Study: When Football Scores Rise, Student Test Scores Fall

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The Oregon Ducks celebrate their victory against the UCLA Bruins during the Pac 12 Championship Game on December 2, 2011

We all knew it, but academics have now proved it: college kids would rather watch sports than study.

A study conducted by three University of Oregon economists, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research this week, tracked the grade point averages of Oregon students between 1999 and 2007. Over that time, the Ducks have had both good and bad football teams, with records ranging from 5-6 to 11-1. As the Associated Press reports:

The bottom line: three extra wins for the Ducks’ football squad in any given year caused a drop in male GPAs that’s about as steep as the one you’d expect if male students had scored 27 points lower on their SATs.

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Further, the research backs up another conventional suspicion: men are more likely to get pumped for the big games — at any cost — than women. The AP says:

On average, men were earning GPAs of 2.94, compared to 3.12 for women. But the more the team won, the more the gap widened; three extra wins amounted to an approximately 8 percent increase in the difference.

Even though female GPAs held steady in better football seasons, the authors believe their academic performance could still have suffered — they may have just benefited from lower male grades bringing down the grading curve for everyone.

Survey data reveals that 24% of Oregon men claim they “definitely” or “probably” studied less when the Ducks were dominating on the field, compared to 9% of women. Almost 50% of men said they partied more, compared to 285 of women.

Oregon parents, beware: the Ducks are 11-2 this season, and playing in the Jan. 2 Rose Bowl against the University of Wisconsin, the sixth-best party school in the nation according to Playboy (in 2010, the Badgers ranked third). For transcripts, this game might be an F-ing disaster. “Our results support the concern that big-time sports are a threat to American higher education,” the researchers  — Jason M. Lindo, Isaac D. Swensen and Glen R. Waddell wrote.

Give the academics credit for giving scientific credence to the “let’s get smashed and watch football” effect on college campuses. What they failed to measure, however, are the psychic benefits of this tradition. Those friendships forged while celebrating the big win, that comraderie, will create memories that last a lifetime — and happiness is the point of life, right? And socially comfortable people tend to become CEOs, or at the very least are team players, in an office environment. Or something like that. Go team!

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