In the branding wars, is college football better than Nobel Prizes? Stanford professor says yes.
- David F. Labaree, the Lee L. Jacks Professor of Education at Stanford University, wrote for Quartz over the weekend that the key to higher ed's sustainability has been an "ability to combine elite scholarship with populist appeal." And, Labaree argues, college football has been a huge driver of said populist appeal.
- Larabee points out that to attract and retain top researchers on campus, there has to be "a huge number of tuition-paying students." And, he says football and other intercollegiate sports have played a huge role in the branding of the American institution, which has led to more students seeking to enroll.
- Acknowledging that most schools actually lose money fielding a football program, Larabee says the role of the sport in attracting increased public and private support has helped schools with major Division I programs stem the tide of decreasing state appropriations and an increasingly competitive market.
Many in academia have decried the impact of intercollegiate sports, specifically men's basketball and football, within the university landscape. To the chagrin of many researchers and faculty members, athletics gets all of the acclaim and resources, while departments are left scrounging for scraps. But the impact of sports on the collegiate brand can't be ignored. Few think about the University of Alabama without its signature "Roll Tide" tagline, thanks to the success of its college football program.
“Depending on [a school's] level of competition, their athletic budgets and whether athletics is really important to the university as a student enrollment tool versus the athletics programs that are the major revenue drivers,” athletics can be an inseparable part of student life, with many presidents describing it as “the intangible social glue of the university,” said Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics CEO Amy Perko in a recent Education Dive interview.
For institutions with even smaller football programs, the opportunity to leverage athletics as a recruitment and branding tool is hard to pass up. However, in other cases, college leaders are deciding the benefits don't outweigh the cost, and some are looking to eliminate programs. Such was the case at Paul Quinn College in Dallas, where President Michael Sorrell decided the space for the football field was better used as a community farm. When the University of Alabama at Birmingham tried the same thing in 2015, however, the community rallied to save the program, donating unprecedented amounts of money and underscoring the idea that college football programs not only unite the campus community, but they can be one of the biggest fundraising arms an institution has.
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