This year’s college football bowl games will finish a season defined by scandal. After the scandals (and crimes) at Ohio State, Miami, and Penn State, The Atlantic wondered if college football is really good for colleges. Here are some findings.
Does college football make schools richer or poorer? Answer: It enriches only the powerhouses.
The media focuses on powerhouses, but those teams are just of a larger picture. In August, the NCAA released a financial breakdown of college athletics. Half of the teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision generated a profit from football, with a median gain of $9.1 million. The median loss of programs stuck in the red was $2.9 million.
A dozen studies have probed the claim that alumni give more when football teams win, but the jury’s still out. A 2004 study by University of North Carolina at Charlotte professor Irvin Tucker found that better records and bowl appearances could boost alumni giving by 1% over six years. A 2001 paper, however, found no such relationship.
In 2003, Brad Humphreys looked at the relationship between gridiron glory and state appropriations. Winning teams received more generous treatment. “A successful football season might increase state appropriations by 5% to 8% in the following year, and a team with a respectable losing record might garner a 2% to 4% increase, other things equal,” he concluded.
Former Office of Management and Budget Peter Orszag was part of a team commissioned by the NCAA to analyze the impact of athletic spending on colleges. His study found that spending more on football didn’t lead to a more profitable team. It also didn’t lead to more alumni giving.
Is football good for a school’s reputation? Winning teams could lead to more applications and higher rankings.
Schools view their football programs as billboards. A big win on the field can even lead to a surge in applications. The phenomenon is called the Flutie Effect.
In a highly regarded study, a team from Virginia Tech looked at how winning affected applications at big time football and basketball schools. Football programs that finished in the AP Top 20 saw 2.5% more applications the next year. A national championship drove between 7-8% more.
In 2010, a group of researchers investigated the effect of football success on a school’s peer assessment score in U.S. News and World Report’s annual college rankings. Finishing strong in the year-end rankings could have the same effect as a forty-two point boost in SAT scores.
Is football bad for academics? Winning teams are bad for grades but good for graduation rates.
In terms of academics, football is a mixed blessing for universities. In a working paper released this month, professors from the University of Oregon tracked how (all) students’ grades were influenced by the school’s football success. The results weren’t pretty. When Oregon won more, men’s grades dropped relative to women’s. When they lost, men’s grades recovered.
In 1992, University of North Carolina at Charlotte professor Irvin Tucker found that graduation rates were lower at schools with strong football traditions. His findings were challenged. In 2003, Patrick Rishe of Webster University published a paper finding no link between sports success and graduation rates. One year later, a pair from the University of Southern Mississippi found that a better football team improved freshman retention rates.
Via The Atlantic.