David writes:

But don’t delude yourself into thinking that lowering admissions standards for star athletes in order to win more games in order to generate more donations works in any meaningful way. It doesn’t.

To convince us, he exhorts us to “read the literature,” and links to an article by Meer and Rosen that studies the relationship between winning and giving at, what is almost certainly, Princeton.  The authors find that male alumni who played for a team that won its conference gave about 7% more than athlete-alumni who didn’t win it all, and that for women, winning the conference championship didn’t result in any increase in giving. 

Unfortunately for David’s conclusion, the Princeton study didn’t examine whether the members of the championship teams were admitted under materially lower standards than the members of non-championship teams.  But let’s assume they were – in that case I would still agree with David that a 7% increase, from only those male athletes who won it all, is nowhere close to enough to justify lowering my admission standards for athletes with an eye toward raising more money in the future.   Q.E.D., right David?

Not so fast, my friend . . .

If I’m John Malcolm ’86, I’m lining my birdcage with the Princeton study because its irrelevant to me – regardless of whether it’s a sound piece of academic research or not.

I would, however, be inviting the authors of the Midd study to make a presentation to Adam Falk, Dick Nesbitt, and the Trustees.  NOT because the Midd article is a superior research product, (I have no idea whether it is or isn’t) but because they’re on to something – and they may not even realize it:  Coolness!

Now if you are a serious athlete on a team sport, this is true everywhere:

Coolness = NCAA tournament
Coolness ≠ Conference Championship

The big “Ah – ha” in the Midd study is here:   

When we differentiate among several high-profile sports, we find that the football players are less generous than either hockey players or other former athletes; specifically, hockey and other non–football athletes are about 23% more likely to give than those who did not play a sport, whereas football players are only about 9% more likely to give than non-athletes. Although football players give about 13% more than those who did not participate in a sport, hockey players and other athletes can be expected to contribute about 20% more than otherwise similar non-athlete alumni.

The big difference between Midd hockey and football is NCAA postseason play.  NESCAC football players get 8 games in the fall, and that’s it.  Then they torture themselves by reading www.d3football.com every December, aching for the chance to find out if they have they have what it takes to open up a can of Whoop-ass on Mt. Union in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl.  The hockey players go to www.uscho.com and read about themselves – coolness.  

Virtually every NESCAC team, EXCEPT football, is allowed to aim at a national title if it wants to.  It makes perfect sense that Middlebury football players give at lower percentages than virtually all other Middlebury athletes.

To sum up:

The Midd study shows that athletes have lower SATs and get lower grades than their non-athlete classmates, however, they go on to earn more money ($63,139 vs. $60,307 median income), they are 20% more likely to give, and their average gift is higher – a lot higher.  ($431 vs. $204).  And this may be the most important part of all:  The standard deviation of the athletes’ gifts is $11,278, while that for the non-athletes is $4,267.  The only thing I can think of that would explain that last part is that athletes account for a disproportionate amount of the really big gifts.

The Princeton study noted that about 70% of total donations came from just the top 1% of donors.  Then, the authors removed the 1% from further analysis as “outliers” and pretty much stopped thinking about that rather important piece of the puzzle.  Doh!

Advice to John Malcolm:  Pay the $25 for your own copy of the Midd study, (I think Dave’s mom is going to be busy doing pro bono work for Diana and me)  then take the authors out to dinner and find out whatever else they know.

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