Researchers find academics improve for athletes playing in college football bowl games

(The Center Square) – College football bowl games are known to create publicity for universities, increase donations from alumni and promote tourism for host cities.

Players appear on national television, travel to a new or warm-weather destination and receive recognition items.

But does playing an extra game affect a student-athlete’s academics?

After discovering from their students how much student-athlete data is publicly available, two University of Missouri researchers decided to find out if playing an extra football game affected academic performance.

Bradley Curs and Casandra Harper, associate professors in the College of Education and Human Development, analyzed academic data of players who competed in a bowl game versus those who didn’t from 2003 to 2018.

The study found academic eligibility rates and overall academic progress rate scores were slightly higher for players who competed in a bowl game. The research revealed bowl game participation had no impact on retention rates.

“This gave us a good opportunity to understand how asking these student-athletes to practice a few more weeks at the end of the semester and finals week was going to be positive or negative on their academic success,” Curs said in an interview with The Center Square. “The extra athletic responsibilities the student-athletes take on led to some increased academic benefits.”

The researchers reviewed the rate of continued enrollment for student-athletes during the semester after a bowl game. They analyzed grade-point average and credit-hour requirements to determine how many would be academically eligible to play. They also studied the team’s overall academic progress rate, a combination of retention and eligibility used to track progress toward graduation. NCAA rules require sanctions or penalties if academic progress benchmarks aren’t met.

Curs studies issues involving student access, success, financial aid and other university assistance programs. He said he didn’t receive any funding to conduct the research.

“I had a couple of students with dissertations on student-athletes and academic progress rates, so that’s where I learned the data exists,” Curs said. “The idea came together from being a college football fan and wanting to better understand how programs and policies affect student success.”

Curs said he’s planning another study to see if playing in bowl games leads to net revenue benefits for athletic departments.

“The majority are essentially breaking even through donations, tickets and TV revenues,” Curs said. “They’re not getting huge subsidies from the universities and the universities subsidize them in kind with space and other aspects. But I think our findings show increasing the ask of students to play one more game, which brings in TV and other revenue, wasn’t harming them from an academic standpoint.”

The college football playoffs will expand from its current four-team field to 12 teams during the 2024-25 season. Curs said his research might help administrators create new policies regarding extra games.

“There’s so much talk in college football about extending playoffs, extending seasons, adding extra games and championship games,” Curs said. “Our results show that schools successful enough to play a bowl game, even with the extra athletic responsibilities, there are academic benefits for student-athletes.”

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