[Paleopsych] Ellen Staurowsky: Sports/Giving Non-Correlation

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Sports/Giving Non-Correlation

    The Relationship Between Athletics and Higher Education Fund Raising:
    The Myths Far Outweigh the Facts

    By Ellen J. Staurowsky, Ed.D. Professor and Chair, Department of Sport


    Since the formalization of intercollegiate athletics within
    institutions of higher learning in the late 1800s/early 1900s, college
    presidents, legislators, alumni/nae, faculty, athletic directors, and
    average citizens have speculated about the relationship between the
    success of athletic programs and the generosity of donors. As a matter
    of first impression, it is easy to understand why most people assume
    that big-time college sport has a positive influence on donation
    levels to institutions. Given the multi-billion dollar industry which
    is college sport and the degree to which the public is exposed to
    March Madness and the Bowl Championship Series via television, print
    media, and the Internet, circumstantial evidence reinforces a common
    sense belief that big-time college sport possesses the potential to
    generate big-time revenue for colleges and universities.

    One would be naïve to deny that substantial amounts of money are
    generated by football and men's basketball. However, caution should be
    used so as to avoid reaching a false conclusion based on superficial
    information alone. The mere fact that some athletic programs generate
    enormous revenues and a high degree of public visibility should not be
    construed to mean that success in athletics yields higher rates or
    levels of philanthropic or charitable donations to colleges and
    universities. In point of fact, the results of studies examining the
    relationship between athletic programs and higher education fund
    raising over a 70-year span of time suggest that there is either no
    relationship or a very weak relationship at best between the two.

    The remainder of this paper is organized into three sections. The
    first will highlight studies that have focused on this question,
    offering brief summaries of findings for each study. The second
    section will discuss problems associated with the existing studies and
    how this impacts the interpretation of the findings. The final section
    will offer observations about how this information relates to the
    broader discussion regarding compliance with Title IX in
    intercollegiate athletic programs.

    Summary of Studies - Athletics and Its Impact on Giving to Higher

    Marts (1934) - sought to understand if an emphasis on football with
    the goal of gaining national visibility resulted in a financial
    benefit for colleges and universities between the years 1921-1930.
    Marts studied 32 institutions in total, 16 of which had made a
    commitment to upgrading their football program while the remaining
    institutions were classified as part of a control group. Schools
    without an emphasis on football realized a 126 percent increase in
    their endowments while schools with an emphasis on football realized
    an increase of 105 percent. Marts did note that several of the schools
    that opted to build a powerhouse football team were experiencing
    financial conditions that he described as "pitiful" because of the
    investment needed in promoting football.

    Cutlip (1965) - a noted researcher in the area of institutional fund
    raising, Cutlip examined the impact of athletic program success on
    endowments, enrollments, contributions, and reputations of schools. He
    found that these variables were unaffected or negatively affected by
    the success of athletic programs.

    Spaeth & Greeley (1970) - concluded that contrary to previous
    researchers who found a negative impact between athletic success and
    alumni giving, winning football teams may prompt alumni to raise the
    level of their contributions. However, Spaeth and Greeley did not test
    their hypothesis empirically. Rather, they offered speculation that
    the emotional attachment of alumni to a winning football team would
    probably predispose them to give more to their alma mater.

    Amdur (1971) - in a critique of the college sports establishment,
    Amdur wrote anecdotally about the ebb and flow of alumni contributions
    as they related to the fortunes of athletic teams, citing a decrease
    in contributions at the University of Georgia in the wake of mediocre
    football seasons, increases at the University of Missouri following
    winning football seasons, a modest decline in an otherwise decade of
    increasing alumni giving at Amherst in the two years when the college
    did not win the "Little Three" football crown, and a "dramatic jump"
    in alumni giving at Wilkes College in years when its football team's
    performance improved dramatically.

    Springer (1974) - examined the impact of dropping football at 151
    colleges between 1939 and 1974. Springer reported that officials
    involved in these decisions were originally concerned about the impact
    cuts would have on alumni giving. According to Springer, almost all
    the schools suffered no ill effects from cutting football and in some
    instances the cuts "had considerable positive results."

    Budig (1976) - analyzing data on alumni giving for 79 colleges and
    universities during a four-year span of time during the 1960s and
    1970s, Budig sought to determine whether total alumni giving was
    related to the performance records of football and (men's) basketball
    teams. Budig found that the "significant relationships between
    athletic success and alumni giving" were so "infrequent" and "random"
    that no systematic link between athletic success and alumni giving was

    Sigelman & Carter (1979) - examining 138 Division I colleges and
    universities for the academic year 1975-1976, these researchers tested
    the validity of the idea that "alumni giving varies according to a
    school's success on the playing field." Using correlation and
    regression analysis, Sigelman and Carter related the alumni-giving
    change figures for a given year with three athletic success measures
    (basketball record, football record, bowl appearance). They reported
    no relationship between success or failure in football and basketball
    and increases and decreases in alumni giving.

