Following-up on my last post, it looks like there’s some new info to add to how we look at the academic side of conference realignment, and in particular how realignment impacts admissions. Two doctoral students at UGA have just presented a paper that looks to be the first stab at figuring out just how much switching conferences can impact admissions. The students–Dennis Kramer and Michael Trivette–believe they’ve constructed a formula using public data sets that allows them to quantify how conference realignment can impact admissions. What they found was schools that switch conferences experienced bumps in admissions numbers and test scores, and a slight improvement in admitted students actually enrolling, when compared to institutions that didn’t move (which served as a control group.)
More specific to the current ACC/Big 12 hoopla, Kramer and Trivette note that three years after their staggered entrances into the ACC, Boston College and Virginia Tech had 37% and 16.6% increases in applications, respectively, that were owed to realignment. Further south, TCU’s switch from Conference USA to the Mountain West was deemed responsible for a 50% surge in applications. This indicates that the desirability of enrolling at these schools improved, which the authors speculate is due to increased/displaced media exposure. Of course, what everyone wants to know is what the next switch (real in TCU’s case, potential in VT’s) would bring, though that’s beyond the scope of this work.
The catch in all of this is that there isn’t much way to verify the authors’ methodology. Judging from an article on their work and an included research brief drafted by Kramer and Trivette, it looks like they’re adjusting for the right broad factors, such as athletics success and institutional prestige, though their method is built off another paper that isn’t cited in-depth. I’m not a statistician, but I’m pretty sure the massive upward swings experienced by the three schools mentioned above during the study period would be considerable headaches to adjust for. Also, since it’s a conference paper, the review controls might not be as strict as what you’d find in a journal (I admit this last concern stems from personal observation.)
Still, I’d wager that these results indicate a real trend, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the percentages themselves supported by subsequent research. Don’t let the authors’ student status fool you–doctoral work breaks a lot of new ground, UGA’s higher ed program is well-regarded, and Kramer in particular has a strong background in the field.
Chronicle article on their work: http://chronicle.com/blogs/players/does-switching-athletics-conferences-lead-to-academic-gains/30227
Research Brief (PDF): http://chronicle.com/blogs/players/files/2012/06/AIR_realignment.pdf