Nostalgia for University Traditions Increases Alumni Donations

Nostalgia for University Traditions Increases Alumni Donations Nostalgia for University Traditions Increases Alumni Donations

November 30, 20202 min read

“Something that’s really bizarre about American education is that a lot of the alumni connection to their university is through their sports teams,” said Dr. David Berri, professor of economics at Southern Utah University. “It’s supposed to be an educational institution, not a sports team. So it’s really bizarre that you take away the sports and you take away the alumni connection.”

This rings true for Paul Marino, CC ’74, a former member of the baseball and football teams. Before the pandemic, Marino bought tickets to attend Columbia men’s basketball games as a way to support the University—something he has been doing for almost 50 years since his graduation.

“I played football here and we had some tough years,” Marino said in an interview back in February. “It sounds corny, but it is my alma mater and I like to support the school in any way I can.”

Berri noted that for many students, the connection to a university stems from a football team rather than the academics. First-year students often have little face-to-face interaction with professors in their introductory classes. While students may be one of thousands in the stands, positive memories at games and the camaraderie surrounding them provide the students with a personalized connection.

“So what people are realizing is that the educational experience isn’t actually that good,” Dr. Berri said. “However, the students keep coming to these institutions because they get to go to the football game. Your first-year history class is going to be awful. But what about that football? … The key thing is emotional attachments—that’s what brings the students to campus and what keeps the alumni connected.”

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Dr. Berri has spent the last two decades researching sports and economics, while publishing works on a variety of topics including the evaluation of players and coaches, competitive balance, the drafting of players, labor disputes, the NCAA, and gender issues in sports. 

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  • David Berri
    David Berri Professor of Economics

    Specializing in evaluations of players and coaches in sports, gender issues in sports, and competitive balance in sports

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