    Brooker & Klastoria (1981) - explored the relationship between the
    records of football and (men's) basketball teams of 58 major U.S.
    universities with average contributions from solicited alumni and the
    per capita gifts to the annual funds. Brooker and Klastoria concluded
    that team success did correlate highly with alumni generosity for
    schools within homogeneous groupings. However, they went on to
    equivocate that the relationship "depends on some institutional
    factors" and the nature of the institution (public or private). Alumni
    at private institutions, schools with a religious affiliation, and
    mid-sized public universities appeared more inclined to be positively
    affected by the success of athletic teams. In an analysis of all state
    universities in the sample, they found inconsistent results. They also
    noted that a major question remained to be answered, that being the
    cost-benefit relationship of athletics to the trends found. In effect,
    even in circumstances where there may be a positive relationship
    between athletic success and alumni contributions, the financial
    benefit may not be worth the cost associated with fielding and
    promoting a winning team.

    Coughlin & Erekson (1984) - focusing on the relationship between
    athletic success and contributions to athletic programs, Coughlin &
    Erekson conducted a cross-sectional study of 56 NCAA Division I
    institutions. Several measures of athletic success, including game
    attendance, post-season play, and winning percentage were identified
    as significant determinants of giving to athletic programs.

    McCormick & Tinsley (1990) - applying a two-equation model to data
    obtained from Clemson University for a four-year period of time, the
    authors reported a connection between contributions to the athletic
    program and to the academic endowment. They identified the success of
    the football program as a determinant of the level of contributions
    made to the athletic department while athletic contributions are a
    determinant of alumni giving to the endowment. According to the
    authors, an estimated 10 percent increase in the level of donations to
    the athletic booster club was associated with a 5 percent increase in
    contributions to athletics.

    Grimes & Chressanthis (1994) - empirically analyzed the effect of
    intercollegiate athletics on alumni contributions to the academic
    endowment using time series data over a 30-year span of time from what
    they described as a "representative" National Collegiate Athletic
    Association (NCAA) Division I university, that being Mississippi State
    University. Based on this case study, the authors concluded that
    alumni contributions were positively related to the overall winning
    percentage of the football, (men's) basketball, and baseball programs.
    Grimes and Chressanthis report the existence of a "spillover benefit"
    to the university because athletic success appears to influence the
    level of alumni giving to the academic side of the institution.
    Television exposure was identified as influencing donors positively,
    while NCAA sanctions for rules violations appear to have a negative
    effect on donors. The authors noted that the generalizability of their
    findings was limited because this was a case study.

    Harrison, Mitchell, & Peterson (1995) - examined the alumni giving
    patterns of 18 colleges and universities. Criteria for selection
    included public/private, large/small, and research/teaching
    orientation. Whereas fraternity/sorority affiliations were associated
    positively with alumni giving, having an NCAA Division I athletic
    program had no significant effect.

    Rhoads & Gerking (2000) - conducted an empirical examination of the
    links between athletics, academics, and educational contributions in
    87 universities that sponsor Division I football and men's basketball
    teams (most members of the SEC, Big Ten, Atlantic Coast, Pacific 10,
    Big 12, and Western Athletic conferences were included as well as
    representatives from other conferences and major independents). Rhoads
    and Gerking concluded that total contributions are not affected by
    year-to-year changes in the success of athletic teams. Total
    contributions from alumni may be affected by the performance of
    athletic teams. Further, alumni seem to respond more positively to
    football bowl wins and negatively to NCAA probation. The estimated
    impact of athletic success, however, is relatively weak compared to
    the effect of student and faculty quality on alumni giving.

    Debunking the Myth That Athletics Success Favorably Influences Alumni

    Well respected scholars (Frey, 1985; Gerdy, 2002; Zimbalist, 1999,
    2000; Sack & Staurowsky, 1998; Shulman & Bowen, 2001; Sperber, 2000;
    Thelin, 1994) who have intensively studied intercollegiate athletics
    and its relationship with higher education have examined this body of
    work in total and concluded that there is little if any empirical
    support for the notion that athletic success translates into increased
    levels of alumni support to institutions of higher learning. In 1985,
    James Frey, a sociologist from the University of Nevada-Los Vegas
    characterized this as the "winning-team" myth.

