College Football as a Recruiting Tool

It’s not what you think.  From today’s Washington Post, an article documenting a trend where small private colleges in the US are adding football programs to increase their enrollment of male students.  The overall ratio of female students to male students in US institutions of higher education is about 58%-42%, with a larger imbalance of females at smaller colleges.  What to do?  Start a football program.

At Stevenson College (nee Villa Julie College) in suburban Baltimore, the new football team increased the male share of the incoming class from 34% to 39%.  What are the financial implications?

Stevenson spent $500,000 this year to create an intercollegiate team from scratch, largely as a means to fill the campus with tuition-paying men.

And the new Stevenson Mustangs collectively pay nearly $3 million in tuition and fees, more than enough to cover the program’s annual operating cost, university leaders say. A $6 million, 3,500-seat stadium will be built with tax-exempt bonds to benefit both male and female sports teams.

Football is a profit center at small private universities.  Clearly no scale economies exist in this market, as programs at large universities appear to generate deficits.  Another interesting issue raised in the article is that many more male students want to play college football than the available roster spots.

Across the nation, there is pent-up demand for the pigskin. When Shenandoah (a small private college in Virginia) leaders studied the market before adding football in 2000, they found that more than half the boys playing football at Virginia high schools wanted to continue playing in college but that Virginia universities had enough football teams to accommodate only 2 percent of them.

And the 98% who cannot be accommodated are willing to pay a premium for the opportunity to play college football, relative to the tuition they would pay at a public college with no opportunity to play football.  What market failures exist that keep the supply of college football roster spots so far below demand?

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