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Harvard professor shows the benefits a strong football program brings to its university


The next time someone tells you college athletics have lost their place within the grand scheme of higher education, remind them of this play:

On Nov. 23, 1984, Doug Flutie launched a Hail Mary that miraculously avoided a host of Miami defenders until it landed in the arms of Gerard Phalen laying on the Orange Bowl turf. The catch gave the Eagles a 47-45 win and brought Flutie the Heisman Trophy, but that play did even more for the school itself than the football program. As the clip was played and played and played on every highlight show and newscast throughout the nation, Boston College landed on the mind of every college applicant in the country, spiking BC's application numbers by 30 percent within two years according to Sean Silverthorne.

Silverthorne has summarized Harvard Business School assistant professor Doug Chung's 45-page paper entitled The Dynamic Advertising Effect of College Athletics, published in the journal Marketing Science. Chung quantified what a successful football season brings a school in terms a university president can appreciate: a 17.7 jump in applications. To gain a similar boost on the academic side of the house, a university would either have to lower tuition by 3.8 percent or recruit faculty who are paid 5.1 percent above their average rate. Considering the political capital that would be required to accomplish either one of those goals, one can see why university presidents are so eager to sign off on a big check for that new indoor practice facility or that hot new head coach. Additionally, Chung was surprised to learn that students with high SAT scores could be swayed by athletic success.

Outside of stictly academic benefits, football programs serve their universities through three-hour informercials every fall Saturday and by bringing young fans to campus that otherwise would never have a reason to be there. And, as former Texas A&M president Robert Gates has noted, a football game is the only event that brings university administrators, professors and the student body together in one place.

That, in a nutshell, is the Flutie Effect. As Chung attests, the Flutie Effect is real, and he has the evidence to prove it.

"I saw this game live on TV with my father when I was growing up in Kansas," he says, "and have been a big fan ever since."