The University of North Dakota, the State of North Dakota and the State of South Dakota are conquerors of varsity sport, but will this help increase enrollment?
Boston College trailed by four points, but were almost halfway through the field with a few seconds left on the clock. Flutie backed up, tripped, recovered and threw a 64-yard Hail Mary pass behind the end zone. Wide receiver Gerard Phelan caught it, giving Boston a 47-45 victory and sealing Flutie’s Heisman Trophy. The moment is immortalized in the history of college sport.
The game was played on the Friday after Thanksgiving, with a massive national audience watching on television.
The demands of Boston College students skyrocketed the following year, and the “Flutie Effect” – whereby a college gained notoriety and academic importance because of its sporting heroes – was invented.
At least that’s how the theory works. Is it real?
Colleges in North Dakota and South Dakota, where populations are sparse and sports teams remarkably good, are a good laboratory to test the theory. UND is a hockey powerhouse. NDSU has had a generation of success on the football field.
And SDSU, NDSU and UND were all among the last eight teams in the national spring football tournament, each having played last month on national television. SDSU played for the national title, falling in the dying seconds to Sam Houston.
Shouldn’t this kind of success in athletics increase the number of applicants?
“When our sports team goes to the east coast, we see a slight increase in applications from the east,” said Janelle Kilgore, the senior admissions officer at UND, noting that, yes, that sounds like sports teams. can advance nominations. “But we also have nationally recognized programs that they come from.”
That’s what most college admissions experts say. A big appearance on ESPN is no guarantee that apps will go through the mail slot. Instead, it’s something like a newly opened window – a chance for a university to reach out and champion its cause.
“It just lifts the university up when an experience like this happens,” said Shawn Helmbolt, SDSU director of admissions, last month after SDSU’s loss to Sam Houston in the Championship Subdivision football game. “It amplifies that sense of pride that people have come to relate to in a place like SDSU, when there is this shared experience at the national level.”
But there is some evidence that, as rare as it is, the Flutie effect is very real. According to a 2014 Economics of Education Review study, there is an apparent link between schools with high performing FBS football teams and higher scores in the US News and World Report roster. The better an FBS school is on the football field, the better its university rank.
According to this study, professors and administrators surveyed for rankings – which are only part of the results – tend to give universities higher marks when they have a better performing football team. Just setting up an FBS team can help, the authors found.
“It’s real, it’s statistically significant, but – let’s put it this way – I wouldn’t create a football team to improve my rankings in US News and World Report,” said Aleksandar Tomic, economist. at Boston College, speaking in an interview early last year. year.
Sean Mulholland, an economist at West Carolina University, is co-author alongside Tomic. He pointed out that he mainly knew about North Dakota universities directly through their athletic programs.
“The only thing I know about the University of North Dakota is their hockey team,” he said, recalling a Frozen Four tournament in New England. “I was at Logan Airport in Boston and I was surrounded by this green crowd. Very nice people, but it was like ‘yes, okay, this is North Dakota.’
Former UND President Mark Kennedy is convinced that strong athletic programs sparks interest in a university. In an interview with the Grand Forks Herald in 2017, he said, “I have said many times and will say many times that sport is the front porch of college.
“What this means is that the programs are the ‘front porch’ where you invite other people onto the property; and once there, they see what’s inside: the wonderful programs you have, the great campus, the vibe, the students, ”he said. “It attracts your future students, in other words. And not just for your face-to-face programs, as this also helps to brand your online programs.
Still, there are a lot of other things that can have a big effect on admissions. Helmbolt highlights South Dakota’s recent success with a “College Application Week,” which lowers application fees and encourages students to apply to college. The lesson, of course, is that removing barriers like cost, or even paperwork, is far more important than athletic success.
And there is also something to be said about time and place. The Flutie effect can feel a bit like lightning – never really hitting the same spot, or in the same way, twice. The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (or UMBC, as basketball fans know) became a media darling in 2018 when she entered the NCAA tournament as a seed. No. 16 and upset Virginia, ranked No. 1. Speculation immediately followed that UMBC was destined for some sort of financial glory.
“With just one basketball game, UMBC is poised to reap significant financial benefits in terms of increased student demands, increased alumni donations, and improved sales of clothing and merchandise, ”Sports Illustrated speculated shortly after the game.
This unique upheaval in basketball is very different from the sustained success of the NDSU in football or the years of dominance of UND hockey. But that’s the thing about the Flutie effect: it’s not a hard or fast scientific principle.
And the Flutie Effect, even at Boston College, really wasn’t all it had been advertised. Bill McDonald, a Boston College alumnus in the 1960s, wrote in 2003 in the school magazine that applications had poured in for years as the university admitted more women and embarked on a major marketing campaign.
So while university admissions offices recognize that there is a lot of advertising value in a good sports team, they are keeping up with students, shifting their marketing to the world of social media, and working with the engines of social media. research universities. They are also keenly aware of the emphasis on the costs of education and whether a degree will pay off.
“Overall, students really choose NDSU for the academic programs, quality, placement and affordability, and that campus environment,” said Laura Oster-Aaland, NDSU vice-provost for student affairs and the management of registrations. Sporting success, she said, is only part of it. “It’s a piece of a very complex puzzle.