- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2008

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Turns out there’s some basis for the long-held belief among college admissions officials that the better their schools’ teams do in high-profile sporting events, the more applications they’ll see.

Until recently, evidence about the “Flutie Effect” — coined when applications to Boston College jumped about 30 percent in the two years after quarterback Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary pass beat Miami in 1984 — had been mostly anecdotal.

So two researchers set out to quantify it, concluding after a broad study that winning the NCAA football or men’s basketball title means a bump of about 8 percent.

“Certainly, college administrators have known about this for a while, but I think this study helps to pin down what the average effects are,” said Jaren Pope, an assistant professor in applied economics at Virginia Tech who conducted the study with his brother Devin, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

The brothers compared information on freshman classes at 330 NCAA Division I schools to how the schools’ teams fared from 1983 through 2002.

Among their conclusions in a paper that is to be published this year in Southern Economic Journal:

• Schools that make it to the Sweet 16 in the men’s basketball tournament see an average 3 percent boost in applications the following year. The champion is likely to see a 7 percent to 8 percent increase, but just making the 65-team field will net schools an average 1 percent bump.

• Similarly, applications go up 7 percent to 8 percent at schools that win the national football championship, and schools that finish in the top 20 have a 2.5 percent gain.

There has been wide debate over the legitimacy of the Flutie Effect, especially when it comes to whether schools should pour money into athletics programs with the hope of reaping the benefits of a winning team.

Jaren Pope said that’s certainly not what he is suggesting.

For George Mason University, just outside the District, the positive effects of its unlikely Final Four appearance two years ago were wide-reaching.

In addition to increases in fundraising, attendance at games and other benefits, freshman applications increased 22 percent the year after the team made its magical run. The percentage of out-of-state freshmen jumped from 17 percent to 25 percent, and admissions inquiries rose 350 percent, said Robert Baker, director of George Mason’s Center for Sport Management who conducted a study called “The Business of Being Cinderella.”

Mr. Baker also found that SAT scores went up by 25 points in the freshman class, and retention rates as freshmen moved into their sophomore year increased more than 2 percentage points.

“You will certainly have critics who say it would have happened anyway, but I think the general consensus is that it happened faster because of this and that it allowed this university to reach new heights more quickly,” Mr. Baker said.

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