    In offering possible explanations for the lack of a positive
    relationship between athletic success and general endowment funds,
    economist Andrew Zimbalist (1999) points out that "the main
    contributors who seem to respond to athletic prominence are boosters,
    not the typical alumnus or academic philanthropist" (p. 168). This
    reliance on contributors who do not have an academic interest in
    institutions of higher learning started in the first half of the
    twentieth century (roughly 1910-1946) when men's athletic programs
    received financial support through the development and emergence of
    booster organizations, which came to be called athletic associations.
    Historian and former chancellor at the College of William and Mary,
    John Thelin (1994) has described the booster phenomenon as "one of the
    most significant organizational developments during the period between
    the world wars" because the booster organization or athletic
    association was a "legal corporation that was a part of, but apart
    from, university structure" (p. 97).

    The relative independence of athletic associations and other athletic
    fund raising groups on college campuses, separated as they are from
    institutional advancement offices, provides grounds to raise serious
    questions about the validity of the assertion that athletic success
    enhances the ability of institutions to raise money for general funds
    or endowments. Concerns regularly emerge surrounding the inability of
    institutions to control the behavior of overzealous boosters who act
    improperly by providing inappropriate benefits to athletes and who
    attempt to influence the establishment of academic and athletic
    priorities on their campuses.

    Former assistant commissioner of the Southeastern Conference and
    legislative assistant at the NCAA, John Gerdy (2002), provides some
    insight into this mistaken notion that there is a positive link
    between the athletic department and the institution when it comes to
    matters of fund raising. He writes: "... many big-time athletic
    programs are run as independent, profit-driven, auxiliary enterprises.
    Despite the claim from athletic fund-raisers that they work closely
    with the institutional advancement office to raise funds for the
    university, such cooperation is usually superficial. The separation
    and mistrust that exists between most academic and athletic
    communities means that virtually all athletic department fund-raising
    efforts are directed at raising money specifically for sports, rather
    than for the institution generally...It is rare when an athletic
    department donates money to the institution because there is no excess
    revenue to donate." (pgs. 164-165).

    Richard Conklin, a top administrator at the University of Notre Dame,
    has commented similarly about this separation. He observed, "We at
    Notre Dame have had extensive experience trying to turn athletic
    interests of `subway alumni' [read booster] to academic development
    purposes--and we have had no success. There is no evidence that the
    typical, non-alumnus fan of Notre Dame has much interest in the
    educational mission." About the myth of athletics contributing to the
    financial welfare of the academic component of educational
    institutions, former President of Michigan State University John D.
    Biaggio stated the "myth of institutional dependency on athletic
    revenues - therefore on athletic victories - needs to be aggressively
    refuted" (as quoted in Zimbalist, 2000).

    If one comes to terms with the fact that athletic programs clearly
    fund raise for their own needs while providing essentially lip-service
    to the overall fund raising goals of colleges and universities, one
    can begin to understand why the notion of a "spillover benefit" from
    athletics has been questioned as often as it has. First, Andrew
    Zimbalist (2000) has estimated that "no more than a dozen" of the
    300-plus schools in the NCAA Division I generate surplus funds. The
    average subsidy a Division I-A athletic department receives from the
    institutional general fund is nine percent, or roughly $1.3 million
    (Fulks, 2000). Thus, even if one were to concede that indirect
    benefits in the form of brand name recognition exist, any "spillover"
    goes back to most athletic programs anyway in the form of
    institutional subsidies.

    Second, data that is often times interpreted to be evidence of a
    "spillover benefit" may actually reflect a temporary response to a
    winning team or more importantly, a factor that in reality undermines
    the ability of institutional fund raisers to do their jobs. Consider
    this data from Central Connecticut State University for the year
    1999-2000. In the spring of 2000, Central Connecticut made its first
    appearance in the NCAA men's Division I tournament. The madness of
    March resulted in an 88 percent increase in donations to the athletic
    department and a 24 percent increase in alumni giving (Merritt, 2000).
    This data set, however, does not distinguish between giving to the
    athletic fund and giving to the general fund. Whereas there may in
    fact be occasional upsurges in giving based on the success of
    individual teams, the meaning of that increase needs to be considered
    within the context of the overall pattern of giving for an
    institution. Otherwise, such a report can be misleading by hiding the
    very real possibility that while donations to the athletic program
    went up, donations to the institution's general fund remained stable
    or declined during the same period of time.

