The Flutie Effect or Flutie Factor refers to the phenomenon of having a successful college sports team increase the exposure and prominence of a university. This is named after Boston College's Doug Flutie, whose successful Hail Mary pass in the 1984 game against the University of Miami clinched a win which allegedly played a large role in the increase in applications to Boston College the following year.
Flutie Effect at Boston College
Writing in the Spring 2003 edition of the Boston College Magazine, Bill McDonald, director of communications at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education determined that “Applications to BC did surge 16 percent in 1984 (from 12,414 to 14,398), and then another 12 percent (to 16,163) in 1985. But these jumps were not anomalous for BC, which in the previous decade had embarked on a program to build national enrollment using market research, a network of alumni volunteers, strategically allocated financial aid, and improvements to residence halls and academic facilities.” He also observed that “in 1997, one year after revelations about gambling resulted in a coach’s resignation, 13 student-athlete suspensions, an investigation by the NCAA, and hundreds of embarrassing media reports, applications for admission came in at 16,455, virtually unchanged from the previous year. Two years later, when applications jumped by a record 17 percent to 19,746, the surge followed a 4-7 year for football.” Going further back in history, he reported that applications had increased 9 percent in 1978, a year when BC football had its worst year ever, with a 0-11 record.
Mr. McDonald posed the question “How does an idea like the 'Flutie factor' become sufficiently rooted that The New York Times cites it as a given without further comment and some universities invest millions of dollars in its enchanting possibilities?” He was provided with an answer by Barbara Wallraff, author of the “Word Court” column in The Atlantic Monthly: “It’s painful to fact-check everything. Media will often reprint what has been published, especially when it appears in reputable publications. ‘Flutie factor’ is a short, alliterative way to describe something that is complicated to explain. But what makes a good term is not always the literal truth.”
According to a 2009 study, applications to a university that had its men's basketball team play in the first round of the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament rose by an average of 1% the following year. Teams with greater success saw larger rises; tournament winners typically saw applications increase by 7 to 8%. As most schools did not raise enrollment after participating in the tournament, the greater number of applications caused them to be more selective in their admissions.
One alleged "Flutie Effect", this one related to men's basketball, occurred at Gonzaga University at the turn of the 21st century. In the mid-1990s, freshman enrollment hovered around 500 students annually, including a total of 569 as late as 1998. During that school year, Gonzaga made an unexpected run to the Elite Eight of the 1999 NCAA Tournament, and freshman enrollment jumped to 701 that August. The Bulldogs won two games in each of the next two NCAA Tournaments, as freshman enrollment increased to 796 in 2000 and to a record 979 in 2001. In 2004, Rev. Robert Spitzer, then Gonzaga University president, said that the team's success was responsible for the school receiving the $23 million required to build the Bulldogs' current basketball home of McCarthey Athletic Center, most of which was received through major gifts.
Another school alleged to have experienced the "Flutie Effect" was George Mason University, following their 2005–06 basketball team's advancement to the "Final Four" of the 2006 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament as an 11th seed.
Appalachian State University had a "Flutie Effect" after winning multiple Division I FCS championships and upsetting Michigan with Armanti Edwards as their quarterback. Five years after the Michigan game, CBSSports.com writer Dennis Dodd claimed that it was "tied directly to a 17 percent increase in applicants, a 24 percent boost in attendance and a 73 percent rise in licensing royalties."
Boise State University experienced an effect similar to the "Flutie Effect" after their 43-42 overtime victory over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. The game capped an undefeated season and a top-5 finish by Boise State, a team not considered to be a traditional football power. Online inquiries about the school increased 135 percent, and graduate school application inquiries increased tenfold. Boise State also enrolled over 19,000 students the next fall, an all-time high.
Another school that was reported to have experienced a similar "Flutie Effect" as a result of a basketball accomplishment was the University of Northern Iowa. In the 2010 NCAA Tournament, the Panthers sprung an upset of top-ranked Kansas. The game and the national exposure that went with it led to massive increases in donations, website traffic, and e-commerce for the athletic department, and a 30 percent increase in calls to UNI's admissions office on the Monday after the upset.
Two studies estimated that television, print, and online news coverage of Butler University's men's basketball team's 2010 and 2011 appearances in the NCAA tournament championship game resulted in additional publicity for the university worth about $1.2 billion. In an example of the "Flutie Effect", applications rose by 41% after the 2010 appearance.
Beginning in the early-2000s, the University of Oregon experienced a massive increase in incoming freshman applications and merchandise sales mainly due to the massive success of the Oregon Ducks football team and other athletic teams. The Ducks football team has experienced exponential success since the early-2000s, consistently being ranked in the top 25 national polls, winning multiple Pac-12 Conference championships, appearing in several Bowl Championship Series Bowl games, and participating in two National Championship games. They are currently regarded as one of the premier college football programs in the country and are annually considered a national championship contender. Furthermore, the rise to prominence of Heisman Trophy winner, Marcus Mariota, led to an increase in incoming freshman applications and merchandise sales at the school. The school also benefited from a drastic overhaul of the entire athletic department's uniforms and sports apparel, which was spearheaded by sports apparel and equipment manufacturer, Nike. Nike's headquarters are located in Oregon and company founders, Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman, are alumnus of the University of Oregon. The appearance, design, and quality of the Nike athletic apparel and equipment at Oregon is regarded as one of the most appealing, popular, and unique merchandise concepts in college athletics. Additionally, the construction of multiple state-of-the-art athletic training and performance facilities on campus has drastically increased campus appeal to top-notch athletic prospects and recruits, as well as incoming student applicants.
Baylor University reported a drastic increase in student applications after Robert Griffin III won the Heisman Trophy in 2011 and led the Bears football team to their best record in over 30 years. The Bears' football team has had continued success throughout the 2010s, winning two Big 12 Conference championships and participating in two Bowl Championship Series Bowl games. Led by head coach Art Briles, Baylor's football program has developed into one of the premier college football programs in the country. Due to the massive surge in student applications, school enrollment, and merchandise and apparel sales, Baylor drastically overhauled and refurbished the school's athletic facilities, including the construction and opening of McLane Stadium in 2014, which cost approximately $266 million to complete.
Yet another "Flutie Effect" from men's basketball was experienced by Virginia Commonwealth University following the Rams' Final Four run in the 2011 NCAA Tournament. The Rams basketball team, after receiving a play-in seed in the tournament, went on a legendary run defeating powerhouses Georgetown and number 1 seed Kansas, before losing to Butler in the final four. The school saw a 20% increase in applications after their 2011 appearance.
Florida Gulf Coast
Following the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles' Sweet Sixteen run in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, sales of men's basketball-related merchandise increased more than 20-fold over the previous year, and in 2014 the total number of applications to the school increased by 36% over 2013, and out-of-state applications increased 41%
During the early 2010s, Texas A&M experienced an increase in incoming freshman applications and merchandise sales due mainly to the rise to national prominence and mainstream success of the Texas A&M Aggies football team. The Aggies were was led by breakout freshman quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel. The Aggies finished with an 11-2 record and a #5 national ranking during the 2012 season, and a 9-4 record and #18 national record during the 2013 season. According to a study, Manziel was worth over $37 million in media exposure and merchandise sales and the school bookstore had sold out all 2,500 of their replica Aggies jerseys.
- Economist blog article on Flutie effect
- LA Times article on Flutie effect
- Westword article
- BC article on effect
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- 'Flutie Effect' study shows success on fields and courts really does mean more applications - Yahoo! Sports
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