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Study: Football Wins Can Lead To Academic Gains

According to a paper published by Cal-Berkeley economist Michael Anderson, a winning college football season can lead to an increase in donations, applications, academic reputation, in-state enrollment and incoming student test scores. Though the effects, while statistically significant, aren't all that dramatic.

"There are effects, but they're not so large you'd want to run a huge deficit on the team" to chase more victories, said Michael Anderson, an economist at the University of California-Berkeley and the author of the study. "You definitely still want the team to break even." Consider it a bonus for having a team that wins more than it loses, he said.

Anderson analyzed the results of college football games from 1986-2009 and compared to metrics such as donations, applications and incoming test scores, finding that all those metrics ticked up after the football team had a big season the year prior. The effect was more pronounced for programs in one of the six major conferences.

Success on the field can lead to an increase in donations not only for athletics, but also the university at large. But the impact that winning has on these off-field factors varies wildly by program. Clearly the effect won't be as pronounced at programs where its fans expect to win 9-10 games every year.

Despite some down periods from 1988-1991 and 1995-1998, Boston College football still managed to average a little less than seven wins a season (6.83) over the period studied -- in an era when teams played a max of 11 (12 with a bowl game). So there is some base level expectation on the part of the fans that the program will win 6-7 games and reach a bowl game annually.

It would probably take another 2007-type season to really open back up the purse-strings of BC boosters and alumni. A return to 6- or 7-win seasons probably won't move the needle in terms of alumni giving and the worst case scenario, another 4-8 or worse season would probably lead to a decrease in donations. This all begs the question: if you don't think that Spaziani can lead this team back not only to bowl eligibility but a return to the upper echelon of the ACC, how much is the department and the school at large losing by keeping Spaz as HC?