College football bowl games may get players to keep grades up

Rather than a hindrance to academic success. the opportunity to play in a postseason tournament football game on national television may nudge student athletes to keep their grades up and remain academically eligible.(Credit: Getty Images)

Participating in postseason college football bowl games may slightly improve players’ academic outcomes, a new study shows.

The findings run counter to speculation that participating in a bowl game may negatively affect the academic outcomes for college football players during the end of the busy fall semester.

In the midst of a rapidly changing college football landscape and an impending expansion of the College Football Playoff by 2026, the findings suggest the opportunity to play in a postseason game may nudge student athletes to remain academically eligible rather than a hindrance to academic success.

For the study, Bradley Curs and Casandra Harper, associate professors in the University of Missouri College of Education and Human Development, compared academic data for the student athletes of college football teams who competed in a postseason bowl with those who did not from 2003 to 2018.

Curs analyzed three academic categories for the student athletes of 130 college football teams included in the study: retention rates, which indicate if student athletes return to their institutions for the following semester; eligibility rates, which indicate if student athletes meet grade point average (GPA) and credit-hour requirements to remain academically eligible to play collegiate athletics; and the teams’ overall Academic Progress Rate, which combines retention and eligibility rates of college football players to track their progress toward graduation.

Universities may be sanctioned with probation or penalties if certain Academic Progress Rate benchmark requirements are not met.

While Curs found the bowl game had no impact on retention rates, both academic eligibility rates and overall Academic Progress Rate scores were slightly higher among football players who competed in a bowl game.

“On one hand, you might think all the extra practices and travel around final exams might serve as a potential distraction, but the research seems to suggest some positive academic benefits of the players continuing to be around their teammates, coaches, and academic advisors within the athletic department,” Curs says.

“Maintaining the structure that comes with daily routines on campus throughout the season can be potentially helpful academically compared to leaving campus around final examinations and not having as much social support or structure at home.”

The bowl game itself may also serve as a potentially motivating factor, Curs says.

“There are many incentives to the players for competing in the bowl games, including prizes and cash, maybe the chance to travel to a new city that many of the players have never visited before, and the exposure of playing on national television,” Curs says.

“These opportunities may motivate players to finish off the academic semester strong so they remain eligible and can enjoy playing one last game with their teammates.”

The findings may alleviate concerns from university administrators or athletic departments that participating in bowl games may negatively affect the academic performance of the student athletes, Curs says.

“I am passionate about student success outcomes and this research is important to better understand whether certain policies or programs will hurt or help student academic outcomes in higher education,” Curs says.

“In the midst of discussions from university administrators, policymakers, and athletic conference commissioners regarding possible expansions of the College Football Playoff, these findings can be useful when universities are considering the benefits of postseason competition.”

The study appears in the journal Research in Higher Education.

Source: University of Missouri