There is much to lament about the current state of affairs in college sports, particularly when it comes to football. From allegations of child sexual abuse, to the recent imposition of further sanctions against Ohio State, much of the news surrounding college sports over the last few months has given the NCAA a black eye. In spite of all this negative attention that has been heaped on college athletics in 2011, the overwhelming benefit of major college sports cannot be ignored. The revenue generated by successful sports programs, and the brand recognition those teams provide the university, have proven instrumental in helping to further the academic goals of schools.
Louisiana State University’s Office of Budget and Planning maintains statistics for enrollment and applications at the university. These statistics show that following LSU’s national championship season in 2003, applications for the fall semester of 2004 increased by a total of 930 applicants. This reversed a three-year trend of declining admission applications. This increase pales in comparison to the increase following the 2007 national championship year which saw applications increase by over 3,000 the following fall. Regardless of what happens Monday night in the BCS Championship when LSU faces Alabama – and especially if the Tigers roll the Tide – the LSU football program will have cemented their role as the great ambassadors for the university and its academic programs.
The phenomenon of increased enrollment following successful campaigns on the field is nothing new. It has been dubbed the “Flutie Effect,” refering to former Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie whose last second Hail Mary pass secured a victory for the Golden Eagles against conference rival and power house Miami in 1984. BC subsequently saw an enrollement boost the next year.
Of course these increases cannot be attributed solely to the success of the football team in those years. It would be disingenuous, however, to claim that the exposure of a major sports team on the national stage does not play some role in broadening the reach of the university in general. This exposure is one thing for a well-known university, but for smaller schools the benefit of playing a bowl game when there may be no other game televised increases exponentially. Increased admissions, of course, also means increased dollars from tuition and fees.
In fact, the athletics departments at the most successful football universities can be one of the greatest assets a school can have. In a letter posted on the LSU athletics website, Athletic Director Joe Alleva pointed out the unseen benefits a major college athletic program can have on a university and the surrounding community.
“In all, in the academic year 2010-2011, the Athletic Department passed nearly $17 million to the University for services provided, scholarship costs and direct contributions. Meanwhile, it took zero dollars away from the academic mission of the University,” Alleva said.
On top of the benefit provided by revenues received from the athletic department is the economic boon to the surrounding businesses and community. LSU’s Tiger Stadium holds over 92,000 people. For a big game, there could be as many as 120,000 fans on campus tailgating even if they do not have a ticket to the game. As Alleva points out, restaurants, hotels, and grocery stores all see their business increase when LSU is at home. He also notes the increase in revenue from licensing of the University’s logo and mascot as the team attracts national attention – half of which goes directly to the university.
Perhaps even more important is the service provided by athletic scholarships. The Digest of Education Statistics shows that the median income for high school graduates with no college education is $27,380, compared to $46,930 for college graduates. As education becomes more important in an ever changing world economy, the cost of college is reaching levels that could be considered prohibitive for many. Athletics can offer a student an opportunity that may not otherwise be afforded him.
This applies most directly to those athletes who may never set foot on a field or court once their college careers end. Many kids have dreams of playing in the MLB or the WNBA, but the chances of actually making it are astronomical. Even though the chances of a wide receiver from Hofstra making it in the NFL may be minimal, he has a degree and a shot at better jobs over the course of his working life.
While there is still a long way to go, the NCAA is institutionalizing requirements for increased academic success among athletics programs. This year, in a trend-bucking match-up, LSU and Alabama will meet to vie for the BCS National Championship. These two schools are among the top football programs as far as graduation rates are concerned. Alabama boasts a 69% graduation rate among its football players, while LSU bests them with a 77% rate.
The collegiate athletic system is not perfect, but as we argue the merits of the BCS, we should also celebrate the good things sports give us.
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