The economics of big-time college football

September 8, 2012

Savannah State plays Oklahoma State (Sue Ogrocki - AP)

Having a great sports record does more than boost school spirit. Economist Michael Anderson, of the University of California at Berkeley, looked at the impact of a winning football record at the 350-odd schools that play NCAA Division I football. He finds that schools that see a big improvement in their record — winning five more games in a single season — can expect to reap big benefits, in terms of both donations and the quality of their incoming students:

This school may expect alumni athletic donations to increase by $682,000 (28%), applications to increase by 677 (5%), the acceptance rate to drop by 1.5 percentage points (2%), in-state enrollment to increase by 76 students (3%), and incoming 25th percentile SAT scores to increase by 9 points (1%).

Anderson concludes that his findings could further justify schools' investment in their big sports teams — and that's on top of the large profits that winning schools already reap from merchandise, TV rights and other cash cows.

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