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Are college students 'bowling alone?' Examining the contribution of team identification to the social capital of college students.

While college sport can impact a campus' sense of community (Clopton, 2007), no empirical research has established a connection with college sport and social capital, an increasingly researched social phenomenon defined as the sum of trust and reciprocating relationships amongst members of a community (Putnam, 2000). Thus, social activities--such as direct and indirect sport participation--that increase social connectedness possess the ability to generate social capital. Using social identity theory (Tajfel, 1978), along with the Team Identification-Social Psychological Health Model (Wann, 2006a), data were collected from randomly-selected college students (N=1252) across 21 NCAA BCS institutions. Results indicated that the extent to which the respondents identified with their school's athletics teams (i.e., team identity) did impact their perceived level of social capital on campus ([beta] =.28, p<.001). Further, both gender ([beta] =.07, p<.05) and race ([beta] =.05, p<.05) were significant in predicting social capital through fan identification. Numerous implications stem from the findings, including how higher education utilizes athletics within the campus culture. Moreover, the current results bring to light the maintenance of social identities of students on a college campus and their alignment with the overall mission of higher education.

Intercollegiate athletics have long been associated with an array of benefits for the colleges and universities that maintain them. In addition to the myriad literature examining the impact of athletics upon monetary donations (see Goff, 2000 for overview), big-time intercollegiate success has been linked with such aspects as academic prestige (Lucas & Lovaglia, 2005), admission applications (e.g. Toma & Cross, 1998), graduation rates (Tucker, 1992), and sense of community (Clopton, 2007, 2008a). In fact, a positive relationship exists between the presence of athletics on campus and the perceived sense of community on campus, a relationship that is moderated by both gender and an institution's BCS-status (Clopton, 2007). However, the personal connection of each respondent to the athletics program, as a fan or athlete, has not been utilized in the analysis. This personal connection lies at the heart of community studies. The idea of being able to connect students on the periphery and tie them into the campus environment is a prominent justification behind the impetus to fund intercollegiate athletics at the highest of levels (Toma, 1999). More importantly, this potential connection of college sport and community offers a potential reiteration of Chalip (2006) who suggested that sports teams could potentially help develop a sense of community among followers, a notion also supported by the Warm (2006a) theoretical framework suggesting that identifying with a team exists as a potential avenue to improving social psychological health.

The notion of these personal connections also forms the foundation of the idea of social capital. In fact, an increasingly-researched area but still slightly-ambiguous sociological phenomenon, social capital is generally accepted as consisting of networks of relationships based on trust, norms of reciprocity, mutual obligation, and cooperation (Coleman, 1988; Putnam, 2000). Accordingly, then, a menagerie of the community-based literature exhibits a strong correlation between community and social capital (e.g. Colclough & Sitaraman, 2005), with the elements of trust and reciprocating social networks maintaining the distinction between the two. Trust is based on common experiences that have forged strong bonds and attachments among members. Colclough & Sitaraman also noted that trust is predicated upon the shared sense of belonging to a larger social group, such as business organizations, churches, political parties, or even colleges and universities. The social networks are often focused on meeting specific immediate goals, like finding a job, surviving in a new society, improving a neighborhood/community, even matriculating through college and earning a degree. These networks express a rational, utilitarian side of human relations where networks activate to accomplish specific tasks and trust is generated according to people's ability to contribute (Coclough & Sitaraman). As society becomes increasingly consumed with materialism and frenetic-paced lifestyles, the need for social capital generation is becoming of the utmost imperative for the survival of a community or society, penetrating nearly every dimension of life (Putnam, 2000).

