A study at the University of Arkansas, looking at 29 FBS programs from 2000-09, claims a positive correlation between college football success and alumni donations exists, but only for athletics. It found a negative correlation between football wins and academic donations.
According to the study so far, for every additional 1.5 wins in football, the athletic donations increased by about $6.7 million. At the same time, though, academic donations decreased by about $16.4 million. The opposite was true for academic donations when using non-athletic variables such as personal income and school academic ranking.
The study plans to look at all 120 FBS programs. It’s hard to evaluate it without knowing which teams were studied, which with a small sample size could vary the data greatly. Viewing the issue generally, here is a breakdown of the top 25 university endowments by football prowess.
FBS Elite (AQ): Texas (3), Michigan (7), Texas A&M (10), Notre Dame (14), USC (21)
FBS (AQ): Stanford (5), Northwestern (9), Cal (13), Duke (15), Virginia (19), Vanderbilt (22)
FBS (Non-AQ): Rice (20)
No FBS Football: Harvard (1), Yale (2), Princeton (4), MIT (6), Columbia (8), Penn (11), Chicago (12), Wash in SL (17), Cornell (18), Dartmouth (23), Johns Hopkins (25)
No Football: Emory (16), NYU (24)
The endowments at Texas, Michigan, Texas A&M, Notre Dame and USC suggest football stature and academic stature can coincide. The interesting question is whether football success contributes to academic success. The aforementioned schools would argue football gives them exposure and forms a more lasting bond with students that drives donations, though looking at the list you could make the complete opposite assessment.
Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Penn and the University of Chicago comprise six of the top 12 university endowments. What’s interesting is that those schools actively withdrew from elite college football. While their compatriots hopped on the gravy train with athletic scholarships and mass revenues, the Ivies retreated. The University of Chicago won seven Big Ten titles and featured the first Heisman trophy winner Jay Berwanger before dropping football in 1939 and 1946. Those schools seem to be doing pretty well on the donation front despite not having football.
We would suspect the true answer is that college football has neither positive nor negative correlation to academic donations. It’s irrelevant. The common factor for all those schools is that they provide great educations. Great educations lead to high-paying jobs. Wealthy alumni are more likely to make large donations.
[Photo via Getty]