Indirect Benefits of UMass Football Moving to FBS

Last Updated on June 5, 2014

Yesterday, I wrote a piece for The Motley Fool about a recent report delivered to the UMass Faculty Senate about the football program’s move to FBS and the related expenses. One of the things I didn’t delve into fully in that piece are the indirect benefits a move to FBS could afford UMass in the future.

Studies have found any number of indirect benefits from increased applications to the ability to grow enrollment to the “advertising effect” of playing football on national television. In my book, Saturday Millionaires, I devote an entire chapter to the intersection of athletics and academics and the studies that have focused on the indirect benefits. Briefly, here’s a rundown of some of the indirect benefits, quoted directly from my book….

Merely having a football team was found by one economist to increase enrollment:

Brian Goff, a professor of economics at Western Kentucky University, included the impact of adding or dropping football on student enrollment in his 2000 study by looking at three schools which added or dropped football. The three schools were Wichita State University and University of Texas-Arlington who dropped football in the mid-80s and Georgia Southern University who added football.

Examining the years 1960-1993, Goff found an average decline of 600 students per year during “no football” years at Wichita State and UT Arlington. In contrast, he found an average increase of 500 students at Georgia Southern after adding football.

Then there’s the “advertising effect,” or rather coverage of the football team that amounts to an advertisement without the athletic department or university having to buy an advertisement:

Goff explores the advertising effect in his study, focusing on instances of coverage in eight leading newspapers. He focuses on Northwestern University and Western Kentucky University during the time period of 1991-1996, which saw Northwestern go to the Rose Bowl and WKU men’s basketball make the Sweet Sixteen and women’s basketball make the Final Four.

Articles about Northwestern increased by a whopping 185 percent during 1995, the football season which ended with a Rose Bowl invite. WKU had a similar experience with articles about the university jumping from “2 or 3 in typical years to 13 and 30 in 1992 and 1993 when the men’s and women’s basketball programs enjoyed atypical successes.”

The study showed it wasn’t athletic success driving the coverage, it was athletics in general. In 1992, 70 percent of the articles written about Northwestern in those publications were about athletics. In contrast, articles related to university research accounted for a mere 5 percent. Fascinating when you consider Northwestern is a leading academic institution.

Of course, success on the football field at the FBS level can an even greater impact:

In a study by brothers and economists Devin G. Pope and Jaren C. Pope, football success in the form of being ranked in the top 20 in the AP Poll was found to increase the quantity of applications to a school by 2-8 percent. In order to achieve that same increase by lowering tuition or increasing financial aid, an adjustment of anywhere from 2-24 percent would have to be made. The study also found finishing in the top ten produced increased applications approximately equivalent to a school’s rank being improved by half in US News and World Report (e.g. 20th to 10th or 8th to 4th).

Other studies have shown increases in applications that allowed universities to either enroll larger classes or become more selective and improve their academic profile. Again, much of that success was predicated upon fielding a winning football team, but some studies did show small benefits from the mere existence of a football program.

Without the benefit of a comprehensive study, and acknowledging it is probably too early in the FBS transition to estimate the impact playing football at a higher level is having on the university, I did find some interesting data on UMass’s incoming classes during the football transition.

For performance measurements, universities measure themselves against “peer institutions.” UMass lists the following as its peer institutions: Indiana University-Bloomington, Iowa State University, Rutgers University-New Brunswick, Stony Brook University, University of California-Santa Barbara, University of Colorado Boulder, University of Connecticut, University of Delaware, University of Maryland-College Park, and University of Oregon.

I pulled admissions data on UMass and its peer institutions from the past couple of years from the IPEDS database. UMass received 5.88 percent more applications last year than the previous year. By itself, that might not mean much, as many universities experience increasing applications each year. However, UMass outperformed its peer group, which had an average increase of 5.29 percent. UMass also saw 22 percent of those students enroll. Although that was static compared to the previous application cycle, it was ahead of the 1 percent downward trend its peer institutions experienced.

Does this mean UMass moving its football program to the FBS level has positively impacted the university through admissions and enrollment? No, it’s far too early to say. However, it’s definitely something UMass and the Ad Hoc Committee on FBS Football will be keeping an eye on as the football program continues to (hopefully) grow.

Next year, UMass will host half of its home schedule at the on-campus McGuirk Stadium, which you would anticipate will increase attendance. For the past two season all home games have been at Gillette Stadium, approximately 95 miles away.

Winning on the field would help, of course. The Minutemen have won just one game in each of the last two years. However, it’s important to note that most schools who have made the transition from FCS to FBS have seen their on-the-field performance decrease. Below are all of the programs who made the transition from 1978-2010 and their performance through the 2012 season:

School  FCS  FBS 
 Year TransitionedWinning %Wins/Year Winning %Wins/Years
Arkansas State19920.4885.710.4174.91
Boise State19960.6417.440.80110.16
Central Florida19960.6387.330.5246.37
Florida Atlantic20060.4835.60.3364.11
Florida International20060.3413.750.3424.22
Lousiana Tech19890.5175.640.5116
Middle Tennessee St19990.5896.710.4585.44
North Texas19950.4635.180.3363.95
South Florida20010.6146.750.5446.57
Western Kentucky20090.5476.160.4195.17

Only Boise State, Connecticut, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, Marshall and South Florida have averaged more wins per year in FBS than in FCS through the 2012 season, proving it’s a, “tough row to hoe,” as my grandmother would say. However, I wouldn’t let that discourage me just yet if I were UMass….

Check back tomorrow as I look at an advantage to playing at the FBS level that UMass can (hopefully) look forward to in the future.

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