    In the absence of having full disclosure of the entire institutional
    fund-raising record with a complete breakdown of athletic and general
    fund donations, the assumed "spillover benefit" may in fact mask the
    "undermining effect" that occurs when athletic fund-raising creates a
    clear competing interest with academic and other educational
    priorities where limited financial resources exist.

    Beyond the mechanics of financial accounting and interpretation of the
    data regarding athletic program success and institutional fund
    raising, there are problems associated with the assumptions that shape
    the discussion about athletic success and fund raising. The romantic
    image of undergraduates and alums cheering the team to victory and
    forming a bond with each other and their alma maters while watching
    football games has been an enduring one in the marketing of college
    life and intercollegiate athletics. Regardless of how valid the
    romantic image is, the question of whether alumni/nae support the
    current emphasis on sports in colleges and universities yields
    interesting results. In one of the most comprehensive surveys of
    college graduates ever done, which was distributed to 60,000
    alumni/nae who entered college in the years 1951, 1976, and 1989 and
    produced a 75 percent rate of return, college graduates thought that
    there should be less emphasis on intercollegiate athletics (Shulman &
    Bowen, 2001). Of additional relevance to this discussion, Shulman and
    Bowen found that the general giving rates of athletes from what they
    called "high-profile" teams actually dropped substantially within
    class cohorts. Whereas 64 percent of athletes entering college in 1951
    in the high profile sports (football, men's basketball) gave back to
    their institutions, that figure dropped to 39 percent in the class
    cohort for 1989. In effect, even those individuals participating in
    the programs that receive the most emphasis and experience the most
    success are less inclined to give than they were 50 years ago. These
    findings lend further credibility to what the data on athletic success
    and institutional fund raising already shows.

    Finally, the other major flaw in the studies that have been done on
    athletic success and institutional fund raising is the failure to
    include women in the analyses. All of the studies in the second
    section of this paper focused on what have historically been thought
    of as the "revenue-producing" sports (i.e., football and men's
    basketball). Recent work that has addressed women and athletic fund
    raising reveals that women's sports have the capacity to generate
    interest and revenue and that institutional fund raisers (whether
    located in the athletic department or advancement office) need to
    learn more about specific strategies for appealing to women graduates
    as legitimate donor constituencies (Curtis, 2000; Staurowsky, 1996;
    Verner, 1996). This work is part of the expanding base of information
    about women and philanthropy that is growing in the fields of
    education, politics, female-owned and operated businesses, and
    charitable community giving.


    As Sigelman and Carter (1979) so astutely observed almost 25 years
    ago, "the lack of any relationship between success in intercollegiate
    athletics and increased alumni giving probably matters less than the
    fact that so many people believe that such a relationship exists" (p.
    293). Former university president James Duderstadt's (2000) thoughts
    about the construction of athletic financing schemes are particularly
    illuminating in this regard. In his book, Intercollegiate Athletics
    and the University: A University President's Perspective, explains in
    detail how tenuous athletic budgets are. He points out that, "the
    financing of intercollegiate athletics is also complicated by the fact
    that while costs such as staff salaries, student-athlete financial
    aid, and facilities maintenance are usually fixed, revenues are highly
    variable. In fact, in a given year, only television revenue for
    regular events is predictable. All other revenue streams, such as gate
    receipts, bowl or NCAA tournament income, licensing revenue, and
    private gifts, are highly variable. While some revenues such as gate
    receipts can be accurately predicted, particularly when season ticket
    sales are significant, others such as licensing and private giving are
    quite volatile. Yet many athletic departments (including Michigan of
    late) build these speculative revenues into annual budgets that
    sometimes crash and burn in serious deficits when these revenues fail
    to materialize" (p. 128-129). He goes on to note that, "...this
    business philosophy would rapidly lead to bankruptcy in the corporate
    world." The parallel he draws between the corporate world and the
    institutional financing of some of the major athletic programs around
    the country is an apt one in light of recent revelations regarding the
    lack of fiscal accountability in the corporate world and the declining
    trust the American public has in the U.S. economy. Just as corporate
    executives at Enron, Worldcom, and Arthur Anderson failed to fully
    disclose the weaknesses in the financial structures of the businesses
    they represented, the perceived economic viability and profitability
    of men's revenue-generating athletic programs has fed from a
    well-spring of myth that has little foundation in fact.

