My name is Tony and I study economics. The last time I studied economics was yesterday. I started studying economics in 2002 and I haven’t stopped since. Oh, wait, this is the wrong forum for that speech. My fault.
MikeTBD, way back in May 2010, wrote a pretty devastating and hilarious retort to a certain USNA English Professor. For the record, it was a very witty put down and it was a needed comeuppance for this particular professor. I am not going to rehash any of that here, but what caught my eye was when MikeTBD mentioned the so-called “Flutie Effect”. For those that don’t know, the Flutie Effect refers to the phenomenon of having a successful college sports team increase the exposure and prominence of a university. It is named after Boston College’s QB Doug Flutie whose game winning Hail Mary pass in the 1984 game against the University of Miami allegedly played a large role in the school’s increased applications the following year.
This got me thinking about the quality aspect of the Flutie Effect and not simply the quantity. One of the criticisms offered about the Flutie Effect is that it doesn’t attract smarter students and therefore it’s not all that useful for a college. “Hey, the school just gets more applications from easily impressionable low quality students” goes the argument. There is data in the study to support that thesis. BUT, and this is a big BUT, the study also found that all SAT subgroups (900 and below, 901-1090, an 1100+) increased as well. I will now break down, in detail, the econometrics used to generate these findings. I’m just kidding. I wouldn’t do that to you dear reader. The study also found the following (pages 19-20):
The results indicate that sports success increases application rates for all three SAT subgroups. However, the lower SAT scoring students (less than 900) respond to sports success by about twice as much as the higher SAT scoring students. These results suggest that schools that have athletic success are not receiving extra applications solely from low performing students and greatly strengthen the SAT results derived from the Peterson’s data [emphasis added]. It appears that athletic success does indeed present an opportunity to schools to be either more selective in their admission standards or enroll more students while keeping a fixed level of student quality.
Using two unique and comprehensive datasets in conjunction with an econometric design that controls for the unobservable features of schools, we find that football and basketball success increase the quantity of applications to a school, with estimates ranging from 2-8% for the top 20 football schools and the top 16 basketball schools each year. We also provide evidence that the extra applications are composed of students with both low and high SAT scores. Additional evidence that we present suggests that schools use these extra applications to both increase student quality and increase enrollment size. There is no evidence that schools adjust tuition levels in response to receiving these extra applications.
Why is this important Salty? Hey, thanks for asking. It’s important because the admissions offices are getting more qualified applicants. Even if just 10% of the excess (read: Flutie effect) applicants are from super smart kids, then that is a win for the university. Sure, the admissions staff is going to have to spend time on lesser quality kids too. But those applicants are normally screened out pretty quickly. A kid with a 700 SAT (math+verbal) who applies to Stanford because of Andrew Luck isn’t going to garner much attention from the admissions committee (unless he kills or captures Joseph Kony). So, the admissions office might have a problem on its hands with more applications, but it’s a good problem to have based on the data.
Major sports programs like football and basketball create a positive externality (in economic jargon) for most schools. I’m sure that goes for nearly all schools. I doubt that USNA is an exception.
Here’s the link to the study by the Pope brothers: http://economics.byu.edu/Documents/Jaren%20Pope/pope_pope_2007_sports2web.pdf