|03-02-2011, 11:21 PM|
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Babb:Daughter of creator says NFL misuses Wonderlic test
Daughter of creator says NFL misuses Wonderlic test
By KENT BABB
The Kansas City Star
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. | She was always the one questioning her father’s test, even decades ago. No reason to stop now.
In the old days, when Kathy Kolbe’s father was creating the test that would later stir controversy and make his name famous among most NFL fans, young Kathy had no problem challenging Eldon Wonderlic’s creation. Did he realize that his test was biased against women and minorities? Did he consider that his Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test measured only one part of a person’s intelligence?
That was more than 60 years ago. Some things don’t change.
“I loved and admired my father,” the 71-year-old Kolbe says now, sitting in a booth at a waterfront restaurant. “But there are problems with the Wonderlic.”
Kolbe’s father died in 1980, a dozen years after the NFL began issuing the test to prospects at its annual scouting combine. This past week, as powerful team officials traveled to Indianapolis to measure dimensions and distances, contributing to decisions that will make some young men super-rich and influence their franchises’ directions for years, the combine’s most divisive examination was performed in quiet rooms for 12 minutes at a time.
Each year, the NFL issues the 50-question Wonderlic test to all invited prospects, and the test’s supporters suggest that it can measure how mentally prepared a player is to handle the NFL’s demands. A high score — 20 is considered average, although the standard is closer to 25 for positions that require quick thought, such as quarterback and left tackle — can solidify a youngster as a can’t-miss draft commodity. A lower score is often seen as a red flag that sometimes overshadows a player’s physical ability.
“An extremely important piece of many pieces,” says Charles Wonderlic, grandson of the test’s creator and Kolbe’s nephew.
Kolbe has her own test, and she says it fills the holes the Wonderlic test leaves behind. “The Kolbe,” as it is casually known, measures what she refers to as an instinctive modus operandi, or conative skills, the traits each of us is born with.
She says the NFL should use both tests for a more complete look into prospects’ minds. The Wonderlic for measuring cognitive ability and the Kolbe for conative skills. Sure, she admits she’d like to sell her test the same way the Wonderlic has sold its product, and if that makes her sound biased, then she says so be it.
“How can you be satisfied,” says Kolbe, a theorist and educator, “with understanding only one part of the brain?”
Some players believe their low Wonderlic score ruined their chances at an NFL career. Others suggest it doesn’t really matter. But for now, its value remains a mystery because of the wide-ranging scores and outcomes. After all, Dan Marino reportedly scored a 16 on the Wonderlic, and Ryan Leaf scored a 27.
Kolbe takes it further, saying the NFL’s reliance on her father’s test is “terrible” because the Wonderlic ignores conative skills. Identifying those natural tendencies such as strength or reflexes, she says, can not only make a player successful but can prevent injuries. She says some players are moved to positions that defy those abilities, and that puts them in danger because they’re not naturally equipped to play those positions.
Sitting in that booth, Kolbe says the NFL doesn’t seem to understand the purpose of her father’s test, and she says it simply cannot predict how a player will perform on the game’s highest level.
“The first time I heard they were using it, I had to laugh,” Kolbe says. “The issue isn’t whether or not to use the Wonderlic. It’s: Don’t say it tells you how a player is going to do. Because it doesn’t.”
• • •
They come in, 20 or so prospects at a time, grouped by position and feeling the weight of the questions ahead. The combine consists of several steps, including interviews with teams, workouts and mental and psychological testing. Before teams invest millions into a prospect, they want to make certain they’re not plunking down that money toward a lemon.
Chiefs left tackle Branden Albert, who scored a 26 during the 2008 combine, says he tried not to pressure himself too much to ace the test. But he knew that the NFL wouldn’t include it in its annual prospects showcase if it was meaningless.
“I needed to do well with the pressure being on,” he says. “You want to show people that you have the smarts to play football.”
Test questions ask about patterns and combinations, and they become increasingly difficult as the test advances. The challenge, though, isn’t mustering the logic to answer a question about ribbon or rectangles, but rather completing all 50 questions in 12 minutes. It’s set up that way for a reason, to reveal how the subject performs under pressure, against a clock, when panic begins to set in.
Albert has been a starting tackle for three NFL seasons. Does this test, which asks nothing about football strategy, really indicate how a player might perform in his career?
“Some guys got the God-given ability to do whatever,” he says, “no matter what their Wonderlic test score is.”
Former Kansas State quarterback Michael Bishop has a more definitive answer. He says now that he doesn’t recall his score; after all, it was during the 1999 combine. But he doesn’t refute the 10 that was widely attributed to him that year.
Questions about numbers and rope and trains? Bishop was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 1998, after leading K-State to a perfect regular season before losing the Big 12 championship game. All that should’ve mattered, he says, was that he could play.
“I’m going to go out there and win you a game,” he says. “I’m not concerned with sitting in a classroom and taking a test just to see where I fit in. It’s about whether you can play football.”
