Study: States With Legalized Marijuana See Enhanced Basketball Recruiting

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Researchers at Georgia College & State University and Kennesaw State University have linked marijuana legalization to significantly better recruitment for college basketball and worse outcomes for football teams.

As reported at marijuanamoment.net, the researchers said there are numerous factors that affect recruitment trends in college athletics, so they tested the relationship between adult-use cannabis policies and talent acquisition.

The study, published last week in the Journal of Sports Economics, looked at recruiting data from 2003 to 2019 and applied difference-in-difference models, finding that marijuana legalization appears to be an “important, but complex, driver of college sports recruiting” that should be taken into consideration by NCAA member schools and conferences.

For college basketball, teams located in a state where cannabis is legal see an average 3.7-slot improvement in recruiting rankings.“

In absolute terms, being located in a state with legal marijuana exerts an effect on recruiting that is 50 percent as strong as having a new coach,” the study says, as reported by Marijuana Moment's Kyle Jaeger.

Conversely, cannabis legalization is associated with poorer recruitment outcomes when it comes to football teams, with recruitment rankings an average 2.9 slots worse for colleges located in legal states compared to “otherwise similar institutions” that haven’t legalized for adult-use.

“Colleges in states with legal recreational marijuana use can expect improved recruiting outcomes in basketball, but reduced recruiting prowess in football,” the authors said. “In both cases, the effects are large, suggesting that interested parties (e.g., coaches, administrators, and fans) of other NCAA sports should consider marijuana laws a potential driver of recruiting effects.”

Because the study didn’t rely on survey data from individual athletes, the authors said any explanations that could be derived from their findings are “merely conjecture,” though they offered a few hypotheses nonetheless.

One theory, according to Jaeger's report, is that the difference in recruitment between football and basketball could be related to the marijuana policies of national professional leagues — the NFL and NBA. While both historically penalized players over cannabis before adoption reforms more recently, “the adverse financial effects of positive tests were generally larger in the NFL.” Also, unlike the NBA, the NFL’s policy meant “one positive test could end a marginal NFL player’s career,” potentially influencing why college football players would be more wary of marijuana.

“Given the NBA’s relatively lax stance on marijuana, it seems feasible that NBA-hopeful prospects may be more willing to use the drug in college, while future NFL players have a greater incentive to steer clear of weed,” the study says. “This could explain why basketball recruiting is improved for colleges in a state with legal recreational marijuana.”

Earlier this year, the NBA and its players union signed a collective bargaining agreement that removes marijuana from the league's banned substances list and lays out rules allowing players to invest in and promote cannabis brands — with certain exceptions.

The NFL’s drug testing policy changed in 2020 as part of a collective bargaining agreement. It stipulates that players will not face the possibility of being suspended from games over positive tests for any drug — not just marijuana.

In September, the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports formally recommended that its divisional governing bodies remove marijuana from the list of banned substances for college sports. "If the reform is adopted, it would build on a policy change that NCAA enacted last year to increase the THS threshold that constitutes a positive test for college athletes from 35 to 150 nanograms per milliliter, aligning the NCAA’s rules with that of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)," Jaeger reported.

The new study also suggested that the disparate impact of legalization on college football and basketball recruitment could also be related to cultural differences, acknowledging the possibility that “the basketball community is generally accepting of marijuana use.”

“Our findings and the NBA’s lax policies may both be manifestations of a culture that deems marijuana,” the researchers say, adding that if past statements about the ubiquity of cannabis use among the league’s executives are true, “college recruits may feel empowered to use the drug in college and may choose to attend a college in a state where recreational use is permitted.”

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