Competitive advantages: What three prestigious private universities do to compete in their elite Division 1A athletics conferences

Mary DiStanislao, University of Pennsylvania


This study explores the strategies that three elite private institutions' athletics departments—Duke, Northwestern and Stanford—employ to compete in their powerful athletics conferences—the ACC, Big Ten, and Pac 10. Each school competes within a conference of larger, mostly state universities with different revenue streams, different demographics for students and fans, and different expectations for performance. Having studied the history and evolution of college athletics at the elite level, and examining the current environmental factors that affect them, the unique approach each department takes to gain competitive advantage and athletics success is examined. The data used are qualitative based largely on interviews with university administrators and bolstered with quantitative information on admissions, graduation rates and budgets. The various strategies were evaluated via a matching process; that is how they use their strengths to capitalize on opportunities and how they shore up their weaknesses to ward off threats. Findings are presented in three cases. They reveal that the universities' athletics programs have relatively similar strengths in prestige and resources, weaknesses in admissions selectivity for athletes, opportunities in their conference membership and threats in the ongoing “arms race” in intercollegiate athletics. Their strategies include components for recruiting and admissions, academic advisement, and revenue generation and resource allocation. The study finds that for these elite schools to compete successfully in their athletics conferences there are three important factors. Goals for athletics excellence must be in alignment with institutional mission. There must be a coherent plan that allows for the maximization of institutional investment. There must be strong leadership in place to move the strategy forward.

Subject Area

Higher education

Recommended Citation

DiStanislao, Mary, "Competitive advantages: What three prestigious private universities do to compete in their elite Division 1A athletics conferences" (2005). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3168019.