There were 13 quarterbacks drafted in 1999, including five of the top 12 picks. Bishop was successful in college but was the 11th quarterback taken that year, selected by New England in the seventh round. He says he slipped so far because of the Wonderlic test. If he had never taken the test, Bishop says, he thinks he would’ve been a top-five quarterback, alongside Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper in the first round.
“If I had had one of the highest scores on the test, who knows? Maybe I could’ve been the first pick,” says Bishop, who appeared in eight NFL games before being released and joining the Canadian football and Arena circuits. “If you can play and play at a high level, I think that should override everything.
“As far as I’m concerned, my talents don’t have anything to do with a test score.”
• • •
For now, teams’ opinions differ on how much emphasis they put on intelligence test results. The Chiefs pay attention to prospects’ Wonderlic scores, but their opinions don’t tend to shift unless a score is especially high or low.
The Chiefs selected offensive lineman Jon Asamoah in the third round last year, but it had little to do with the 36 he was reported to have scored, and more on his ability to move quickly and adjust to changing situations.
Charles Wonderlic, who’s now the president of the company bearing his grandfather’s name, admits that Wonderlic results as a predictor of NFL success is an inexact science. For every Michael Bishop, whose score — among other factors — did foretell an inability to succeed in the NFL, there are plenty of examples such as Terry Bradshaw’s 15 and Frank Gore’s 6 that cast doubt on the test’s ability to tell the future.
“It’s just another piece of the puzzle,” one NFL general manager says. “But if it’s significant in either direction, you’d better pay attention to it.”
Charles Wonderlic says it’s up to teams to determine the emphasis on test results. Some organizations eliminate a prospect from their draft board if his Wonderlic score is too low; other teams are more interested in the sum of all the combine’s testing, physical and mental.
“From our perspective,” Charles Wonderlic says during his drive to Indianapolis to administer the test, “it’s very meaningful. It isn’t as though it’s a question of yes or no. It’s a question of, ‘How much?’”
But there remain flaws within the system, and that contributes to the controversy that keeps Eldon Wonderlic’s creation alive and relevant. Many prospects’ supposedly confidential scores are made public each year, most notably five years ago when University of Texas quarterback Vince Young reportedly scored a 6, a number so low that it often suggests literacy problems or learning disabilities. That score was refuted, and Young later scored a 16.
Charles Wonderlic says that about a quarter of the leaked scores are incorrect, but whether they’re false or not, damage is often done within public opinion. He says the Wonderlic Company scores the tests from the combine, then sends the results to the NFL, which then distributes them to teams. Each team’s decision-makers then see a copy, he says, and from there, it’s difficult to maintain confidentiality because the more eyes are on the results, the higher the likelihood of leaks.
He admits the system is not perfect, but Charles Wonderlic maintains that, if nothing else, it gives teams one more piece of information before they make a decision that could affect an organization for years.
“Do you believe that intelligence is important?” he says, referring to football players. “If you do believe it’s important, as I do, then measure it and then it becomes a question of, ‘How would you like to measure it?’
“Why wouldn’t you want to be more precise?”
• • •
Kolbe says the Wonderlic test’s shortcomings, at least as a predictor of football ability, stem from a measurement of only one part of the mind’s capacity. That’s where she says her test adds balance.
If the Kolbe shows that the athlete is a quick thinker with the ability to improvise, then he would perhaps make a good quarterback. If it shows that he sticks to instructions without deviating from an assignment, then perhaps he would make a good wide receiver, who must stick to a specific route assignment or risk an entire play breaking down.
She says the Wonderlic measures what has been learned and what can be adapted to; the Kolbe gauges what is already there. Kolbe says there’s nothing wrong with the Wonderlic; she says it’s just incomplete, particularly for what NFL and combine officials suggest its results show.
“I don’t think they should stop using it,” she says. “Just don’t say it’s for the good of the player. It’s not.”
Kolbe says the NFL has no immediate plans to add her test into the combine’s rituals and that the Kolbe remains a work in progress. But she’ll keep trying to push for more and different testing.
She says her father, who was a longtime sports fan, would have loved that the NFL continues to use his test. She says he also would’ve appreciated that his youngest daughter, the one who never hesitated to question something she felt strongly about, never outgrew that.
“Dad is up there chuckling,” she says. “He would love it. But then he would say: ‘Go get them, Kathy.’ ”
|03-02-2011, 11:32 PM||#2|
Bringing the posts every day.
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Sounds like Michael Bishop still isn't very bright.
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|03-02-2011, 11:36 PM||#3|
Gittes gets it
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**** it. Add her test too. It sounds like it tests shit that might actually matter on the field.
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|03-03-2011, 03:45 AM||#4|
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She just sounds bitter 'cause she hasn't had her wonderlic in a long time.
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|03-03-2011, 04:28 AM||#5|
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I believe they should have a more football oriented type of test.
Different systems use different terminology. I would think that someone could develop
a test that gives a measure of how fast someone picks up terminology and remembers play assignments.
That would be more valuable than
If train A leaves the station heading north...