The Arkansas Razorbacks’ historic fall out of the AP Top 25 will likely cost the school millions of dollars, and, should the shocking upset to Louisiana-Monroe presage a downward-spiraling season, could cost the school in the number and quality of its future students.
Such is the reality of maintaining a ranked football program these days.
The financial cost of a disappointing season shows up in obvious ways like merchandise sales and public relations hits, plus the missed opportunity of national exposure. For example, current Texas A&M athletic director Eric Hyman said when he was athletic director at South Carolina, the university studied the impact of ESPN’s "College GameDay" coming to campus. The publicity value was found to be about $5 million, he said.
Numerous studies have linked a football team’s position in the AP Poll and season winning percentage to application rates, the quality of those applicants and enrollment.
In a study by economists Devin G. Pope and Jaren C. Pope, published in the Southern Economic Journal in 2009, a top 20 football program was found to increase student applications by 2 to 8 percent. For comparison, the study indicated tuition would have to be reduced or financial aid increased anywhere from 2 to 24 percent to have the same impact. A top 10 ranking has even more of an impact, according to the study -- such a ranking affects applications in the same way a university’s ranking in U.S. News and World Report does, if that ranking improves by half year-to-year (a move from 20th best to 10th best, for example).
A more recent study by the Pope brothers shows a top 10 finish in the AP Poll can increase enrollment by 4.4 percent, with a top 20 finish correlating with a 3.4 percent increase. Using Arkansas’ 19,027 undergraduate enrollment for the fall of 2011, a 4.4 percent increase would mean 837 students. Assuming enrollment increased such that the percentage of residents vs. non-residents vs. foreign students stayed the same as Arkansas’ 2011 fall enrollment, those additional 837 students would mean about $9.6 million more in tuition and fees for each year those students remained enrolled.
Another study, this one by I.B. Tucker and L.T. Amato and published in the Journal of Sports Economics in 2006, found a top 20 finish in the AP Poll could increase the SAT scores of an incoming freshman class by 3 percent over a school that never finished in the top 20.
So, not all losses are equal. But it’s only one, and the Razorbacks are extremely talented and have many games ahead.
Michigan, after its famed loss to Appalachian State to start the 2007 season, still finished the season 18th in the AP Poll after going 9-4 with a Capital One Bowl win over Florida. Applications increased by 8.5 percent for the fall of 2008. The next year didn’t turn out as well: the Wolverines were 3-9 in 2008 and applications to the university increased by just 0.5 percent in 2009.