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Minutes After Hail Mary, Web Traffic to UTK Admissions Explodes: Was it the Dobbs Effect?

Minutes After Hail Mary, Web Traffic to UTK Admissions Explodes: Was it the Dobbs Effect?

The 5-1 University of Tennessee-Knoxville Volunteers have been the Harry Houdini of college football, narrowly escaping defeat time and time again throughout the first half of the 2016 season. Their luck finally ran out this past Saturday in overtime against Texas A&M, but we’re going to look at their miraculous, last-second victory over Georgia the previous week.

Sure, some people would argue the most exciting thing to happen during that Oct. 1 game was Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs capping a fourth quarter comeback with a Hail Mary touchdown pass as time expired to beat the rival Bulldogs and remain undefeated. But in Captureland, something else exciting was going on. We got to see how the game affects traffic to UTK’s website.

Below is a graph of the visitors to Tennessee’s website on Oct. 1 as well as on Sept. 3, the last Saturday when the Vols didn’t have a football game. Keep in mind, this is www.utk.edu, and does not include the athletics website www.utsports.com. These are people checking out the school, not athletics.

Traffic to utk.edu on game day

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The orange line tells a game day story. As the morning progresses, people start getting excited about the game and browse Tennessee’s website. When the game starts, traffic drops off and keeps dropping off, as the game gets more exciting. From noon to 7 p.m. traffic on the site drops off by 30 percent. Finally, after the dramatic win, visitors start flooding in.

Compare this to the Saturday when UT didn’t have a football game—Sept. 3 (the red line). Some of the same patterns hold. Traffic ramps up throughout the morning, drops by early evening then peaks again around 10 p.m. However, the fluctuations aren’t nearly as dramatic. Traffic increased 40 percent between the low of 7 p.m. and the peak of 10 p.m., compared to a 70 percent increase on game day.

The other major difference is the total volume. On game day, there was four times as much traffic throughout the day and three times as much traffic between 10 and 11 p.m.

Page visits on game day

5-utk-web-traffic-post-2

And look what pages people were viewing after the game—admissions and financial aid, which leads us to …

The “Dobbs Effect?”

In the field of enrollment management, the Flutie Effect refers to the 2-year effect of the famous 1984 Doug Flutie Hail Mary play to beat the vaunted Miami Hurricanes on university applications. Indeed, over the next two years, applications to Boston College increased a reported 30 percent.

The problem with these analyses is that the effect is assumed, utilizing a kind of post hoc ergo propter hoc logic. The increase in applications occurred after gains in exposure from athletic success, therefore it’s conjectured that is was caused by success on the field.

Given that CBE allows for the unique assessment of individual behavior, it is possible to assess the enrollment patterns of students who engage with utk.edu during and immediately after UTK quarterback Dobbs capped another nail-biting game. Instead of conjecture, we can know for certain whether there is such a thing as a Dobbs Effect.

Watch this space.

By Thom Golden, Ph.D., vice president of data science at Capture Higher Ed