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Researchers Find Football Programs Have Limited Effects on Enrollment

Football Bump

From press release:

Over the past two decades, numerous colleges have added football teams in a quest to add students, particularly male students, and to use the popularity of athletics to build their brands. However, new research from UGA’s Carmical Sports Media Institute and the Louise McBee Institute of Higher Education finds that adding a football team does not give a college enrollment or tuition advantages over its peers. 

The study, “Institutional Effects of Adding Football: A Difference-in-Difference Analysis,” was published this month in the journal Research in Higher Education. Authors Welch Suggs (McBee PhD), Alex Monday (McBee PhD), Jennifer May-Trifiletti (McBee PhD), and James C. Hearn (McBee faculty) used a difference-in-difference analysis to compare NCAA member institutions that added football to peers that never had the sport.  

Colleges that added football saw a modest one- or two-year spike in overall enrollment around the time of adding football compared to other institutions. After that, those gains became statistically indistinguishable from other institutions. The same trend could be found in male enrollment and the enrollment of Black students. Moreover, colleges adding football never realized a statistically-significant increase in tuition revenue per student, according to the analysis.  

The study used data from the NCAA and the U.S. Department of Education to compare the fortunes of 36 football-adding colleges to their peers that did not add a football program during the same period. Much of the statistical modeling and analysis was done by Monday and May-Trifiletti, graduate students at the McBee Institute. 

“This is the closest we can come to saying, what would have happened to a college if it never added football?” said Suggs, lead author of the study and associate director of the Carmical Sports Media Institute. “It’s often said that sports is the front porch of the university. But what we’re seeing is that colleges that didn’t build that front porch are likely getting the same number of students and tuition dollars as those that recently did.” 

A particular college might well have seen an enrollment boost since adding football, but it also might have taken several other steps at the same time, such as awarding more merit scholarships or adding other activities to attract students. This study could not take these factors into account at each of the institutions under consideration. 

The findings have been featured in recent Chronicle of Higher Education and Sportico articles.

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PhD, 2009
PhD, 2024
Interim Director and Professor of Higher Education

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