Just as college is where we incubate the next generation of athletes, college sports will become the incubator for the intersection of new technologies and sports fandom. The era when college sports tried its best to mimic the look and feel of professional sports is over. Increasingly, the tables will be turned—it’ll be pro sports leagues that need to keep an eye on how college sports are being played, produced and consumed.
The data suggests the relationship [between winning football games and total college academic standards] is robust and twice as strong as in any previous study.
All the necessary ingredients for this innovation leapfrog already exist on university campuses:
Cheap (free) skilled labor
Professors and students coinventing new communications technology
A built-in fanbase with a genuine rooting interest
Top-of-the-line hardware and superfast internet
Television networks eager for content
An array of teams desperate for a larger audience
Appetite for disruption—a mandate to innovate
Intimate understanding of how the next generation consumes sports
Snapchat started at a Stanford frat house. Reddit was founded by University of Virginia roommates. Facebook emerged from the Harvard campus social scene. Dropbox was created by MIT students. There’s a long tradition of tomorrow’s companies being hatched by a few students, and sometimes an encouraging professor, solving a problem that the rest of the world didn’t even realize it had. From finding an endaround to skip lines to enter a stadium and clear security, to making low-cost video production look better, there’s a good chance someone on a college campus will contribute to the solution.
CATS STATS DAVIDSON SPORTS ANALYTICS
In 2010, a March Madness bracket created by Davidson math professor
Dr. Tim Chartiers and his students at Davidson beat 99.9% of more than 5 million brackets nationally by successfully predicting Cinderella upsets. In 2013, Chartiers and his math students began advising the Davidson Wildcats basketball team on strategy. The next year, when the university left the Southern Conference for the much more challenging Atlantic 10, the Wildcats were predicted to finish 12th. Instead, they won—with Chartiers’ students running all the analytics. Cats Stats has now consulted for the NBA, ESPN and various fantasy sites, and they created the NBA’s popular new “Hustle Stat” used during the 2016 playoffs.
A partnership at Stanford between the football team’s former kicker, Derek Belch, and virtual reality professor Jeremy Bailenson has emerged as the first VR training system that’s already making money and altering the out- come of games. STRIVR is now working with more than a dozen NCAA teams and seven NFL teams.
We have scary stats. We have stats that show that quarterback watched that blitz package 19 times the night before the game—and during the game, he spotted the blitz and it led to a gain of 35 yards.
The biggest misconception about collegiate athletics is that it’s not a professional industry— that it’s somehow amateur hour just because the athletes are not paid. Some call it a sleeping giant—but it’s not sleeping, and it’s already a giant.
All the work is done by students. Data is never the transformative element. It’s the insight that creates the value of data.
Dr. Tim Chartiers
Davidson University, professor of mathematics
AUBURN’S COST TO SEND 370 PEOPLE TO THE 2014 BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP PAYOUT TO AUBURN FOR MAKING IT TO THE GAME
Sure, college football is huge. And March Madness deserves its nickname. But many of the more niche sports also play a key role in cementing the relationship between schools and their alumni (and their money). While most other sports do need a subsidy, that doesn’t mean some of them aren’t packing in crowds. Here’s our list of where it’s happening in college’s “other sports.”
All around the country, sports fans are discovering what they’re looking for in college’s other sports. This is how it starts, and slowly, quietly, out of the limelight, it grows. Women’s college D1 basketball this past season was attended by over 8 million fans
Utah Gymnastics averages 14,682 fans in attendance at Utah’s Huntsman Center, which seats 15,000. (Women’s gymnastics meets are the third-most viewed events on the Pac-12 Network.)
Minnesota Hockey The Golden Gophers get over 11,000 fans per game.
LSU Baseball The Tigers average 10,726 at the gate, and that’s for 34 games. The College World Series is also a standout, bringing in over 23,000 per game and over 350,000 for the series.
Iowa Wrestling averages over 8,300 fans per dual meet. For the 2015 season opener against Oklahoma State, they moved the meet to Kinnick Football Stadium. 42,287 fans watched their Hawkeyes win.
Track & field at Oregon gets 7,500 fans to dual meets. But the big numbers are at the multi-school relays. The Texas Relays and Drake Relays attract 15,000 fans per day, while the Penn Relays had 45,000 fans on the final day and over 100,000 in total.
Hawaii Volleyball The Rainbow Wahine are can’t-miss entertainment in Honolulu. The women’s team has led the nation in attendance for two decades—averaging over 6,800 fans now. Top-ranked volleyball teams all over the country are regularly drawing over 5,000 fans to important games.
Soccer in Portland and Louisville The women’s team in Portland and the men’s team in Louisville lead the nation in attendance, both with over 3,000 fans on average—but the game of the season is always on the coast of California, when UCSB plays Cal Poly in front of 14,000 fans.
Navy Lacrosse pulls in over 3,800 fans per game.
Alabama Softball averages over 3,000 fans. The College Softball World Series sells over 75,000 tickets.
TCU Tennis Over 2,000 fans.
Academics on campus frequently question whether so much money should be spent on college football programs. For the most part, these catcalls from faculty are rhetorical. Should a coach really be the state’s highest-paid employee? Is a state-of- the-art locker room going to help any student study? No need to respond.
But when UC Berkeley professor Michael Anderson and the National Bureau of Economic Research analyzed NCAA win-loss probability ratios to determine performance metrics of all Division I football universities, they discovered the math does not condemn the investment in football. In fact, it’s the other way around. Having a winning program—and every additional win per season, from 5.9 wins per year upward—increases donations to the university by $100,000. It’s not that more alumni give; it’s that the same alumni donate more.
But what’s most surprising is the connection between success on the football field and a college’s academic metrics. Every additional win on the field leads to:
- An increase in applicants, which allows the college to be more selective
- A higher average SAT score for incoming freshmen
- A boost in the school’s “Academic Reputation,” which is a measure based on polling of university presidents around the country
So while football players may or many not succeed in the classroom, winning football games will drive up the academic standard for the student body as a whole.
Per-win increase in university donations over 5.9 wins/year
Pundits will always make the case that college sports won’t last in America—we’ll become like the rest of the world, where athletes develop in sport-specific youth academies and professional minor leagues. Meanwhile, the future of college education is increasingly uncertain in the face of online learning; even Goldman Sachs has warned that the cost of college is becoming unjustifiable, as it takes an average of 10 years post-college to reap the return.
Who are they kidding? Study after study has found convincing evidence that athletic participation at college goes hand in hand with academic progress and career success. So far, the accessibility of online learning has actually increased the demand for spots at four-year colleges. Online learning is simply the gateway, the on-ramp—and the bigger the on-ramp, the rowdier the crowd. Sports are an essential component of college. Both playing for your college team—and rooting for your college team—are highly correlated with long-term satisfaction with the collegiate experience.