Colleges Can Get Rich by Losing at Football

Photograph by Rob Carr/Getty Images

It seems like an obvious fundraising formula: Have the winningest college football team. Great games generate college pride, and college pride translates into alumni donations, right?

Not exactly, it turns out. Big wins don’t result in fundraising windfalls, new research shows. Analysts at RuffaloCody, a company that advises colleges on fundraising, looked at what happened when 10 schools with top football squads called alumni after 27 major games. Graduates were more likely to pledge after their beloved team lost, the analysts found.


Of more than 24,000 total calls made to “non-donors,” or people who had never made a contribution to the school, in the fall and winter of 2013, the researchers found that fundraisers got more pledges after a loss than a win, although donations after a win were slightly larger. Win or lose, people gave roughly the same amount following game days as they did the rest of the week.

The findings were based on a small number of losses, the researchers say, since the best teams generally lose only a couple of games each year. But the results suggest that the sport might not boost a school’s ties with alumni as much as it may seem if you judged only by the emotional volatility and sheer number (6.6 million) of homemade “college football pump up” videos on the Internet.

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