    To introduce the issue of athletic success and fund raising into a
    discussion about Title IX is counterproductive at several levels.
    Compliance with Title IX will not alter this picture one way or
    another, regardless of what various individuals may wish to assert.
    The historical record simply does not bear this out. Second, the fact
    that institutions claim that they do not have the finances to comply
    with the requirements of Title IX as stated reveals the essential
    falsity at the core of the assertion that big-time men's sports
    programs generate a "spillover effect" that benefits the institution
    at large. If this were the case, representatives of athletic programs
    would not then be claiming when the issue of Title IX compliance comes
    up that they cannot afford to sponsor women's programs. Third, Title
    IX's focus should, and must, remain on the educational benefits to be
    derived from athletic participation in a non-sex discriminatory
    environment. Regardless of the financial arguments made by
    institutions, thirty years of financial planning ought to have
    positioned institutions to resolve any funding problems they had in
    meeting the needs of women students on their campuses. Claiming
    financial distress as the reason for non-compliance with Title IX at
    this late juncture is an admission that the legislation has been
    ignored for three decades.

    Ellen J. Staurowsky, Ed.D.
    Professor and Chair, Department of Sport Studies
    Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY 14850
    607-274-1730 (office); 607-274-1943 (fax); staurows at ithaca.edu
    About the author: Before pursuing a career as a sport sociologist and
    researcher, Dr. Staurowsky worked for 15 years as a coach and director
    of athletics at the college/university level. She is co-author of the
    book, College Athletes for Hire: The Evolution and Legacy of the NCAA
    Amateur Myth and she has written extensively on the related topics of
    intercollegiate athletics, gender equity, and athletic fund-raising.


    Amdur, N. (1971). The fifth down: Democracy and the football
    revolution. (New York: Coward, McCann and Geohagen).

    Brooker, G., & Klastorin, T. (1981). To the victors belong the spoils?
    College athletics and alumni giving. Social Science Quarterly, 72 (4),

    Budig, J. E. (1976). The relationships among intercollegiate
    athletics, enrollment, and voluntary support for public higher
    education. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Illinois State

    Coughlin, C. C., & Erekson, O. H. (1984). An examination of
    contributions to support intercollegiate athletics, Southern Economic
    Journal, 51 (1), 180-195.

    Curtis, M. (2000). A model of donor behavior: A comparison between
    female and male donors to men's and women's athletics support
    organizations at Division I NCAA-affiliated institutions within the
    Big Ten. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Ames, IA: University of

    Cutlip, S. M. (1965). Fund raising in the United States: Its role in
    America's philanthropy. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

    Duderstadt, J. J. (2000). Intercollegiate athletics and the American
    University: A university president's perspective. Ann Arbor, MI:
    University of Michigan Press.

    Frey, J. (1985, January). The winning-team myth. Currents.

    Fulks, D. L. (2000). Revenues and expenses of Division I and Division
    II intercollegiate athletic programs - Financial trends and
    relationship 1999. Indianapolis, IN: NCAA Publishing.

    Gerdy, J. (2002). Sports: The all-American addiction. Jackson, MI:
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    Grimes, P. W., & Chressanthis, G. A. (1994). Alumni contributions to
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    Harrison, W. B., Mitchell, S. K., & Peterson, S. P. (1995, October).
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    Marts, A. (1934, July 7). College football and college endowment.
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    McCormick, R., & Tinsley, M. (1990). "Athletics and academics: A model
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    Merritt, G. E. (2000, April 23). Centralizing-supporters: Devils'
    success boosts donations, pride writer. The Hartford Courant, p. B1.

    Rhoads, T. A., & Gerking, S. (2000, April). Educational contributions,
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    Sack, A., & Staurowsky, E. J. (1998). College athletes for hire: The
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    Shulman, J. L., & Bowen, W. G. (2001). The game of life: College
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    Sigelman, L., & Carter, R. (1979, September). Win one for the giver?
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    Spaeth, J. L., & Greeley, A. M. (1970). Recent alumni and higher
    education. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    Sperber, M. (2000). Beer and circus: How big time college sport is
    crippling Undergraduate education.

    Springer, F. (1974). "The experience of senior colleges that have
    discontinued football," in George H. Hanford, An inquiry into the need
    for and feasibility of a national study of intercollegiate athletics
    (Washington, DC: American Council on Education). Appendix I.

    Staurowsky, E. J. (1996, October). Women and athletic fund raising:
    Exploring the relationship between gender and giving. Journal of Sport
    Management, 10 (4), 401-416.

    Thelin, J. (1994). Games colleges play: Scandal and reform in
    intercollegiate athletics. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University

    Verner, M. E. (1996). Developing women as financial donors and
    philanthropists: A way to enhance intercollegiate athletics
    opportunities. Women in Sport and Physical Activity Journal, 5(1),
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