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Is Wofford Better than Furman? Is Harvard Better than Yale? Our Football Index

Updated: Mar 15, 2019

With college football heating up and the fall foliage upon us, we thought of adding another list to the mix, namely our “football index.”

The season of college lists is upon us. The Wall Street Journal recently released its list of best colleges. It, for example, asks: “Does the college have sufficient resources to teach me properly? Will I be engaged, and challenged, by my teacher and classmates? Does the college have a good academic reputation? What type of campus community is there? How likely am I to graduate, pay off my loans and get a good job?”

US News and World Report publishes its rankings, which are skewed toward admissions selectivity and yield data prior to starting college.

Money Magazine‘s rankings focus on value. And the government’s College Scorecard offers data on graduation rates and post college salaries .

So with college football heating up and the fall foliage upon us, we thought of adding another list to the mix, namely our “football index.”

[First the disclaimer: Our aim is light-hearted. Just as college counselors advise against using the above rankings as the primary factor, no one should base their college decisions on our football index.]

For some students, the college experience includes Saturday football games. So at which schools will the games be a lively affair? At which schools will the football stadium be a peaceful (outdoor) alternative to the library?

One way to measure football interest is attendance levels. Here the SEC and Big 10 universities come to mind. Michigan, Ohio State, Texas A&M, LSU, Alabama, and Tennessee each averaged in 2015 over 100,000 people per game. After feeling the city of Knoxville rock and seeing the camera shake as the University of Tennessee came back from a 21-0 deficit to defeat its long-time rival Florida, prospective students will certainly feel at home at UT or any of these other large state universities. It is worth noting that Tennessee beats out all other schools on this list, with the team’s ability to bring in 4.7 times the university’s undergraduate population. Go Rocky Top!

But for my football-oriented readers, are you restricted to the traditional powerhouses to feel the vibe? Not necessarily. Indeed, a crowd of 20,000 might seem small for Texas A&M (with over 46,000 undergraduates) but huge for an Ivy League university (with only 5,400 undergraduate students). To take these different sizes into account, we came up with our football index, where we divided the university’s average home football game attendance in 2015 by the size of its undergraduate student body. The higher the index number, the greater the attendance is relative to undergraduate student size. (If the index is one, then attendance equals undergraduate size.)

Our list is skewed to the Ivy League and Patriot League schools, as well as some Division III “Little Ivy” and Southern liberal arts schools. (If your school is not on the list, don’t despair. Just look up its attendance level here and divide by the size of its undergraduate student body, which College Scorecard reports. As our list is incomplete, let us know if you find one that beats UT.)

So football fans, who wins out? Which university attracts more people to its football games (relative to the size of its undergraduate student body)? Harvard or Yale? Amherst or Williams? Furman or Wofford? Lafayette or Lehigh? Bowdoin or Colby?

While the Yale Bowl might seem empty (given its 61,446 seating capacity), Yale still drew 3.75 times its undergraduate student body—topping the other Ivies, with Cornell and Penn in the basement. (Surprisingly, Columbia had a higher index, despite the longer trek to its stadium and perennial losing record.) Amherst and Williams were tied. Lafayette trounced Lehigh. And Bowdoin handily defeated Colby. Wofford’s Terriers drew over four times the size of its student body, defeating not only Furman but several SEC teams.

And for those of you who care less about football at your university, then check out the University of Chicago and MIT (where attendance averaged a paltry 15% and 18%, respectively, of the student body).

We hope you enjoyed this bit of fun. (Let us know, and we’ll revisit it in March for basketball.) Best of luck on your applications process this fall.

Update as of October 6, 10 pm:  Many thanks for the positive comments and additional data. A COL, USA, Ret. pointed out that the service academies have much higher indices than all the other schools listed here.  My father, a Naval pilot, would be proud–Navy beat Army with Navy’s index at 7.16 (average home game attendance of 32,338 and 4,511 undergraduates) just edging out West Point at 7.02 (average home game attendance of 30,991 and 4,414 undergraduates).  Air Force’s index at 6.58 comes in third for the service academies, but is still higher than the SEC schools (average home game attendance of 26,026 and 3,953 undergraduates).  Another individual reminded me to include Vanderbilt– with an index 4.71, beating out Tennessee (Vandy-average home game attendance of 32,134 and 6,818 undergraduates according to the College Scorecard).

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