Are College Students 'Bowling Alone?' Examining the Contribution of Team Identification to the Social Capital of College Students

Article excerpt

While college sport can impact a campus' sense of community (Clopton, 2007), no empirical research has established a connection with college sport and social capital, an increasingly researched social phenomenon defined as the sum of trust and reciprocating relationships amongst members of a community (Putnam, 2000). Thus, social activities--such as direct and indirect sport participation--that increase social connectedness possess the ability to generate social capital. Using social identity theory (Tajfel, 1978), along with the Team Identification-Social Psychological Health Model (Wann, 2006a), data were collected from randomly-selected college students (N=1252) across 21 NCAA BCS institutions. Results indicated that the extent to which the respondents identified with their school's athletics teams (i.e., team identity) did impact their perceived level of social capital on campus ([beta] =.28, p<.001). Further, both gender ([beta] =.07, p<.05) and race ([beta] =.05, p<.05) were significant in predicting social capital through fan identification. Numerous implications stem from the findings, including how higher education utilizes athletics within the campus culture. Moreover, the current results bring to light the maintenance of social identities of students on a college campus and their alignment with the overall mission of higher education.

Intercollegiate athletics have long been associated with an array of benefits for the colleges and universities that maintain them. In addition to the myriad literature examining the impact of athletics upon monetary donations (see Goff, 2000 for overview), big-time intercollegiate success has been linked with such aspects as academic prestige (Lucas & Lovaglia, 2005), admission applications (e.g. Toma & Cross, 1998), graduation rates (Tucker, 1992), and sense of community (Clopton, 2007, 2008a). In fact, a positive relationship exists between the presence of athletics on campus and the perceived sense of community on campus, a relationship that is moderated by both gender and an institution's BCS-status (Clopton, 2007). However, the personal connection of each respondent to the athletics program, as a fan or athlete, has not been utilized in the analysis. This personal connection lies at the heart of community studies. The idea of being able to connect students on the periphery and tie them into the campus environment is a prominent justification behind the impetus to fund intercollegiate athletics at the highest of levels (Toma, 1999). More importantly, this potential connection of college sport and community offers a potential reiteration of Chalip (2006) who suggested that sports teams could potentially help develop a sense of community among followers, a notion also supported by the Warm (2006a) theoretical framework suggesting that identifying with a team exists as a potential avenue to improving social psychological health.

The notion of these personal connections also forms the foundation of the idea of social capital. In fact, an increasingly-researched area but still slightly-ambiguous sociological phenomenon, social capital is generally accepted as consisting of networks of relationships based on trust, norms of reciprocity, mutual obligation, and cooperation (Coleman, 1988; Putnam, 2000). Accordingly, then, a menagerie of the community-based literature exhibits a strong correlation between community and social capital (e.g. Colclough & Sitaraman, 2005), with the elements of trust and reciprocating social networks maintaining the distinction between the two. Trust is based on common experiences that have forged strong bonds and attachments among members. Colclough & Sitaraman also noted that trust is predicated upon the shared sense of belonging to a larger social group, such as business organizations, churches, political parties, or even colleges and universities. The social networks are often focused on meeting specific immediate goals, like finding a job, surviving in a new society, improving a neighborhood/community, even matriculating through college and earning a degree. …