By: A.J. Cadamagnani
The recent releases of the Forbes and U.S. News and World Report college rankings have consumers buzzing. A rising senior, proud alumnus or university board member can crunch and spin the numbers in a myriad of ways. However, one potential variable has gone unexplored. What effect, if any, does athletic division have on academic reputation? Are major college athletics a distraction to university academics? Or, can having sports help attract better students?
In the Forbes rankings, Division III schools have by far the best showing. Of the 231 Division III schools ranked, nearly 7% appear in the Top 25, and just above 25 % appear in the Top 100. It is no secret that among other differences, a Division III school spends significantly less money on athletics than say, an FBS (formerly Division 1-A) school. By proportion, the standard expectancy of a school appearing in the top or bottom 100 is 16.4% (given that the entire list constitutes 610 institutions).
FBS schools are underrepresented in the Forbes Top 100 and substantially overrepresented in the Bottom 100. As a whole, member FCS schools (formerly Division 1-AA) out-perform their FBS counterparts in both the Forbes Top 25 and Top 100. But does this daunting title of FBS unfairly umbrella proven academic powerhouses such as Duke and Michigan?
Sixty-two universities have made it to a Men’s Basketball Elite Eight or a BCS Bowl game in the past ten years. They have reached the pinnacle of athletic success and their programs are models for the rest of the country. They are the decade’s titans of major college athletics. How do they perform in the college rankings, one may ask?
We converted the U.S. News National University rankings into three easy categories: Tier 1, schools ranked in the Top 100 (103 schools), Tier 2, those ranking 104-191 (94 schools), and Tier 3, the lowest ranking 65 schools. Of the 62 “best” athletic schools an astonishing 35 fall into Tier 1, 20 to Tier 2, and only 1 in Tier 3 (6 were unranked). For the 62 universities, the average Forbes rank is 274 and 11 cracked the Top 100.
So is it fair to say your school will do better academically with the absence or presence of major college athletics? Probably not. Division III schools perform the strongest across the board, but not the same can be said for Division II colleges. In the Forbes rankings no Division II school makes the top 100. Even worse, 21 of the 55 schools ranked are in the Bottom 100! The major difference in Division II and Division III athletics is funding. Division II schools have a larger budget, longer traveling distances, and can offer prospective student-athletes athletic scholarships. The sixty-two upper-echelon athletic schools however, have demonstrated the ability to maintain and balance athletic superiority and academic excellence.