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The benefits of college athletic success: An application of the propensity score design

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© 2017 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Spending on big-time college athletics is often justified on the grounds that athletic success attracts students and raises donations. We exploit data on bookmaker spreads to estimate the probability of winning each game for college football teams. We then condition on these probabilities using a propensity score design to estimate the effects of winning on donations, applications, and enrollment. The resulting estimates represent causal effects under the assumption that, conditional on bookmaker spreads, winning is uncorrelated with potential outcomes. We find that winning reduces acceptance rates and increases donations, applications, academic reputation, in-state enrollment, and incoming SAT scores.

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