Sports and donors

A college’s athletics success has little impact on how much money it raises from alumni and the caliber of students who apply, a new study says.

In cases where sports have a positive effect on giving, the increase is much smaller than colleges anticipate, says the study, commissioned by the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

Many schools believe big sports programs will attract more students through nationally televised games and media exposure, but statistics from 1981 to 2003 show no increase, or small increases, in applicants, the study says.

The cost of college sports is growing and many athletic departments are spending more money than they bring in, says Robert H. Frank, author of the study and professor of management and economics at Cornell University.

“Groups of institutions that compete against each other in sports could jointly agree to cut back on sports spending to abandon the ‘arms race’ without reducing either donations by alumni or applications,” Frank says.

The commission was formed in 1989 by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami.

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