Doc Seidman Says….
….On November 23, 1984, with his Boston College team losing to The University of Miami 45-41, and 28 seconds left in the game, B.C. quarterback Doug Flutie threw a desperation, “Hail Mary” pass into the end zone. Wide receiver Gerard Phelan caught the pass, untouched, for a game winning touchdown.
More than a victory on the football field, it was a win for the Admissions Office at Boston College. It is speculated that this improbable pass and catch caused applications to increase at Boston College by 16% in 1984 and another 12% in 1985. Whether or not this was completely due the football game has been debated over the years but there is no doubt that this so-called “Flutie Effect” led to an increase in the awareness of the college as well as a boost to student morale.
Can a football game really do this? Can a successful play on the field impact the admissions processes that take place off the field? More interesting to ponder, can it make a school better?
Yes, yes, and yes. The national exposure of a good sports team has been shown to significantly increase the amount of future applications. This brings with it an increase of “good” applications from potentially good students. More applications mean the school’s acceptance rate will go down, which is a metric most schools like. For example, if during a typical year a college receives 10,000 applications and accepts 2,500 students, it will have a 25% acceptance rate. After a year of winning football, the school now gets 15,000 applications yet still only accepts 2,500 new students. This acceptance rate is now a significantly lower 16.7%, demonstrating on paper at least, the school is more selective.
Increased selectivity in the student body will have other desirable effects. If selectivity means accepting students who are more prepared for the college experience, it should positively impact both retention and completion rates. These, too, are good things. It can also bring about more advanced classes and programs directed by more renowned faculty. The college wins again.
The glory doesn’t end with football either. A successful basketball program, even for a year or two, can fill up the school’s coffers. Gonzaga, Butler, Appalachian State, and Florida Gulf Coast University all seemed to benefit from the unexpected success of their sports teams. The so called “Flutie Effect” crossed over to college basketball, giving the students, faculty and staff something to cheer for, and the schools, some much cherished national exposure.
College football is also big business. Sponsorships, television money, ticket sales, and the like can bring in some major bucks. In 2015, it was reported that over $9 billion was generated amongst the 231 Division I NCAA schools. That’s much more money than programs in Chemistry, Literature, Engineering, and Hospitality brought in…. combined!
Is there a downside? Can a college football program do more harm than good? Possibly. For starters, it is important to keep in mind that having and maintaining a football team is expensive. If a college does not have an “elite” football program, its median loss due to football is around $3 million a year. With only around half of all Division I programs showing profitability, that’s a lot of colleges losing money on the football field.
Furthermore, it’s easy to be critical about the commitment to academics big-time football players, or other athletes, may have. There have been many allegations about players not going to classes and having work done by other students. Student football players are often enrolled in easy programs, taking easy courses with “understanding” professors. These types of incidents can harm the credibility of the school often causing outrage by the non-supporters of big time football.
Whereas there is obviously reason for concern, these incidents can occur with any student, not just those playing a big-time sport. Cheating students come in all types and are not just limited to those who can run a 40-yard dash in six seconds or less.
As an old-fashioned academic purist back in the day, I questioned the wisdom of a big-time football program. To me, it seemed to de-emphasize academics while emphasizing athletics. Wasn’t college all about academics? What value would a football team bring?
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Win or lose, a sports program has much to offer. Almost overlooked in the hoopla is the fact that “involved” students tend to be the happiest amongst the college population. It doesn’t matter whether it’s involvement the Chess Club, the Knitting Club, the Marching Band or the football team, those students who are engaged in some type of out- of-the-class activity are amongst the happiest. Additionally, win or lose, participation in a team sport is good thing. Aside from skills in leadership, followership, and teamwork, it looks great on a resume too. Many hiring companies will often carefully consider the student athlete resume and move their resume to the front of the pile. Playing a sport in college is also great on an interview, and of course, many will say it makes you a better person overall.
So, to big time football program skeptics out there; get over it. College and football seem to go together like…. college and football. Colleges love their football team, win or lose. A strong college football program can not only bring in more applicants, it serves as a great Saturday afternoon diversion. Students can take a break from their weekday routines, let their hair down, and have some fun, so to speak. They will even sit outside in the cold, rain, wind or snow, and cheer their team on. Colleges almost always seem to showcase their team and stadium on a college tour, and many schools even allow students to attend games for little or no charge.
Are you ready for some football? You had better be. Turns out that most colleges and their students certainly are.