Measuring Geographic Pull Power: A Case Study of U.S. College Athletic Teams

Clio Andris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Institutions such as firms, universities, and governments drive migration. Yet we know little about the different “pull powers” of institutions; that is, their ability to draw new members from distant and diverse locales. In this case study, we examine various pull power statistics of institutions of higher education as they draw student-athletes to their campuses. We collected data on nearly 160,000 student-athletes from more than 1,600 university team rosters at 128 schools over various years. Because roster records include hometowns, we use these data to quantify the distances and variety of hometowns from which universities attract students. We use descriptive statistics such as the mean distance traveled, count of unique hometowns, percentage of international student-athletes, and a new distance decay “apex” method to rank schools by their pull power. Results show that western U.S. and private schools tend to pull students from more distant and diverse locales, although many exceptions exist. Results also show that certain sports are likely to furnish more international than domestic students and that teams create pipelines that source multiple athletes from a single country. Finally, pull power is not found to correlate with endowment and athletic expenditure statistics. This analysis provides a fresh perspective on the movement of student-athletes, modern-day chain migration, and the value of institutions in catalyzing migration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)476-490
Number of pages15
JournalProfessional Geographer
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 3 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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