Study says switching conferences leads to academic gains

As we wind our way through another summer filled with conference realignment drama -- or at least the threat of it (thanks, Florida State) -- it's important to keep in mind that packing up and moving is not all about football. It mostly is, of course, but there are other factors that go into decisions like Texas A&M going to the SEC and Utah to the Pac-12.

One thing you hear all the time during these conversations is, "It's about the academics." It's not -- it's about money. But there's some truth behind every university president citing it during introductory press conferences. To that end, two doctoral students at Georgia decided to find out if there's any truth that changing conferences could lead to academic gains.

The Chronicle of Higher Education obtained the paper and summarized the results:
On average, colleges that moved to a new league saw about a 3-percent decrease in their admit rate (meaning they became more selective) and a 5-percent increase in their admission yield rate (more admitted students enrolled) three years after joining the new conference. The ACT scores of incoming students increased by more than .29 points. And the colleges saw a net gain of about 130 applications per year three years after their moves.
The biggest winners of realignment from 2004-2011? It appears the schools that jumped from the Big East to the ACC such as Boston College and Virginia Tech. TCU, the study noted, also saw gains after leaving Conference USA for the Mountain West after seeing applications jump 50 percent.

Of course, the Horned Frogs going to BCS games and having success on the field might also have something to do with the jump. Increased media exposure and money, the study notes, may be the driving factor behind most of the changes.

“We hope that the results of this study help to bring athletic and academic administrators together to leverage decisions aimed at increasing overall institutional prestige,” one of the authors, Dennis Kramer, said. “The gains in applicants and incoming student quality attributed to athletic conference realignment helps to codify the relationship between athletics and academics.”

So the next time a president talks about making a "100-year decision," it appears they really are talking about academics and not just about football.

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