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The Importance of College Athletic Programs to Universities

by Dr. Kelly S. Meier

A 2003 study done by "The Sport Journal" linked respect for a college with an involved athletic program. This image positively affects the perception of academic quality and promotes the value of an earned degree. College athletics are linked to recruiting students, shaping their campus experiences and increasing revenue streams.

Student Experience

Attending athletic events and cheering on a team generates school spirit. At some universities, a football game will draw thousands of people. School spirit was No. 3 in a "Duke Today" article listing the top five reasons universities have athletic programs. Campus energy from an athletic event creates student-life memories and enhances the overall campus experience.

Recruitment

There was a 22 percent increase in applications in 2006 when the George Mason University basketball team made it to the NCAA Final Four. After quarterback Doug Flutie was awarded the Heisman Trophy in 1984, Boston College experienced a sharp increase in prospective student interest. As a result, “The Flutie Effect” was coined the term for an increase in applications after a significant athletic accomplishment. Athletic programs market sports events and the university. Visibility attracts the attention of prospective students and their parents. Scholarships offered to student athletes and recruitment of prospective students contribute to overall enrollment efforts.

Revenue

Universities leverage athletic events to raise funds for special academic projects. For example, Duke set aside $1 from each home game ticket for library initiatives. "Elite Daily," an online publication targeting Generation Y readers, describes athletics as “one of the biggest revenue builders for schools nationwide.” Funding is generated from ticket sales, concessions, television contracts, advertising, camps and donor support. Athletics provide an avenue for alumni and private donors to connect to the institution. This translates into donated dollars.

Reputation

Athletic programs contribute to the prestige of a university. Small campuses seek classification in Division I ranks to maintain marketplace competition. Likewise, negative issues can tarnish a reputation. "The Huffington Post" wrote an article about the worst scandals in college sports. At the top of the list was the 2011 child sex abuse scandal at Penn State. This case resulted in the dismissal of senior administrators and marred the credibility of the institution.

About the Author

Dr. Kelly S. Meier is a professor and college administrator for a large public institution in Minnesota. She received her undergraduate degree from Western Illinois University and her master's degree and doctorate from Minnesota State University, Mankato. She has published more than 15 books on education, group development and diversity.

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