scored 35. (Wanna know how you compare? Try a sample Wonderlic test for yourself.)

So, does this mean that Rodgers has an advantage in Sunday’s game? Not necessarily.

Below is data from the last ten Super Bowls. The winning quarterback is listed first, and his Wonderlic score is given in parentheses. (Sorry, I couldn’t locate the Wonderlic score of Brad Johnson.) But for the other nine games, the team whose quarterback had a higher Wonderlic score won four times, the team whose quarterback had a lower Wonderlic score won four times, and last year, the two quarterbacks had the same score.

Super Bowl XXXV – 1/28/01
Trent Dilfer, Baltimore Ravens – Fresno State (22)
Kerry Collins, New York Giants – Penn State (30)

Super Bowl XXXVI – 2/3/02
Tom Brady, New England Patriots – Michigan (33)
Kurt Warner, St. Louis Rams – Northern Iowa (29)

Super Bowl XXXVII – 1/26/03
Brad Johnson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Florida State (unavailable)
Rich Gannon, Oakland Raiders – Delaware (27)

Super Bowl XXXVIII – 2/1/04
Tom Brady, New England Patriots – Michigan (33)
Jake Delhomme, Carolina Panthers – Louisiana-Lafayette (32)

Super Bowl XXXVIX – 2/6/05
Tom Brady, New England Patriots – Michigan (33)
Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia – Syracuse (14)

Super Bowl XL – 2/5/06
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers – Miami, Ohio (25)
Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle – Boston College (29)

Super Bowl XLI – 2/4/07
Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts – Tennessee (28)
Rex Grossman, Chicago Bears – Florida (29)

Super Bowl XLII – 2/3/08
Eli Manning, New York Giants – Ole Miss (39)
Tom Brady, New England Patriots – Michigan (33)

Super Bowl XLIII – 2/1/09
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers – Miami, Ohio (25)
Kurt Warner, Arizona Cardinals – Northern Iowa (29)

Super Bowl XLIV – 2/7/10
Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints – Purdue (28)
Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts – Tennessee (28)

As it turns out, the average Wonderlic score of an NFL player is 20, while the average score of an NFL quarterback is 24. Only one Super Bowl quarterback in the past ten years had a Wonderlic score below the league average. That was Donovan McNabb (14) in 2005. So while a higher Wonderlic score may not imply Super Bowl success, it does seem that quarterbacks who make it to the Super Bowl have above average scores.

Of course, a football team has more than just one player, so it might be more informative to look at the Wonderlic scores for every player on a team. Sadly, I don’t have that kind of time, but such an analysis was done at least once. The Denver Broncos defeated the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII; the average Wonderlic score for the Broncos was 20.4, while the average score for the Packers was 19.6.

The Wonderlic test fascinates me. While it may not be the best predictor of success in the NFL, many companies use it to assess prospective employees’ problem-solving abilities. And it got me to thinking — if the Wonderlic test is adequate to predict job success, could it also be used to predict college success?

Consequently, I sought to answer the following question: Could the Wonderlic test be as good a predictor of college success as the SAT?

Unfortunately, acquiring data to analyze this question is no small task. Wonderlic scores of many NFL players are readily available online, but other companies aren’t willing to release the scores of their employees. (Truth be known, the NFL isn’t really willing to release its employees’ scores, either, but players’ scores are interesting trivia for the public, so sports reporters find ways to uncover them.) In a quick search, I was able to locate the Wonderlic scores of scads of NFL players. However, unearthing the college GPA and SAT scores of those players was exorbitantly difficult. I found all three numbers for just six players online (see table below). I tried to acquire the numbers for other players over the phone, but I met with limited success. A typical conversation went something like this:

