As the college football season approaches its climax, a just-released set of statistics should give fans of Bowl-bound teams pause.
According to three University of Oregon economists, when a university’s football team has a winning season, the grade point average of male students goes down.
At least, that was the case at their own school over the course of nine recent seasons. Given that the University of Oregon is “largely representative of other four-year public institutions,” they have no reason to believe the equation won’t apply elsewhere.
“Our estimates suggest male grades fall significantly with the success of the football team,” the research team, led by Jason Lindo, writes in a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper. Furthermore, the economists find this effect is “larger among students from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds, and those of relatively low ability.”
Lindo and his colleagues examined the grades of nearly 30,000 students enrolled at the University of Oregon between 1999 and 2007. (Student athletes were excluded from the analysis.) They compared grade point averages to the winning percentage of the school’s football team, which ranged over the years from 45 to 92 percent.
“We find that the team’s success significantly reduces male grades relative to female grades,” they write. “This phenomenon is only present in fall quarters, which coincide with the football season.”
For male students, it seems, a victory is a perfect excuse to party.
“We find that males are more likely than females to increase alcohol consumption, decrease studying, and increase partying in response to the success of the team,” the researchers report. In one survey, 47 percent of men, but only 28 percent of women, reported they did more partying following a team win.
As that last statistic suggests, the behavior of female students is also impacted by a win — just not as intensely. “Female (academic) performance is likely affected by the performance of the football team as well,” Lindo and his colleagues conclude. They believe this effect “is masked by the usual practice of grade curving.”
These findings are particularly troubling given that “men have fallen further and further behind women in college attendance and completion over the past 30 years,” the researchers write. They note that, at the University of Oregon, men earn an average GPA of 2.94, compared to 3.12 for women.
“We have verified that this gap cannot be explained by ability upon entry (to the university), as measured by high school GPAs and SAT scores,” they add. Rather, there seems to be something in the university environment that pulls boys away from academics.
While that phenomenon is undoubtedly multifaceted, this research suggests a winning football team worsens the problem. Victories on the field may bring universities money and prestige, but producing less-well-educated students is a high price to pay for a trophy.