March Madness and Revisiting Our Conversation About Athletics and Academics

So, a month or two ago, I wrote a blog post about fundraising for Athletics vs. Academics.  Well, now that NCAA brackets are being busted around the country, I think we can revisit this conversation, but instead of fundraising, let’s talk about recruitment of students.

A great article in the Chronicle of Higher Education last week highlighted this University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) taking advantage of their surprise win in the NCAA Tournament to try to attract students to the school.  The effect of an increase in applications resulting from visibility for a sports program has been described in the past as The Flutie Effect. The Flutie Effect seems to support the idea that, in addition to raising money, athletics can also serve to bring visibility to schools to help recruit students. I am left to question whether this is any more or less ethical than fundraising.  In my opinion, this is more ethical than the fundraising example discussed earlier.

In using athletics as a recruitment technique, universities are not attempting to recruit just athletes, but instead are looking to recruit students.  With fundraising, money raised for athletics is only for athletics, it is highly focused on support for those sports programs. So although I still take issue with athletics fundraising at the expense of fundraising for academics, I do see taking advantage of the brand recognition and success of athletics programs to bring attention to a university as a whole.  Can we “have this cake and eat it too” though? Can we push for fundraising that benefits only academics, but then use those same programs to tout our institution to potential students?