"March Madness", the annual tournament in college basketball to determine the national champion, impacts more than just sports fans. College basketball teams that make this year’s cut for the 'Sweet 16' may boost the number of students applying to their schools by as much as 3 percent next year, while the winner of the tournament, may see a 7 percent to 8 percent jump in applications, according to a new study.

Jaren Pope, assistant professor of agricultural and applied economics at Virginia Tech and his brother Devin Pope, an assistant professor at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, have co-authored a paper in Southern Economic Journal that finds a link between college sports success and college admissions around the country.

“We looked at how high-profile sports success influences where students choose to apply for college,” Pope said. “Anecdotally, college administrators have known for some time that basketball and football success translates into increased applications. What we have done is to move a step beyond previous research and anecdotal evidence by quantifying the average effect across all NCAA Division I schools using a credible empirical methodology,” he said.

Pope combined data from the Peterson’s college guide, which records information about the incoming freshman classes of 330 NCAA Division I colleges and universities, with information on how well these schools did in football and basketball each year from 1983 to 2002. According to the study, the 64 schools that make it into the NCAA basketball championship tournament have a 1 percent increase in student applications the next year, schools in the Sweet 16 have a 3 percent increase, the Final Four have a 4 percent to 5 percent increase, and the championship winner has a 7 percent to 8 percent increase.

In addition, colleges and universities with football teams in the top 20 have a 2.5 percent gain in the number of student applications the next year while teams in the top 10 have a 3 percent gain. Schools that win a football championship see a 7 percent to 8 percent jump in applications. For each school, the spike in the number of applications due to basketball or football success continues for several years before returning to normal.

“These numbers tend to be larger for private schools than for public schools,” 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.”

The study also used data from the College Board on where students send their SAT scores to show that the extra applications include students with both low and high SAT scores. Some schools appear to utilize the larger pool of applicants by selecting higher quality students, thereby improving their admission outcomes.

“Although this study identifies short-run, indirect benefits of athletics for colleges and universities, it does not address whether putting more money into sports programs is the best use of resources,” Pope said. Nonetheless, he added that the study does demonstrate the importance of high-profile sports as a marketing tool for some schools.

Article: Jaren Pope and Devin Pope, “The Impact of College Sports Success on the Quantity and Quality of Student Applications,” Southern Economic Journal April 2008.