College athletics have become a topic of debate recently. Athletic Departments at universities around the country are spending tens of millions of dollars to upgrade athletic facilities. Meanwhile university presidents and deans have to make tough budget decisions as state government cut millions from the universities general funds. The rampant debate about college athletics has actually been going on for quite some time (there are some articles, from papers of ill repute, from the 60’s). Many researchers have undertaken studies to figure out of college athletics are worth the cost. These studies have delved into the positive and negative impacts college athletics have on their universities.
There are multiple positive impacts that college athletics have on their host universities, one of these positive impacts is branding. Branding is important to colleges because it can help separate themselves from similar institutions. The universities use “their brand” to help draw in the support of donors and state legislators (Martin, Christie 2010). Another affect that branding has on universities is that it can help distinguish similar institutions from each other (Martin, Christie 2010). For example, let’s look at WSU and OSU. Both institutions are members of the Pac-12 athletic conference. Both institutions are land grant agriculture based state universities in rural communities. However, alumni from both institutions identify themselves as Cougs (WSU) or Beavs (OSU). And that (other than location) is their primary difference.
The brand of a university allows it to promote itself to prospective students, a strong brand combined with successful athletic programs can lead to a diversification of the student body. For example, a study done by the Wharton Reaserch Scholars Journal shows that between 1993-2002 Division III schools saw a massive increase in applicants (mainly with lower than average GPAs and SAT scores) when their basketball teams were extremely successful. However, when those same Division III schools experienced success in baseball, they saw a rise in applicants with higher GPAs and SAT scores (Jain 2004). The increase in applicants is more pronounced at private universities (Floyd, 2012). An increase in applicants can lead to an increase in students, which would lead to an increase in alumni and potential donors.
The main positive impact that college athletics has on their universities is their ability to generate revenue and donations for the university. Successful athletic programs can help generate donors to the university’s athletic department. As these donors continue to contribute to the athletic department, they could be directed into other areas of interest (Floyd, 2012). For example, WSU has seen a massive increase in the number of donors to the Cougar Athletic Fund since Coach Leach was hired (1,144 new members since the January 1st, 2012). If these donors start donating to the academic side of the university, it will represent a significant increase in the operational budget of Washington State University. Now that we have taken a look at some of the positive effects of college athletics, let us take a look at the negative.
While there are many positive impacts of college athletics, there are also many negative impacts, such as the pressures exerted on college athletes. College Athletes are some of the more celebrated students at their universities. They bring pride and energy to the alumni and their fellow students. College athletes (particularly in the main sports of football and basketball) struggle in the class room (Martin, Christie 10) These athletes have to constantly practice and workout to maintain their spots on their college teams; they also have to maintain their grades, at some universities this has led to academic fraud (Martin, Christie10). While it is not known whether or not academic fraud is prevalent, however, the change in the atmosphere of college athletics has increased the chances that athletes will participate in academic fraud (Martin, Christie10). It should be noted, however, that there is no conclusive study out there linking college athletics and academic fraud (Martin, Christie 10). The pressures on college athletes are only one of the negatives involving college athletes. Another negative involving college athletes is the cost of attracting them to your university.
College athletes are attracted to universities through facilities and facilities are expensive to construct. The cost of remaining competitive in college athletics has skyrocketed as universities spend millions of dollars to try and out build their rivals, in other words an arms race between athletic departments (Floyd, 2012). To remain competitive and reap the benefits of college athletics, athletic departments are forced to spend more. That way, the universities can attract top end talent. For example, the University of Minnesota just opened a $288 million dollar stadium on the edge of their campus. This stadium also includes a football operations facility (Baade et. Al 2008). These facilities attract athletes, but they also attract an interesting group of fans.
Fans are the lifeblood of college football. They provide the energy and the revenue for teams/universities. However, these fans also can provide a problem for police forces in the area on game day. Another negative benefit of college athletics is the potential to drive up crime in an area. According to a study done by the Journal of Sports Economics, there is a sharp increase in assaults on days of college football games (Rees, Schnepel 2009). This study also found that the amount of vandalism in an area will sharply increase in the days following a major upset (Rees, Schnepel 2009).
College athletics have positive and negative impacts on their universities. Some of the positive impacts are the increase in branding, the diversifying of student bodies and the increase in donations to their universities. For the negatives, college athletics increase the stress on the student athletes; it is expensive to remain competitive in college athletics and the potential for an increase in crime. These are all important factors to consider when taking a look at how college athletics impact their universities.
Baade, Robert, Robert Baumann, and Victor Matheson. “Assessing the Impact of College Football Games on Local Economies.” Journal of Sports Economics (2008). Print.
“Interview with President Floyd Regarding the Impact of College Athletics.” Personal interview. 29 Feb. 2012.
Jain, Roshni. “The Impact of Athletic Preformance on Undergraduate College Choice.” The Wharton Research Scholars Journal (2004). Print.
Martin, Kimberly, and Keith Christy. “The Rise and Impact of High Profile Spectator Sports on American Higher Education.” Journal of Issues in Intercolliegate Athletics (2010). Print.
McDill, Edward, Gary Natriello, and Aaron Pallas. “Raising Standards and Retaining Students: The Impact of the Reform Recomendations on Potential Dropouts.” Review of Educational Research (1985). Print.
Rees, Daniel, and Kevin Schneple. “College Football Games and Crime.” Journal of Sports Economics (2009). Print.
Proud alum of Washington State University, crazy sports nut, and drinker of beer.