While contested in other terrains of literature, social capital is still a largely-unexplored phenomenon in the sport management literature, and, even more so, in higher education--two areas of life that involve ample opportunities for communities and social capital generation. Social capital is seen in work on sport and communitarianism (Jarvie, 2003), social class and sports involvement (Wilson, 2002), and sport and social exclusion (Stemple, 2006). The idea of social capital within intercollegiate athletics is not void, however. Utilizing ideas such as social networks and community, sport management literature has touched on similar notions connected to big-time college sport (Clopton, 2007, 2008a; Toma, 2003; Wann, 2006a; Wann & Polk, 2007). Using anecdotal research on high-profile college sports programs, Toma (2003) examined the ability of college sport to integrate members of the college community, from students to faculty to alumni, and more. Recent work has examined the idea of social capital within fan communities, the most widely-available avenue for sport team connection (Heere & James, 2007; Palmer & Thompson, 2007). Still, a dearth of literature exists examining the social capital creation and maintenance that occurs within big-time college athletics. Included in the benefits from social capital and community involvement, is the idea of community and social integration, a topic salient to higher education literature as it contributes to improved student persistence rates (Rendon, 1994; Tinto, 2000) and higher student satisfaction (Bean & Bradley, 1986). Thus, this research study sought to build upon the potential of sport's communal benefits (e.g. Chalip, 2006; Heere & James, 2007; Warm, 2006a) and examine the extent to which the presence of big-time athletics on campus contributed to the student social capital of that university through overall team identification.

Social Capital

The historical roots of social capital are widespread, yet the modern discussion of this phenomenon centers around three main theorists and their interpretation of social capital. Bourdieu (1997) built up social capital in terms of both economic and social qualities, describing it as those resources--often tangible--that are derived from relationships. It is these resources that lead to class inequality, thus, social capital existing as a product by, and for, the upper class--all along perpetuating their elite existence (Field, 2003). The importance of the use of Bordieu's interpretation of social capital in research revolves around his insistence on the presence of social class within the discourse of social capital and social networks. It is this inclusion of class that impacts the questions that come from social capital research.

Beyond Bordieu, Coleman (1988) advances the use of social capital as a community resource that is less tinged by social class. It is this more-neutral creation of social capital amongst community members that has focused research emphases on social structure and relationships--all of which provide significant impact upon social capital construction. It is here, also, that social capital is viewed as more of a product of personal choice and action (Coleman, 1988), and thus, the saliency of a social structure that influences relationships and action is elevated in the pursuit of social capital discourse. It is through this structure that, Coleman suggests, exist three forms of social capital. These include obligations, expectations, and trustworthiness of structures; information channels; and norms and effective sanctions (Johnston & Percy-Smith, 2003). Each of these forms of social capital reiterates the salience of the social structure in a community and, further yet, the relationship and social networks derived from these communities.

A third observation of social capital comes from the aforementioned Putnam (2000) who, like Coleman, depicted social capital as a mostly-neutral resource that is derived from, and belongs to, collective structures such as communities. However, Putnam established social capital based more upon the quality of social networks and individual choice, rather than the result of the overall social class or structure. Interestingly, it is Putnam's belief that brings greater empowerment to the individual in the process of social capital creation, yet maintains social capital--as a product--is one that belongs to the greater community. These communities can exist as any collection of people including cities, states, corporations, college campuses, athletics teams, etc. More importantly, a strong sense of social capital is a resource to these communities, and a benefit to their members (Putnam). This benefit is derived regardless of whether each community member actively participates or does not participate at all. Thus, the importance of these social networks, for both individuals and communities, is greater than at any other time throughout past research. Specifically, these communities which possess strong social capital are distinguished by three prominent characteristics, including: strong social networks and civic infrastructure; strong social norms; and mutual trust and reciprocity among their members (Coalter, 2007; Putnam). Therefore, with Putnam's view of social capital, its process of creation, and its salient role in community maintenance, communities and their members are charged with more responsibility (both formal and informal) in creating community culture than ever before.

It is also Putnam's (2000) interpretation that has centered a bulk of social capital literature on trust and reciprocating relationships. Arguably the most pertinent aspect of social capital (in line with Putnam, 2000), trust is the connection between members and mechanisms of well-functioning communities, and the basis for Putnam's second aspect of social capital reciprocating relationships. In fact, Putnam links trust with coordinated actions in society, reducing transaction costs, and enabling groups to pursue collective interests more effectively and with greater efficiency (Putnam, 1993, 2000).

