‘Flutie Effect’ study shows success on fields and courts does mean more applications

>RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – 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, with smaller increases the reward more modest success.

“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 with 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 to 8 percent increase, but just making the 65-team field will net schools an average 1 percent bump.

– Similarly, applications go up 7 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.

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

For George Mason University, just outside Washington, 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.”