Tournament pays handsomely for schools

March, 12, 2012
3/12/12
9:18
AM ET
Thanks to the annual national phenomenon that is March Madness, we know all about VCU now -- Butler, Gonzaga and George Mason, too.

But what does such awareness mean for schools that were not quite in the national consciousness before a magical men’s basketball tournament run? Millions of dollars, significant increases in student applications and even smarter students, according to various studies.

No school can afford the kind of publicity a deep run into the tournament offers. Studies done by media firms Borshoff and Meltwater for Butler University after it reached the title game the past two years show a combined publicity value for the university of about $1.2 billion.

Butler’s 2010 run to the national title game resulted in $639.3 million in publicity value, including $100 million from the CBS broadcast of the national title game. Last year’s appearance was valued at more than $512 million. Neither calculation included the publicity value of radio broadcasts or talk shows, but instead focused on television, print and online news coverage.

The exposure cascades off-court, as experts point to a positive correlation between athletic performance and application rates. They call it the “Flutie effect” after quarterback Doug Flutie, who was credited with a 30 percent increase in applications at Boston College the year after his Heisman Trophy win.

A 2009 study by brothers and economics professors Jaren and Devin Pope showed that just making it into the men’s NCAA tournament produces a 1 percent increase in applications the following year. Each round a team advances increases the percentage: 3 percent for Sweet 16 teams, 4 to 5 percent for Final Four teams and 7 to 8 percent for the winner.

The only way to achieve similar application increases would be to increase financial aid or reduce tuition by 2 to 24 percent, the study said.

"These numbers tend to be larger for private schools than for public schools," co-author Jaren Pope said. "For example, private schools in the Sweet 16 see a 4 percent to 5 percent increase in applications compared to a 2 percent to 3 percent increase for public schools."

Butler University experienced a whopping 41 percent increase in applications after its 2010 run to the title game. George Mason University saw a 54 percent increase in out-of-state applications following its 2006 Final Four appearance. And within a month of being defeated in the first round of the 2000 tournament, Central Connecticut State University saw application rates increase by more 12 percent.

The impact of admitting more out-of-state students can be profound. For example, George Mason’s in-state tuition rate is $9,066 per year, while out-of-state tuition is nearly three times as much at $26,544.

Rising application rates also can allow a school either to increase enrollment or be more selective. The Popes’ study found that basketball success did not lead most schools to increase enrollment but did allow for increased selectivity.

The study concluded, “… schools which do well in basketball are able to recruit an incoming class with 1 to 4 percent more students scoring above 500 on the math and verbal SAT. Similarly, these schools could expect 1 to 4 percent more of their incoming students to score above a 600 on the math and verbal SAT.”

Kristi Dosh

Sports Business
Dosh covers sports business for ESPN. She is an attorney, founder of BusinessOfCollegeSports.com, and joined ESPN in October 2011.
Author of "Saturday Millionaires: How winning football builds winning colleges."

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