March Madness is coming to its always-riveting and often surprising end, and the impacts of the nation’s best college basketball teams on society are apparent.

While it’s easy to cheer on the athletic prowess of NCAA basketball and football players, it’s easy to forget that they’re students, too. A new paper co-authored by Eccles School Associate Professor and David Eccles Faculty Fellow Brian Cadman looks at the correlation between coach retention and promotion and the academic performance of their players.

The paper, “Academics vs. Athletics: Career Concerns for NCAA Division I Coaches” found that coaches whose teams have a lower academic performance are more likely to get fired than those coaches whose teams have a higher academic performance. However, coaches won’t get promotions based on excellent academic performance of their student-athletes.

“NCAA coaches play an important role at many universities. They are often the most highly paid state employee,” Cadman said. “College athletics is an important component of the fiscal health for many institutions. At the same time, NCAA coaches play an integral role to the academic lives of the student-athletes on their teams. Understanding the labor market for NCAA coaches, and the role of academic progress in that labor market is an important insight.”

The study of NCAA coaches and their players is similar to the relationship between the C-Suite and their companies’ stakeholders.

“Coaching, and in particular college athletics, is an excellent setting for gaining important insights into questions about performance measurement and incentives because, like CEOs of large corporations, college coaches must meet the demands of several types of constituents, including athletes, university presidents, athletic directors and alumni,” Cadman said. “At the same time, the measures of performance are very transparent in some cases — like win-loss records, tournament placings, etc., while in other cases they are very difficult to measure, such as academic and personal growth of the student athletes.”

The research paper, co-authored by Christopher Avery of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Gavin Cassar of INSEAD, builds on Cadman’s previous work, where he looked at the implicit incentives of NCAA football coaches. In that study, he found that coach salaries increased much more after a strong on-field performance rather than explicit clauses in their contracts.

In 2002, the NCAA introduced the Academic Progress Rate (APR) and subsequently imposed a system of escalating penalties to be imposed upon colleges (or specific teams) failing to meet minimum standard APR scores.

“I think the key takeaway from our study is that academic progress rates play an important role in NCAA football and men’s basketball coaches’ career concerns. However, upon meeting a certain threshold, there’s not a strong incentive to increase APRs,” Cadman said. “This might be a good thing, as it’s likely to avoid unintended consequences that might go along with a stronger relation between APRs and coaching pay, such as managing APR.”

A full copy of the paper can be found here.