Academic timing and the relative age effect in CIS football


When organizations implement cut-off dates to define age groups, relative age effects (RAE) often emerge. This results in those born immediately after this date being advantaged while those born later are disadvantaged (Barnsley et al., 1985). Within intercollegiate athletic settings student-athletes often enter university at different ages. Therefore, it is important to consider the impact of academic timing (AT) when studying the RAE within this setting (Dixon et al., 2013). When a student’s actual athletic eligibility year corresponds with her/his projected athletic eligibility year (based on his/her birthdate), s/he is considered to be ‘academically on-time.’ Alternatively, if an individual’s athletic eligibility year corresponds with a younger cohort, s/he is considered to be ‘academically delayed.’ The current investigation examines AT and the RAE in Canadian interuniversity football. The birthdate and athletic eligibility status of male football student-athletes during the Fall 2013 season was collected from eligibility certificates obtained from the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) office (n = 1421). We subdivided our sample to identify those student-athletes who were academically on-time or delayed, and conducted separate analyses on each subsample. Our results revealed no RAE among the overall sample of student-athletes. However, once accounting for AT, we found a significant traditional RAE among the on-time student-athletes (p < 0.01), while no RAE was found among the academically delayed student-athletes. In an interview on 60 Minutes, Malcolm Gladwell discussed the implications of parents delaying their children from commencing kindergarten stating, “if everyone does it then the effect is canceled out” (CBS Interactive, 2012).  As Gladwell has forewarned, if all student-athletes delayed their athletic eligibility, the potential advantages for relatively younger student-athletes are nullified. In fact, it appears that relatively younger student-athletes must delay their eligibility in CIS football by more than one year to even have an equal chance at participating.