A new data analysis finds that the ramifications of athletic scandals are typically wide-reaching, affecting both the quantity and quality of applications and enrollment.
The ramifications of an athletic scandal are wide-reaching, slashing application numbers and causing a decline in the quality of enrolled students, a new data analysis by economists at Appalachian State and Seton Hall Universities has found.
The study of the impacts of athletic malfeasance on applications and enrollment examined eight institutions whose men’s basketball teams were banned from postseason play from 2000 to 2013. In each case, the bans were associated with single-year application drops of 17 percent from men and 18 percent from women, on average.
At first glance, the findings might seem to bolster the view that an investment in big-time athletics is too risky to justify. Instead, the researchers wrote, the findings demonstrate the power of athletics to expose applicants to an individual institution. “Ultimately, our study demonstrates that university athletics are indeed the front porch to a university leading students to the door to enroll,” the working paper reads.
The study found that, on average, a scandal was associated with a 14-percent drop in male admittance and a 13-percent drop in female admittance two years before the ban was handed down (news of a scandal often precedes a postseason ban by several years).
The quality of the students who enroll also declined as a result. Athletic scandals resulting in postseason bans lower “the enrolled students’ average high-school GPA by .53 two years after the ban,” the researchers found. The number of enrolled students from the top 10 percent of their high-school classes at the institutions dropped 14 percent the year of the ban, with lasting effects one and two years later.
It was most common to see a quick response to athletic scandals in the drop in applications, and a lagging but noticeable decline in the quality of students in subsequent years.
“Given that high-academically-achieving students are sought after by many universities,” the paper reads, “the detected malfeasance of an infracting sports program could serve as a signal to these high-academically-achieving students to choose another university, given their large choice set of universities available.”
Many people in higher education see athletics as the tail wagging the dog, said Peter A. Groothuis, a professor at Appalachian State University and an author of the paper. “It seems like, why are they willing to spend so much money on that? But it’s a necessary condition to bring people in.”
“If you’re an admissions officer, you may not want to put money into football, but you almost feel like you have to, because it draws students to the door,” Groothuis added.
Though the data used for the study are only as recent as 2013, Groothuis said more data points could emerge as a result of the FBI’s current investigation into alleged corruption involving several big-time programs. Even if colleges don’t face postseason bans, the researchers concluded, news of the underlying scandals prompted the declines, rather than the bans themselves.
Researchers hope to track football scandals’ impact as well. Institutions included in the study were Baylor University, California State University at Fresno (the latter twice, in 2003 and again in 2006), the Universities of Georgia and of Michigan at Ann Arbor, New Mexico State and Ohio State Universities, and the Universities of Nevada at Las Vegas and of Southern California. Researchers controlled for other factors and for the size of the institutions.
The other authors of the working paper were Austin F. Eggers, an assistant professor at Appalachian State University; Parker Redding, a student there; Kurt W. Rotthoff, an associate professor at Seton Hall University; and Michael Solimini, a student there.