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Eight per cent

2008 March 24
by Skip Sauer

The latest estimate of the applications bump from winning the national title in college football or (men’s) basketball is 8 per cent. A top twenty-type finish is worth 2 to 3 per cent. The systematic analysis is in a paper by Devin Pope and Jaren Pope, forthcoming in the Southern Economic Journal.

I always find the anecdotal cases in this subject area informative (I last blogged about this with regard to Rutgers football). This is from the AP story on the paper by Dena Potter, “Schools Score Big When Sports Teams Win:”

For George Mason University, just outside Washington, the positive effects of its unlikely Final Four appearance two years ago were wide-reaching.

In addition to increases in fundraising, attendance at games and other benefits, freshman applications increased 22 percent the year after the team made its magical run. The percentage of out-of-state freshmen jumped from 17 percent to 25 percent, and admissions inquiries rose 350 percent, said Robert Baker, director of George Mason’s Center for Sport Management who conducted a study called “The Business of Being Cinderella.”

Baker also found that SAT scores went up by 25 points in the freshman class, and retention rates as freshmen moved into their sophomore year increased more than 2 percentage points.

“You will certainly have critics who say it would have happened anyway, but I think the general consensus is that it happened faster because of this and that it allowed this university to reach new heights more quickly,” Baker said.

Gonzaga was virtually unknown in most parts of the country until it broke into the national tournament in the mid-’90s. The Zags have been in the tournament every year since 1999, and during that time enrollment has grown from just over 4,500 to nearly 7,000, said Dale Goodwin, a university spokesman.

Inquiries have jumped from about 20,000 per year to 50,000, and the Spokane, Wash., school attracts students from eastern states where it doesn’t recruit.

“There’s no other way they would have heard about Gonzaga,” Goodwin said.

The study found that private schools saw even larger increases than public universities.

Potter wrongly states that the evidence was “mostly anecdotal” prior to Pope and Pope, who make no such claim, but that’s par for the course I guess. Potter is right to emphasize that the applications boost is temporary (absent any additional investment to capitalize on the increased awareness). Once on the NCAA treadmill, always on the treadmill. Unless you are Chicago.

For the record, here is the abstract from Pope and Pope’s paper:

Many analysts question the role of college sports within higher education. However, one hypothesized benefit of high-profile college sports is that they can influence college choice decisions. Empirical studies that have analyzed the impact of a school’s athletic success on the quantity of student applications and the average quality of those students have produced mixed results. This study uses two unique datasets to shed additional light on the indirect benefits that sports success provides to NCAA Division I schools. Key findings include: (i) football and basketball success significantly increase the quantity of applications to a school, with estimates ranging from 2-8% for the top 20 football schools and the top 16 basketball schools each year; (ii) the extra applications received are composed of both low and high SAT scoring students, thus providing potential for schools to improve their admission outcomes, and (iii) schools exploit these increases in applications by increasing both the number and the quality of incoming students.

Update: The link to the Pope and Pope paper has been changed to a more recent version.

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