BCS Championship win brings exposure to UA

BCS Championship win brings exposure to UA

William Evans

Success draws attention.

Two BCS national championship titles in the space of three years does more than raise the status of the Crimson Tide football team. The University expects financial and academic benefits due to its national exposure on the gridiron.

Economic research indicates a college’s sports success can boost the quality and number of students who apply to that college.

“For college administrators, sports is kind of like the front porch of a university,” said Jaren Pope, assistant professor in the department of economics at Brigham Young University. “People like to gather around and talk about college football, and people talking about it is likely to spill over into a high school student’s experience.”

Pope co-authored a study in 2008 examining the correlation between college sports success and indirect benefits brought to colleges because of their top-performing football or basketball programs. The top 20 football colleges and top 16 basketball colleges both experienced a two to eight percent increase in applications in the years studied.

Why? Athletics can play a central role in solidifying a college’s reputation, which prospective students often take into account to choose a college.

“Athletics is one instrument that institutions of higher education have at their disposal that can be used to directly affect reputation and the prominence of their schools,” the study’s results read. “Our results suggest that sports success can affect the number of incoming applications, and through a school’s selectivity, the quality of the incoming class.”

More so than private universities, public universities in the study showed a trend of raising enrollment numbers after successful football seasons.

In 2003, when Mike Shula stepped into his short-lived tenure as head football coach, the University had 20,333 undergraduate students enrolled. In 2006, Shula’s last season before being relieved of his position due to a disappointing win-loss record, enrollment stood at 23,878.

In 2007, when Nick Saban assumed leadership, UA boasted 25,580 undergrads. In 2011, that number increased to 31,747 after four straight winning football seasons.

To look at the correlation from a different angle, in 2003, the University received just over 8,100 applications, according to an emailed statement from Mary Spiegel, executive director of undergraduate admissions. In 2011, after four winning football seasons under Saban, more than 22,000 applications were received. The freshman class enrollment has jumped from 3,075 in 2003 to 5,772 in 2011, and the quality of the entering class, based on ACT scores and high school GPAs, has never been better.

“Our recruiters emphasize all aspects of the University from our excellent academics to our beautiful campus,” Speigel said. “Having the national champion football team is certainly a positive for those looking for a university that stands for excellence in both academics and athletics.”

Rosanna Guadagno, assistant professor of psychology, said the national championship victory in New Orleans will certainly bring in more students to the Capstone.

“Based on the data we’ve collected, I would definitely predict student enrollment would go up because students who are fans of Alabama feel better about themselves when we win,” she said. “They do something called basking in reflective glory.

“I think the students who were already heavy duty UA fans were going to come here anyways, but winning the national championship will draw middle-of-the-road fans in. The fans who aren’t so invested in the team will change their behavior.”

However, Pope said funneling money into athletics programs is not the best method to attract students to a college because college sports exhibit the characteristics of a zero-sum game. If, say, Auburn University spends millions to update its football training facilities, the University has to respond in kind to remain competitive. Thus, neither university gains a competitive edge, only a competitive equilibrium, when the money spent could have been earmarked for academic improvements.

“College sports has the same sort of flavor as an arms race,” he said. “It’s not clear how good of an investment athletics are for universities.”