In College Athletics, Scoring More Points Means Earning Fewer Points
Victories on the college football field could lead to losses in the classroom, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Oregon. Tracking the relationship between the winning percentage of the Oregon Ducks football team and the academic performance of non-athlete students, Jason Lindo, Glen Waddell and Isaac Swenson find that the better the University Oregon Ducks perform on the football field, the worse Oregon students perform in the classroom.
This new working paper examines the academic performance of non-athlete students at the University of Oregon over an eight-year period. It focuses on the GPA of students during the fall term – the height of football season – to investigate whether the winning percentage of the school’s football team is associated with changes in the GPA of Oregon students.
Between 1999 and 2007, the success of the University of Oregon football team varied substantially. In their best season, the Ducks won 92 percent of their games; in their worst season, the Ducks were victorious only 45 percent of the time. Drawing on this year-by-year variation in the success of the football team, the authors find that the more the football team won, the farther the GPA of non-student athletes fell.
The authors draw an interesting comparison to well-known research on the effect of SAT scores on college GPAs. Among males, a 100-point increase in a student’s SAT score is, on average, associated with a 0.16 in his GPA in college. By comparison, they report that a 25 percent increase in the winning percentage of the Oregon Ducks – an additional three victories in a twelve-game season – results in a decline in the average GPA of about 0.04 points - equivalent to a 27-point decline in SAT scores.
The effect seems substantively small, at least on first pass. However, the authors report that the effect is concentrated among male non-athlete students, resulting not only in a decline in academic performance, but a rise in the gender gap at the University of Oregon. On average, women at the University of Oregon maintain a GPA 0.18 points higher than men. The focused effect of football victories on the academic performance of male non-athlete students widens this gap.
And it’s not just academic performance that suffers. In a follow-up survey with students at the University of Oregon, the authors report that success on the football field leads male students to disproportionately drink more, party harder and study less. Although I’m skeptical of survey findings posed as abstractions (e.g., “Compared to a loss, when the football team wins I tend to …”), it’s hardly surprising that students report more celebrating and less studying after football victories.
So, if you were scouring for another argument to back your cocktail-party rant about the negative impact of big-time athletics on the missions and success of higher education in the United States … You’re welcome.