Flutie Effect the Real Deal

1206367519Everyone has seen the highlight: Doug Flutie, scrambling madly (and wearing an unfortunate, navel-showing jersey), unleashes a long Hail Marry pass that’s somehow caught for a touchdown as the clock expires. The play ushered B.C. to an improbable victory over Miami back in 1984, and it’s still thought of as one of the best single efforts in college football history.

But in addition to becoming one of the most re-shown highlights ever, the play is credited with creating something called “The Flutie Effect.” To wit: applications at a particular school increase shortly after the college does something unexpected or exceptional in athletics (like throwing a Hail Mary, or winning the national championship).

For a long time, The Flutie Effect was little more than urban legend. Now, a recent study says it’s legit.

Shortly after Flutie threw his memorable pass (on national television), B.C. supposedly saw a spike in its number of applications. But connecting interest in a school to athletic achievement has always relied on anecdotal evidence. Until now.

Two brothers — Jaren Pope (an assistant professor in applied economics at Virginia Tech) and Devin Pope (assistant prof. at UPenn’s prestigious Wharton School) — claim to have found a very real link.

The brothers compared information on freshman classes at 330 NCAA Division I schools with how the schools’ teams fared from 1983 through 2002.

Among their conclusions in a paper that is to be published this year in Southern Economic Journal:

— Schools that make it to the Sweet 16 in the men’s basketball tournament see an average 3 percent boost in applications the following year. The champion is likely to see a 7 to 8 percent increase, but just making the 65-team field will net schools an average 1 percent bump.

— Similarly, applications go up 7 to 8 percent at schools that win the national football championship, and schools that finish in the top 20 have a 2.5 percent gain.

According to the study, the up-tick in applications is even more dramatic for small schools that are off the radar. When George Mason made the Final Four in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament two years ago, its number of applications increased 22 percent.

I wonder, though, what happens when teams fail to meet expectations. Say, when Boston College goes down in abject defeat, do fewer students apply?