Who Pays How Much to Sports in the SEC?

The Chronicle of Higher Education and Huffington Post collaborated on an excellent report, “Sports at Any Cost,” which looks at the high financial cost of sports, particularly to smaller schools trying to hit the so-called “big time.”

How does the SEC stack up?  I took the SEC data from a “College Sports Subsidy Scorecard” page they created and came up with this

Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 5.59.38 AM

A couple of quick comments:

For institutions that do not rely on student fees, the money comes almost 100 percent from institutional funds, so the students would still pay the cost, but indirectly, through higher tuition, for example.

Vanderbilt University is not included, because it is a private institution and not subject to public records law.

LSU has committed itself to transferring $7.2 million/year from athletics to the general fund — the opposite direction of the subsidies portrayed in this article. In July, the university increased the transfer by $3 million for this year, given the funding crisis facing the university.

 

 

May You Always BIRG and Never CORF

The day before the Georgia game, ironically, I delivered the GameDay lecture for the Auburn Office of Communications and Marketing.  My topic was “This Is Loyalty,” and I presented some research on fan behavior, particularly in rivalries.

After the game, I related some of the content — particularly the concepts of BIRGing and CORFing — on Twitter.  The retweets and replies showed interest, perhaps because they sound like gross things that would happen at post-game keg parties.

So after getting a grad student through a tight and chaotic thesis deadline (mission accomplished), I could turn my attention to some of the more fun aspects of academic research on fan loyalty.

We’ll blitz through the basics of social identity theory (finding groups that share our interests give our life balance, blah blah blah) and in-group/out-group conflicts (Robbers Cave experiment, yadda yadda yadda), to get to the more current stuff — disposition theory.

Giving credit where credit is due — and defying the cheap-click rivalry attitude of “professional” journalists — I would point out that two researchers from Alabama, Dolf Zillmann and Jennings Bryant, have done some of the best work on this.  Type them into a Google Scholar search and party hearty.

But before they did the bulk of their research (including a 20-year trend study of the Iron Bowl rivalry), Robert Cialdini of Arizona State came up with the concepts of BIRGing and CORFing.  BIRGing means “Basking In Reflected Glory” and CORFing means “Cutting Off Reflected Failure.”

First, the B word.  This obviously refers to the way in which fans share a certain joy in their team’s victory, even though they might not have directly participated in it.  I know, I know, the coach always says that the crowd helps, but we’re talking about throwing something down besides nachos.

It goes beyond wearing team apparel to the office on Monday (as Toronto Mayor Rob Ford demonstrates in the photo above) or talking about the game around the water cooler.  The winning team’s fans also report an enhanced self-image and more confidence in making decisions.  This is serious stuff! And when your rival team loses, it increases the BIRG.

CORFing is not the opposite, because fans deal with losses in a different but not opposite way.  Rather than hide from it, they blame it on external factors: “The refs were not going to reverse their call even though Murray did not cross the goal line,” or “Robinson was holding on that last pass.” (Yes, the end of the Georgia game produced quite the CORF-fest on both sides at some point.)

That is because losses often do not diminish a fan’s loyalty to the team, but often strengthens their resolve.  Yes, research does show that fans often show less immediate outward support.  But we don’t abandon our in-groups quite that easily — even when the rival team wins and our team loses.  They provide us too much social identity to be dumped that easily.

So after the trash talking and the blog commenting and the flag waving, I hope you BIRG to your heart’s content this weekend. Wear the sweatshirt on Monday. Talk about the game. Feel better about yourself and your decisions.

Unless you cheer for my rival.

Then, as one of the attendees at the aforementioned lecture said, “They can go CORF themselves.”

Nothing like statistically significant smack talk.

 

When God Hated SEC Football

oldfootballThese days, Southern football and evangelical Christianity have forged a strong bond.  But it hasn’t always been that way.

