Factors Influencing Competitive Success in the “Big 5” Intercollegiate Athletics Programs

This week’s EXSS Impact post represents the work of Tim Kelly, who is a recent graduate of the Sport Administration masters program.  Tim currently serves as the Assistant Athletic Director for Development at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater.  Many thanks to Tim and his thesis committee for contributing to this week’s post.

Why did you do this study?

big5Our study provides a starting point for athletic departments looking to examine what return on investment they are getting the money and resources invested into their sports. We surveyed all 65 institutions from the “Big 5” conferences, as they have the most at stake with their investments and are not readily comparable with other Division I institutions.

In today’s climate, athletic administrators must be strategic and analytical in their decision-making. With Win AD and other services proving big data solutions, we thought this would be a relevant study. Furthermore, we were interested to see which athletic departments have been the most efficient in the past 5 years. Lastly, we wanted to split the data into groups that could be compared with each other as well, theorizing that you would get different returns based on the specific approach utilized by institutions.

What did you do and what did you find in this study?

The Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act database was used to determine each athletic department’s expenditures. The Learfield Directors’ Cup served as the measure for competitive success. Linear regression of gross expenditures and Directors’ Cup points (aggregated over the past five years) for each institution were initially performed. We then segmented the data into men’s and women’s sport programs; revenue (football and men’s basketball) and non-revenue sport programs; and narrow (18 or less sport programs), neutral (between 19-22), and broad (23+) based focus institutions. Linear regressions were also run for each of these subgroups.

roiOur findings indicate that athletic department’s expenditure had a direct effect on competitive success. Specifically, 45.5% of the variability in Director’s Cup points (competitive success measure) could be explained by total expenditures. Directors’ cup points came out to about $100,000 per point when looking at the entire picture. Women’s sport program and non-revenue sport program reported more “bang-for-your-buck” then their counterparts, meaning that points are more expensive to acquire in revenue and men’s sport programs. Overall there was no greater efficiency to focus on fewer sport programs (narrowly-focused) as opposed to neutral or broadly-based.

How do these findings impact the public?

This study has the potential to guide athletic administrators who are deciding where and how allocate resources. In addition, these findings may provide valuable information when looking to cut or add a sport. The data also serve a barometer and benchmark for the success of the athletic departments studied.

We believe these findings show potential for future research investigating new subsets for a more specific understanding of return on investment and efficiency in intercollegiate athletics. Similar research will continue to inform the decisions of athletic administrators and eventually provide better experiences for student-athletes.