The idea of trust embodies a multilayer existence, one that permeates all communities and their constituencies. The first level of trust is trust of familiars (Stone, 2001) or social trust of familiars (Cox & Caldwell, 2000). This element of trust is within social relationships that have been previously established. A broader element to trust is social trust (Cox & Caldwell, 2000), generalized trust (Putnam, 1998) or even horizontal trust (Newton, 1997). Here, trust is expanded to include strangers, usually on the assumption of shared norms. Such a level of trust can be demonstrated amongst fans attending sporting events, where certain affective behaviors --such as trust--are extended to previously-unknown-fellow-fans based upon the shared values, or identity, with that particular team (e.g. Wann & Branscombe, 1990). A third, and broader, sense of trust exists in civic or institutional trust (Cox & Caldwell, 2000). With institutional trust, members invest trust in the community's formal institution of governance, including fairness of rules, official procedures, and resource allocation (Cox, 1997). Institutional trust is also based upon the members' belief in the community's system, trusting in its reliability, its transparency, and its fairness (Black & Hughes, 2000; Stone, 2001). The notion of institutional trust also exists in vertical trust (Newton, 1997), where placing trust in those individuals governing the system, such as politicians or administrators (vertical trust), is an entirely different form of trust than we place in our friends, family, or neighbors (horizontal trust). A potential hierarchy of trust also exists within smaller levels such as superordinate and subordinate group identities (Gaertner & Dovidio, 2000; Smith & Tyler, 1996; Transue, 2007) within communities. For example, within a college campus, group identities of athletes, non-athletes, fans, etc. exists as potential subordinate identities of one overarching superordinate identity--such as a university or college student. However, should one of the those subordinate identities elevate beyond an intended broader identity, horizontal trust may be redefined in terms of vertical trust. This transfer in categorical trust may lead to a decrease in vertical trust, a reduction that could impact overall social capital. A potential scenario exists in past literature, where athlete identity was found to overreach the hypothesized superordinate identity with the university (Clopton, 2008b). However, no measure of trust was included in this vertical arrangement of individual identities. It is essential, then, that our notion of social capital encompasses these varied levels of trust, as each play significant roles in the maintenance of successful communities.

As previously mentioned, trust is fundamental to the reciprocating relationships which undergird Putnam's (2000) view of social capital. That is, part of the efficiency of successful communities stems from community members' willingness to assist others because they trust in a reciprocating return in the future. Once again, trust, or more specifically, social trust of familiars, provides the basis for reciprocating norms of the community. This concept is nothing new, as Nobel Prize-winning economist Kenneth Arrow once remarked

Virtually every commercial transaction has within itself an element of trust, certainly any transaction conducted over a period of time. It can be plausibly argued that much of the economic backwardness in the world can be explained by a lack of mutual confidence (Arrow, 1972, p.357).

Trust also differentiates further into "thick" trust (Williams, 1988, p.8), which is derived from intensive, frequent contact between people of similar walks of life. Thick trust tightly bonds communities that are often socially homogenous, frequently exclusive, and often isolated from surrounding communities or societies. Thick trust is what Putnam (2000) refers to as bonding social capital. This form of social capital is exclusive in nature and is important for members of communities to "get by" in tougher times, often times by maintaining strong in-group loyalty and reinforcing specific identities (Coalter, 2007; Putnam). Bonding social capital also has significant limitations, such that hyperbonding might limit growth of the community's entrepreneurial members (Leonard, 2004), reinforce anti-social behaviors such as those exhibited by street gangs (Putnam), or exclude the inclusion of certain race or ethnic groups. Such negative bonding social capital potential has been exhibited in higher education with alcohol abuse with fraternities (e.g. Cashin, Presley, & Meilman, 1998) and anti-social behaviors amongst college students identifying with their school's athletics teams (Warm, Hunter, Ryan, & Wright, 2001). Still, bonding social capital exists as a necessary element to the overall social capital of a community (Putnam). This form of social capital, or its potential existence, is often seen amongst such groups as women's organizations, unions, or professional organizations (Zmerli, 2003).

