The Ivy Coach Daily

March 7, 2011

College Admissions and March Madness

Harvard Basketball, Harvard Athletics, Ivy League Title
Harvard University has won at least a share of the Ivy League title this year (photo credit: Chensiyuan).

It’s that time of year again, the time of year when you print out your NCAA Tourney bracket, read Dick Vitale’s predictions on ESPN, and then fill in your own projections for the universities you think will advance to the Sweet 16 and beyond. In the Ivy League, for the first time in the school’s long history, Harvard University has won at least a share of the Ivy League title. Should Princeton University fall to the University of Pennsylvania in their last regular season game, Harvard will secure an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Should Princeton beat UPenn, Harvard and Princeton will compete in a playoff to determine the league’s representative to the NCAA Tournament.

March Madness Runs Impact College Admissions

But beyond the hoopla and excitement of March Madness, how does this tournament impact the universities that manage to qualify for The Big Dance? The fact is that at many universities, including at highly selective schools like Duke University, Stanford University, and UPenn, the school’s run in the NCAA Tournament can have a significant impact on the admissions process. Yes, if you’re applying to Duke next year, it may well be in your best interest to root against the Blue Devils so you can have a better chance of admission. Heresy, you might suggest? It doesn’t mean you have to become a Carolina fan. And the fact is, if you’re admitted the following year, you can root on Duke as a Cameron Crazy for each of the next four years and for every year for the rest of your life.

When Teams Advance in March Madness, Look for Increased Applications the Following Year

Let’s take a look at the statistics. Historically, universities that qualify for the Sweet 16 increase their applicant pools by an average of 3% the subsequent year. A school that wins the tournament tends to increase next year’s applicant pool by an average of 7-8%, according to a Virginia Tech researcher. Do you happen to remember mid-major George Mason University’s Cinderella run to the Final Four back in 2006, which included upsets of powerhouses Michigan State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of Connecticut? In the following admissions cycle, George Mason’s applicant pool increased by 20%.

A Look at the Numbers in the Wake of March Madness Runs

In a research paper entitled, “The Impact of College Sports Success on the Quantity and Quality of Student Applications,” author Devin Pope of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and Jaren Pope of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute found, “Empirical studies have produced mixed results on the relationship between a school’s sports success and the quantity and quality of students that apply to the school. This study uses two unique datasets to shed additional light on the indirect benefits that sports success provides to NCAA Division I schools…Key findings include: (i) football and basketball success significantly increase the quantity of applications to a school, with estimates ranging from 2-8% for the top 20 football schools and the top 16 basketball schools each year, (ii) private schools see increases in application rates after sports success that are 2-4 times higher than public schools, (iii) the extra applications received are composed of both low and high SAT scoring students thus providing potential for schools to improve their admission outcomes, and (iv) schools appear to exploit these increases in applications by improving both the number and the quality of incoming students.” So, yes, our nation’s elite colleges care deeply about making it to the Big Dance and, once there, dancing on!

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