Woman in Registrar’s Office at University of Virginia: Hello.
Me: Uh, good afternoon, ma’am. I’m trying to locate the GPA and SAT scores of one of your former students.
Woman: Whose information are you looking for, sir?
Me: Matt Schaub.
Woman: And you are?
 Patrick Vennebush.
Are you related to Mr. Schaub?
Me: Um, no, ma’am.
Woman: Are you a prospective employer?
Me: No, ma’am.
Woman: So… why do you need Mr. Schaub’s information?
Me: Well, see, I’m comparing professional football players’ scores on the Wonderlic test…
Woman: The what?
Me: The Wonderlic test. It’s a test they give to professional football players to determine their problem‑solving ability.
Woman: Hold on — Mr. Schaub is a professional football player?
Me: Yes, ma’am. He played quarterback for the University of Virginia from 1999 to 2003, and now he plays for the Houston Texans.
Woman: So, why do you need Mr. Schaub’s GPA and SAT scores?
Me: Well, I’m trying to determine if the Wonderlic test could be used as a predictor of college success. I need Mr. Schaub’s GPA and SAT scores to see if the Wonderlic test was as accurate as the SAT in predicting how well he did in college.
Woman: Well, I can’t just go around giving out information about former students to total strangers.
Me: Yes, I understand, ma’am, but I’m not going to publicize the information. I just want to analyze it.
Woman: And what will you do with your analysis?
Me: Well, I was planning to post the results on my blog.
Woman: So, you write a sports blog?
Me: Well, no, ma’am. It’s actually a math blog.
Woman: A math blog that focuses on sports?
Me: Um, well, no.
Woman: Then what kind of math blog is it?
Me: Well, actually, it’s a blog about math jokes.
Woman: About what?
Me: Math jokes.
Woman: [click]

Several other calls met a similar fate. Consequently, I only have Wonderlic, GPA and SAT scores for six players. But, whatever. Let’s roll with it and see what happens. The three numbers for each player are shown below.

Player College Wonderlic GPA SAT
Tim Tebow Florida 22 3.66 890
Brady Quinn Notre Dame 29 3.00 1030
Peyton Manning Tennessee 28 3.61 1030
Aaron Rodgers California 35 3.60 1300
Myron Rolle Florida State 33 3.75 1340
Ryan Fitzpatrick Harvard 48 3.20 1580

From this limited sample, three pair-wise correlations were calculated:

  • SAT and GPA: r = ‑0.14
  • Wonderlic and GPA: r = ‑0.36
  • Wonderlic and SAT: 0.95

There’s not a very strong correlation between SAT and GPA. But here’s the thing: the correlation between SAT and GPA for this set of six football players isn’t that much worse than the correlation between SAT and GPA reported in Validity of the SAT for Predicting First-year College Grade Point Average, a study of 151,316 students at 726 four‑year institutions undertaken by the College Board; in that study, r = 0.29.

There’s not a very strong correlation between Wonderlic and GPA, either, but it’s stronger than the correlation between SAT and GPA for the six football players above and for the 151,316 students in the College Board study.

There is, however, a very strong correlation between Wonderlic and SAT, which is perhaps just another way of saying that both tests are equally lousy at predicting college success.

Of course, there are all kinds of reasons that this analysis might be invalid:

  • the sample is too small;
  • it is difficult to compare GPA from school to school, since it might be more difficult to earn a 3.20 at an Ivy League college than at a public university;
  • it is difficult to compare GPA between students within a school, since it might be more difficult to earn a 3.20 in electrical engineering than, say, in parks and recreation;
  • and, the grades of college football players may be artificially inflated.

Still, I think I’m onto something here. Wouldn’t it be great if we could replace the four‑hour SAT with the 12‑minute Wonderlic test? The marketing of it would be easy. For school administrators, simply tout a stronger correlation to college success than the SAT, and mention significantly lower costs. For students, simply state, “You can finish the Wonderlic in 5% of the time it takes to complete the SAT! You won’t have to give up your entire Saturday!” Now, wouldn’t that be grand?

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I Wanna Be Tangent to Your Curves, and Other Math Pick-Up Lines Would You Rather Urinate or Calculate When Playing Video Games?

14 Comments Add your own

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Brian Watsley, Rubi Johnson. Rubi Johnson said: Smart Quarterbacks, the Super Bowl, and SAT Scores « Math Jokes 4 …: In a quick search, I was able to locate t… […]

  • 2. soren  |  December 10, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    “Still, I think I’m onto something here. Wouldn’t it be great if we could replace the four‑hour SAT with the 12‑minute Wonderlic test?”

    It would be much easier to game the Wonderlic I actually think people do learn a lot studying specifically for the ACT and SAT. Studying specifically for the Wonderlic would be a pointless exercise.


    The SAT had been recentered after Peyton Manning took his SAT. His 1030 should be considered to be more like 1130. Tebow’s 890 is just pathetic though.

    Brady Quinn scored well below the 25th percentile for Notre Dame on his SAT… how the hell did he even get accepted?