While bonding social capital allows members to get by, bridging social capital assists people in "getting ahead" (Putnam, 2000). This notion is also supported by the notion of thin trust, which serves as the basis of modern society. Here, thin trust is constructed of looser, more amorphous, personal relations that are weaker in strength (Newton, 1997) but open doors of potential through more diverse relationships. Whereas bonding increasing the strength of tight-knit groups, bridging social capital establishes new social networks across the community and can be both horizontal and vertical (Putnam, 1993, 2000). Such bridging potentially occurs in groups like sports clubs, youth clubs, cultural associations, or parents' associations (Zmerli, 2003). Putnam (2000) also refers to bridging social capital as both the most important form of social capital, and the most difficult to achieve. For example, as per the "getting ahead" label attached to bridging social capital, it is this form of social capital that can serve as a gateway into other forms of capital, including financial or human capital (Leonard, 2004; Putnam, 2000). Thus, bridging social capital, and social capital in general, encourages the facilitation of the overall communal experience in social exchange.

Social Capital in Sport Literature

From Putnam's (2000) use of bowling and other voluntary sport organizations as the fundamental metaphor to illustrate the need for social capital through social networks, sport has been analyzed as a collective with potential for social capital construction. Putnam even goes to the extent of describing sport as one of a community's activities which are built upon many informal social connections, each contributing as a "tiny investment in social capital" (Putnam, 2000, p. 93). This sentiment is echoed in previous literature where sport has been shown to provide for opportunities in civic engagement (Harris, 1998; Perks, 2007), often as a platform for creating or strengthening social networks and relationships (Seippel, 2006). It is these social networks from sport that are charged with leading towards Putnam's social capital and benefiting society. This has come to fruition in multiple studies where the inclusion of sport has significantly enhanced certain aspects of social capital construction in rural communities (Atherley, 2006; Bourke, 2001; Tonts, 2005), in specific members of communities (Amara et al., 2004), and through community ownership and engagement (Jarvie, 2003; Maguire, Jarvie, Mansfield, & Bradley, 2002). However, while Putnam's use of social capital decries the decline in social capital throughout the United States, a dearth of empirical literature exists regarding sport and social capital in the United States.

Another issue arises within the sport and social capital literature which questions exactly what type of social capital stems from the sporting experience, either through direct or indirect participation. In numerous cases, sport improved both bonding and bridging social capital (Atherley, 2006; Tonts, 2005; Palmer & Thompson, 2007; Walseth, 2008). Bonding social capital was generated through improving the group or community's sense of identity (Palmer & Thompson, 2007; Tonts, 2005) and increasing dense, homogenous networks of community members. Interestingly, this same bonding social capital also led to hyperbonding in certain instances, mostly leading to exclusion of certain classes. This finding reinforces the notion of bonding possessing the potential "dark side" of social capital (Tonts, 2005, p. 147; Putnam, 2000, p. 350). This aspect of social capital continues to be often overlooked in a bulk of past literature.

Still, sport has also been seen as a bridge-builder of social capital, the most important aspect to social capital in a given community (Putnam, 2000). While bonding through sport has been shown to exclude members of certain classes, the literature has also shown sport to cut across age, class, and race (Harris, 1998; Palmer & Thompson, 2007; Tonts, 2005). Further, Harris (1998, p. 146) described sports as "communal endeavors," creating new social networks that transcended nearly all classes of people, thus, enhancing the civility of society. Again, though, sport and social capital literature has lacked empirical investigation into the sport climate in the United States, particularly of the bridge-building ability of sport and, specifically, that of intercollegiate sports. However, there exists anecdotal support of such a notion of college sport as Toma (2003) writes
   Only at a football game might you hear the entire university
   community--fraternity brothers of Delta Tan Delta and the gay and
   lesbian student alliance; Young Republicans and Democratic
   Socialists; corporate executives and machine shop workers; $50
   donors to the annual fund and $5 million donors to a named
   building; visiting assistant professors and senior faculty with
   endowed chairs; campus custodians and the chief academic
   officer--all speak with one voice at one time in shouting "Go Blue"
   at Michigan, or "Geaux Tigers" at LSU, or "We are Penn State." What
   ties together these diverse constituents ... into a community is
   the expression of the collegiate norms, values, and beliefs they
   share and that bring distinction to their institution. (p.76)

This notion does have limited empirical support using a similar population as Clopton (2008a) discovered the ability of college sport to impact a sense of community on campus through fan identification. This sense of community has often been found to embody similar constructs as social capital and has even been referred to as "social capital's conceptual cousin" (Putnam, 2000, p. 21).

