Study: When football team wins, academics lose

Study: When football team wins, academics lose »Play Video
Topless Oregon fans cheer during the first half of their NCAA college football game against Stanford in Eugene, Ore., Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012.(AP Photo/Don Ryan)

EUGENE, Ore. - When football Saturday rolls around, it's sometimes hard not to get a little distracted by all the hype.

And when your team is doing well, it can be especially hard to keep your priorities straight.

"As a teacher you can see Thursday games in particular, I'm teaching a class this term, Thursday games, you see less students coming to class," said UO graduate student Isaac Swensen.

Swensen, an economics student and instructor, said the football team provides plenty of distractions.

"The natural next step is thinking does this hype and excitement show up in the classroom? Does it affect student learning?"

He and two professors of economics, Glen Waddell and Jason Lindo, set out on an 8-month research study to find out. It was published in the American Economic Journal of Applied Economics this past October.
They looked at nine years of male and female student grade-point averages from the late 1990s through 2007.

"The variation in football success over this time period ranges from 40 percent winning percentage to upwards of 90 percent," said Swensen.

And what they found was that in years when the football team had a winning season, male students saw a drop in their grade-point averages.

"As the win percentage increases, we see a decline in male relative to female performance," he said. "Three additional wins or 25 percent change in the winning percentage would increase this gap between males and females by approximately 9 percent."

Undergraduates tend to agree with this research, admitting when the Ducks are doing well on the field, they can't think about anything but football.

"I do. I mean when the Ducks do well, it's kinda hard to stay in, it's nice to go out and just you know have fun," said undergrad Matt Tolkin. "My grades definitely go down, not going to lie."

Even though this research found female student grades didn't take a hit, women still get distracted when it's game time.

"I'll be like oh I have an assignment due Saturday night, midnight for a class and I'm like oh I have to go to the game though," said undergrad Chelsea Larson. "So yeah, I would say that it kind of hinders my performance in school."

The bottom line: when it comes to football and school, football often wins.

"Our main takeaway here is that there are costs and benefits associated with collegiate athletics," said Swensen. "And collegiate athletics play an important role on this campus as well as campuses across the nation and that role is not declining, it's only increasing."