Study Claims That Conference Realignment Leads to Academic BenefitsPosted by EJacoby on June 11th, 2012
It’s widely assumed that conference alignment in the NCAA is all about money and prestige. Schools change conferences in order to gain more media exposure, profit from lucrative TV deals, compete against higher competition, and boost their ‘cachet’ in the college sports realm. But a new study from some graduate students at Georgia claims that colleges who change leagues often benefit scholastically in terms of an increased number of higher-quality applicants. There’s often a correlation between athletic success and admissions at an institution, but this study’s findings indicate a more specific relationship between conference changes and academics, having nothing to do with actual success on the field. A sample of their thesis is presented here, and there’s much to debate in terms of the validity of their claims. But it’s quite an interesting study that could have an impact on conference realignment, at least in terms of its public perception.
The paper, entitled “On the Move: Is Athletic Conference Realignment an Opportunity for Academic Gain?” studies 32 colleges that changed conferences between 2004 and 2011. The results show that many of them benefited academically from the switch, becoming more selective from a wider range of higher-quality applicants. ACT scores of incoming students increased by an average of .29 points at schools that changed conferences. Is this number significant enough as a real improvement or is that number just statistical noise? However, other numbers added up, such as 130 additional applicants every year across all schools yet a three percent decrease in acceptance rate, suggesting a more selective admissions process. Additionally, five percent more accepted students enrolled at these schools, showing an improved desire for kids to attend these colleges.
How could this affect conference realignment in the future? This study specifically points to schools moving to the ACC as some of the biggest academic winners. The ACC is adding several of the best basketball schools, including Syracuse and Pittsburgh in 2013-14, and other top basketball programs have publicly made clear their desires for ACC inclusion. This demand should only increase now that university brass are seeing improved application and admissions rates, in addition to more money and better basketball, by moving to the conference. If university presidents see opportunities for growth in both areas – sports and academics – by switching to stronger basketball and football conferences, it’s hard to argue against doing so even if it results in geographical and competitive misfits.
The validity of the claims in “On the Move” remains unclear because there are so many factors that could play a role in a study like this. But the results of this decent sample size show that colleges are somehow improving their academic perception among applicants after changing leagues. That gives more fuel to the current trend of widespread conference realignment, not that it looked like it was coming to an end anyway. We’ll see what the reaction is to this study in the coming weeks, and we’ll also have to track the results of all the new schools changing leagues in the near future. But the conversation is started; are academics now the secret weapon in conference realignment’s public perception?
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.