Another question derived from the previous study is the use of indirect sport participation as fans--a question also raised by Putnam (2000) in regards to the relationship between sport and social capital. The sport-social capital connection lies within the purview of the Team Identification-Social Psychological Health Model (Wann, 2006a), a conceptual framework that provides an avenue from identifying with a sports team to the numerous social psychological benefits that correlate with this identification. This model was based upon past team identification literature which has shown the many communal benefits of identifying with sports teams, including perceived quality of life and sense of unity (Branscombe & Wann, 1991; Iso--Ahola & Hatfield, 1986) and a belief in the trustworthiness of others (Waun & Polk, 2007). Highly identified fans feel a sense of bonding with other fans of that team (Wann & Branscombe, 1990); and acquire a greater sense of satisfaction from watching their team win a game or match (Wann & Schrader, 1997). Additionally, these individuals identifying with sports teams rate high on membership esteem (Murrell & Dietz, 1992; Schurr et al., 1988; Warm & Robinson, 2002), a construct that resonates throughout the fan community.

Heere and James (2007) further explored the existence of sport fan communities and some of their various intricacies. It is here that the community of sports fans was connected with various social networks of larger communities which, it is deducted, established a potential network of transference of social capital from sport in the community to fans identifying with those sports teams within the community. This network of transference is illustrated in Figure 1. The power of communities of fans in generating social capital was reinforced in Palmer and Thompson (2007), where many aspects of bonding and bridging social capital were uncovered amongst supporters of an Australian football club. Similarly, aforementioned individuals who identify highly with a particular sports teams have also shown a connection with a belief in the trustworthiness of others (Wann & Polk, 2007). While this study did not include a formal operationalization of social capital, this finding of perceived trustworthiness is the foundation for Putnam's (2000) social capital, and the basis for the social networks that provide a community's social capital. As with literature before, social capital is measured informally through many of the social-psychological health outcomes and has been linked with team identification, and each continues to support Wann's (2006a) conceptual model.


While sport and social capital were intertwined throughout the literature, one of the more glaring questions continued to center around the paucity of research regarding social capital and college sport in the United States, a significant, and unique, cultural entity (Beyer & Hannah, 2000). Thus, the current research study aimed at exploring the impact of the presence of college sport upon the social capital of college students.

Conceptual Framework

The aim of this research was driven by the social identity theory (SIT; Tajfel, 1978) and by Wann's (2006a) Team Identification-Social Psychological Health Model. SIT was created in the symbolic interactionist perspective, proclaiming that individuals exist as active participants in the creation of their identities (e.g. Tafjel, 1978). To create these identities, an individual will create ingroups and outgroups with which to identify. Each person then uses the significance of attachment to the ingroup to continue to define his or her identity (Foels, 2006). That person then will perpetually strive to maintain that membership through differential evaluations, thus, perpetuating the differences between the ingroups and outgroups (Tajfel & Turner, 1986). The groups are created in an "us" versus "them" mentality i.e. fans of one school vs. fans of the rival school (e.g. Wann & Branscombe, 1993) or Northerners vs. Southerners (Clopton, 2008c), etc. As Heere and James (2007) suggest, this social identity of groups is also referred to as collective identity (Ashmore, Deaux, & McLaughin-Volpe, 2004) and group identity (Ashforth & Mael, 1989). Research with SIT has examined such notions as ingroup bias (Hogg & Adams, 1990), outgroup derogation (DeVries, 2003), specific social esteem (Foels & Tomcho, 2005), common ingroup identity (Gaertner et al., 1999), and even Southern identity (Griffin, 2004), to name a few. SIT is the foundation for team identification, another social creation of ingroup and outgroup differentiation (Wann & Branscombe, 1993). Moreover, SIT supports the theory of social capital which, as previously stated, sees a beneficial by-product (i.e., social capital) constructed from these in-groups (i.e., social networks). Thus, social, collective, or group identities become the basis of all effective social networks and at the center of social capital creation. It is, then, expected that the benefits derived from identifying with the athletics teams on campus will provide an additional impact--above and beyond that of the college experience--upon a student's social capital, as depicted in Figure 1.