    BTW, to get a ballpark figure of their IQs you can take 60 + 2 * Wonderlic Score and use the below charts for the SAT. While the SAT isn’t an IQ test, there is an extremely high correlation between SAT and IQ scores.

    • 3. venneblock  |  December 10, 2011 at 9:18 pm

      Thanks for sharing those links. Good info.

      I’m confused by your two statements: “It would be much easier to game the Wonderlic” and “Studying specifically for the Wonderlic would be a pointless exercise.” Those appear to be oppositional. What exactly do you mean?

      I don’t doubt that folks learn something studying for the ACT/SAT, I’m just not sure most of it is academic. The courses I’ve seen focus a lot more on how to take the test and the format of the questions, rather than the collective content knowledge that needs to be learned. That’s no knock — kids are supposed to have acquired 10+ years of education by the time they take those tests, so it would be my hope that they couldn’t learn everything in just a couple of Saturdays. But studies have shown that kids can increase their scores by 100+ points just by doing a lot of sample tests. I’m not sure that the increased score reflects more ability to succeed in college, which is what those tests claim to measure.

      • 4. wisethinking  |  December 18, 2012 at 4:41 am

        As a recent high school graduate, I feel that studying for these standardized tests (SAT/ACT) does help with academics and most other intellectual activities. Between 10th and 11th I took an SAT class. My 10th to 11th GPA skyrocketed by .8 points (3.8 to 4.6). Although the material on these tests is not the same as the material students learn in school, the study habits learned and mental skills developed do help future success in college. But at the end of the day, a student’s work ethic can go a lot further in determining college success.

      • 5. venneblock  |  December 18, 2012 at 10:24 am

        Well said, Rohit.

        I absolutely think there is value in students knowing the material presented on the SAT/ACT. I’m just not sure that the test itself is a great indicator of college success or, for that matter, of a well-educated person. Picking the bubble for a correct definition is a whole lot different than using a word appropriately in conversation.

        If the SAT/ACT prep do help prepare students for college, it may be a result of colleges still using antiquated methods to assess students, too.

  • 6. Jay  |  January 16, 2012 at 10:44 am

    Peyton Manning scored 39 on the Wonderlic, not 28.

    • 7. venneblock  |  January 16, 2012 at 10:11 pm

      According to the sources I’ve checked, Peyton only scored a 28; his younger brother Eli scored a 39.

  • 8. Vinamra Koshy  |  January 5, 2013 at 12:48 am

    My teacher recommended this blog and she is right Keep
    up all your fantastic work

  • 9. Chris  |  January 20, 2013 at 3:02 pm

    The GPA scores should be standardized somehow – I have no idea how this could be done. But the point is that a 3.2 at Harvard for Ryan Fitzpatrick is probably a lot more impressive and indicative of a high level of intelligence than a 3.6 at Florida for Tebow.

    • 10. Austin  |  November 25, 2017 at 2:16 pm

      I think it has alot to do with field of study as well. Fitzpatrick studied economics. Tebow studied “family, youth, and community sciences” according to Google (what even is that?). I don’t think it’s necessarily more difficult to study a given field at one university vs another. Of course, this would be hard to independently verify, because almost nobody studies the same field at multiple universities, but at the end of the day, physics is physics, chemistry is chemistry, etc…

  • 11. SAT, Wonderlic, and GPA « Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks  |  January 22, 2013 at 10:03 pm

    […] I sure wish you would. Since conducting “research” for my Smart Quarterbacks post two years ago, I’ve been somewhat obsessed by the idea that the Wonderlic — a […]

  • 12. Salena Fata  |  May 13, 2014 at 7:42 am

    Didnt understand the joke, but maybe its my english.

  • 13. John Smith  |  September 18, 2015 at 6:12 pm

    This week’s Sports Illustrated cover story brought me here. Nice blog!

  • 14. Manning vs. Brady For President | The Resurgent  |  August 9, 2016 at 11:09 am

    […] smarter? That’s hard to say. Manning reportedly had a 3.61 GPA and SAT combined score of 1030 (not particularly high). The vaunted Wonderlic score is used by the NFL to measure […]


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About MJ4MF

The Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks blog is an online extension to the book Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks. The blog contains jokes submitted by readers, new jokes discovered by the author, details about speaking appearances and workshops, and other random bits of information that might be interesting to the strange folks who like math jokes.

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