At least, so wrote Andrew Doyle of Winthrop University, in an article he wrote titled, “Foolish and Useless Sport: The Southern Evangelical Crusade Against Intercollegiate Football.”

In fact, the article was published about 15 years ago, in the Fall 1997 issue of theJournal of Sport History.  I came across it while doing some other research, and the topic naturally interested me (as did the mentions of Auburn University).  But keep in mind that basically all of this stuff is his.

The Auburn-Georgia game in February 1892 is considered the first intercollegiate football game in the Deep South.  But the arrival of football did not impress the local clergy.

The Rev. C.L. Chilton, pastor of the First Methodist Church in Auburn, declared that this “foolish and useless sport [was] more properly called a fight.”  He gave an injury report for both teams, but the sprains and broken bones listed were a denunciation of the spectacle.

Chilton, like many church leaders, was concerned that football would overwhelm the academic mission of the Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College, as it was known as the time.  “Here in Auburn, football is the one engrossing theme during the season.  The whole thing is a travesty upon higher education,” he complained.  Even the daily practices were popular: “Learned professors hasten to the scene of the fray,” he said.

Some might argue that football provided exercise to build strong young men, but Chilton was unimpressed: “Any young man can acquire that at home in the useful emoluments of cutting his mother’s yard or driving his father’s plow.”

The Wesleyan Christian Advocate in Georgia joined the criticism that immediately followed the game: “And so the sacred altars, whose incense has been so inspiring to our people in the past, are broken down, and these gods of the sensual and material man have set up their altars instead.”  To the WCA, the game represented “a swing back to Olympic Greece and her barbarian ideals.”

So how could such an outrage happen?  The WCA blamed it on the South’s defeat in the Civil War.  Social degeneration allowed football to find its way onto Southern campuses.  “This new outbreak in the South, in contrast with the sturdy integrity of our past history, is but a natural result of lowering the standard of citizenship and manhood.”

To others, it was another cultural evil brought down from the North whose effects would be felt deeply on the college campuses.  W.P. Fleming, a teacher and Methodist church member writing in the WCA, urged Southerners to resist “the athletic craze [that] is just beginning to take southern colleges … before our higher education will be degraded into what it has already become in some institutions of the North.”

Alabama and Auburn played for the first time the year after Auburn and Georgia.  By 1900, the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Montgomery said the behavior of fans who attended that years game in the state capitol “is such as to startle and shock the community.”  Indeed, the Alabama Christian Advocate described football’s ability to “convert a crowd of students, inflamed with liquor and excited by loyalty to their institution, into a howling mob of toughs, gamblers, and drunkards.”

Even after Auburn stopped playing Alabama, the Tigers continued to travel to Birmingham to play games.  Seeing the students flock to the city’s saloons, the president of the state Women’s Christian Temperance Union asked the Auburn president to stop scheduling games in Birmingham.  Unfortunately for the WCTU, the bigger cities provided bigger ticket sales, so the request was ignored.

As part of the greater debate on the usefulness of sports like football, many pointed to its role in building strong young men imbued with a commitment to teamwork and sacrifice toward a common goal.

But these Southern writers were not buying the “manhood” argument.  The WCA exhorted the universities to “hold the standard of scholarship high, so as to require true manhood to reach after it, and when it is attained, we could feel that we have real men as our sons and not mere prize fighters.”

The ACA complained that the mind was subordinated to the body on campuses that embraced football: “The ideal man is the one that can kick, rather than the one that can think.”

It’s amazing to think that because of the pressure, the University of Georgia trustees banned football shortly after the first Auburn-Georgia game, though they caved to pressure from students and the media a year later.  The University of Alabama restricted the Alabama team to home games.  That restricted football so much that Alabama played only four games overall in 1896 and 1897, and did not field a team at all in 1898.

Eventually, of course, all of this changed.  The evangelical church has come around, and institutionally speaking is one of football’s biggest supporters.  And the University of Alabama even allows its team to play away games (though getting them to the Auburn campus would take a few more decades).