Does success on the football field lead students to fail in the classroom?

It was about 7:30 p.m. on Thursday. My roommate Alex and I were laying around on the couch watching the second half of the Duck game, 43-7.

“Well this is boring, what do you want to do now?” I said to him lazily through a full mouth of Papa John’s pizza.

“I dunno,” he retorted, while flipping the channel from the Duck game to the Seahawks game to “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”. “Want to get some beers?”

This interaction — similar to many I’ve had this football season — was revealed to be a continuing trend in University of Oregon students over the past 10 years.

Last year, UO professors of economics Glen Waddell@@[email protected]@ and Jason Lindo,@@[email protected]@ along with graduate student Isaac Swensen,@@[email protected]@ completed research into the effect of big-time athletics success and academic achievement. The results of that study, published this month in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, found that there is a correlation between a college football team’s success and the grade point averages of male students during fall term.

Waddell and his team started by collecting roughly 10 years of data on undergraduate grade averages and Oregon football performance. They used the gender gap — the disparity in performance between males and females — to compare winning percentages to average grade points. The chart they compiled shows that in years where win percentages are higher, the gender gap grows, and in years where win percentages are lower, the gender gap shrinks.

The chart shows the gender gap was largest in 2005, when male students grade averages were -0.2 points to female students with a 10-1 season in which the Ducks’ only loss was to the undefeated USC Trojans.

The gender gap was smallest in 2002 with male students only [email protected]@this is a larger number than the one in the previous graf; I called sam and got his [email protected]@ to female students in a 7-6 season capped off by a loss to Wake Forest in the Seattle Bowl.

In order to fill in some of the fuzzy details of why  this trend in grades exists, Waddell and his co-researchers used a questionnaire to study the game-day habits of undergraduate students, including partying and alcohol consumption.

“We get these suggested mechanism because the male student population is much more responsive to winning in terms of partying, drinking and skipping class,” Waddell said. “This is entirely consistent with the relative decline in grades in the male population.”

Swenson said that his position here at the UO made the research more interesting than a regular economic study from which he’s removed from the data.

“I’m a student, I’m interested in football and sometimes, I myself forgo studying because of the hype and success of the football team, so that it’s an interesting perspective,” Swenson said. “But I’m also a GTF so I get to see the classroom effect, like on Thursday games, relatively how many people show up to my class.”

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Sam Stites

Sam Stites