The "Flutie Effect" revisited

It only takes a few rounds in the collegiate sports blogosphere to find that one envious, bitter opinion that casts a false perception on Boston College sports:

You guys would be nothing without Doug Flutie — he did everything for you. Without him, you would be staring down Patriot League foes every Saturday afternoon.

While it is outrageous to claim that Flutie is the sole reason for Boston College’s surge to excellence, as years and years of dedication and passion by outstanding individuals have helped to lift the school to its current prominence, Flutie’s impact was quite considerable.

After his playing years ended — long after his miraculous Hail Mary heave to Gerard Phelan against Miami — Boston College saw a 30 percent increase in admissions in two years.

(This will never get old):

A recent study conducted by Doug Chung, an assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, draws on Flutie’s impact on Boston College.

In his paper, titled "The Dynamic Advertising Effect of Collegiate Athletics," he shows a striking correlation between success on the football field and positive growth in admissions factors.

Dubbed the “Flutie Effect” in conjunction with the massive impact former Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie had on BC’s admissions and collegiate marketing efforts in the early 1980s, Chung details the importance of collegiate sports as a vehicle for university marketing.

While Chung believes that educational excellence is a factor in admissions growth, his research also reveals that sports are crucial to a school’s branding and popularity.

He found that when a school enhances the quality of its football team (coined as going from “mediocre” to “great”), applications increase by 17.7 percent.gavel4

To achieve a similar end, a school would have to lower tuition by 3.8 percent, or hire better faculty, which would cost the school a 5.1 percent wage increase.

A table found in Chung’s research also differentiates admissions statistics between AQ (Automatic Qualifier) and non-AQ universities.Chung refers to athletic success as a “stock of goodwill that decays over time.” Like the shelf life of advertising in the business world, the gridiron has the ability to enhance the school’s popularity—but it is neither constant nor sustained if a team’s performance declines.

AQ schools see not only a higher number of applications, but also a higher quality of applicants. These schools are in conferences that, by design, give the champion of the conference an automatic berth to one of five Bowl Championship Series bowl games.

Perhaps the most surprising of all of his findings, Chung shows that even students with higher SAT scores are drawn to a school experiencing success on the football field.

Some may assume that a school with an excelling football program lacks the academic prestige to attract cream-of-the-crop students, but that is far from true according to Chung’s study.

He previously discovered that students with lower SAT scores were attracted to the school, but also found that higher-quality applicants were attracted to the same school.

Chung guesses that such higher-quality applicants are drawn to a university with a successful football program because the school likely garnered national attention and therefore projected a more potent, desirable brand. He also considers an American culture that values sports to a very significant degree.

Photo By Billy Foshay / Gavel Media.

Photo By Billy Foshay / Gavel Media.

Ultimately, success on the field complements the hard work of university personnel and faculty that cultivate the prestige a school like BC is known for.

Chung stressed to Sean Silverthorne of HBS’s Working Knowledge that he was “hesitant to say schools choose to invest in athletics just because of the spillover effect into academics.”

The impact of a successful football team is very significant — but to quell the chatter of those bitter, anti-BC bloggers — athletic success is just part of the equation responsible for BC's academic prestige.

Feature image by Billy Foshay/Gavel Media.

Follow @BCGavelSports on Twitter for all the latest updates on BC athletics.

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