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Football as a Status System in U.S. Higher Education

Mitchell Stevens
Arik Lifschitz
Michael Sauder
American Sociological Association
2014

Sociologists have focused almost exclusively on academic aspects of status in higher education, despite the prominence of nonacademic activities, specifically athletics, in U.S. colleges and universities. We use the case of football to investigate whether intercollegiate sports influence the distribution of status in U.S. higher education. Analyzing data on conference affiliations and other organizational characteristics of 287 schools over time, we find evidence of an athletic status system. Our work expands understanding of status in U.S. higher education, enriches prior explanations for the prominence of football, and generates tractable insights about the ongoing evolution of the intercollegiate conference system.