This expectation of Figure I is also built upon the myriad literature constructing the Team Identification-Social Psychological Health Model (Warm, 2006a). This model, also constructed within the social identity framework (e.g. Tajfel, 1978), predicts that team identification improves social psychological well-being by increasing social connections for fans. Wann's model divides the path to team identification into two paths: 1) Enduring social connections based upon chronic social connection where individuals identify with a local team in a local environment and 2) Temporary social connections where an individual identifies with a team not in local environment and is unable to parlay this group identification into many of these social psychological benefits. The highly-identified individual often experiences significant threats to the identity and subsequent coping mechanisms on the path from group identification to a social psychological well-being (Wann). For the current study, Wann's enduring social connections were assumed due to the local environment (college campuses) and local teams to which identification is measured (university's sports teams) and the quality of social psychological outcome (social capital).


Selection of Population and Sample

The population was limited to traditional-aged, undergraduate students attending schools at the NCAA Division I level as members of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS). It is at this level of athletics that the competition is the highest and the subsequent impact on the university community has proven to be the greatest (Clopton, 2007; Toma, 2003). Of the total population, 41 institutions maintained active, and accessible, online campus directories and were included in the study.

To select the sample for the study, student names and email addresses were randomly chosen out of online campus directories. Once a complete list of names and e-mail addresses was established, the subjects were uploaded into for each institution.

Instruments for Data Collection

Demographical information for each respondent was collected through individual responses to race, gender, age, state residency status, school year, grade point average, campus residence, membership in a Greek organization, membership on a varsity sport team, any hours spent per week working on campus. Age responses were used to limit the sample and work hours and grade point average were utilized as a continuous variable in the regression. The remaining demographical variables were dummy-coded into the regression analyses as control variables.

Social Capital Assessment Tool (SCAT). To obtain the dependent variable for the current study, the SCAT was utilized to measure the amount of social capital perceived to exist on each campus through student respondents (Krishna & Shrader, 1999). The SCAT was adapted from its original form which had previously been utilized to establish social capital in communities around such issues as health (Baum, Cooke, & Murray, 1998; Bowling, 1997) economics (Knack & Keefer, 1997; Narayan, 1999) and culture (Latham, 1998). Five-items were adapted from the instrument on a seven-point Likert scale, including statements around two salient constructs of social capital: trust and norms of reciprocity, or social networks. These statements are presented in Table 1, below, and ranged from "Most students/faculty at this university are basically honest and can be trusted," to "Students/faculty are always interested only in their own welfare here," to "I feel accepted as a member of this university." With an inter-item correlation mean of .39, the SCAT reported an acceptable Cronbach's [alpha] of .75.

Sport Spectatorship Identification Scale (SSIS). The second instrument was the Sport Spectatorship Identification Scale (SSIS; Wann & Branscombe, 1993), which measures the extent to which individuals identify with a sports team or program. This seven-item, seven-point Likert scale asks the subjects such questions as "How important to you is it that the (school's teams) win?" "During the season, how closely do you follow the (school's teams)?" and "How much do you dislike (the school's) greatest rivals?" (Wann & Branscombe, 1993). With a Cronbach's [alpha] = .91, all of the seven items were significantly interrelated and the average item--total correlation was .59 (Wann & Branscombe, 1993). The SSIS has been used in many research studies to assess an individual's team identification level and the extent to which that affects such measures as intrinsic and extrinsic motives (Wann et al., 2001), integration into, and perceptions of, the university (Wann & Robinson, 2002), and alumni contributions (Wann & Somerville, 2000).

Method of Data Collection

Pre-notification letters for participation were sent electronically to 6,150 randomly-selected students from the 41 BCS institutions chosen for this study. From the pre-notification letter, a total of 1,350 students declined to participate. Subsequently, survey links were sent to 4,800 students for completion. The surveys were completed by 1,578 students for an overall response rate of 32.90%, a low, but acceptable, online response rate (see Clopton, 2008b or Crawford, Cooper, & Limias, 2001).

Further, subjects were eliminated (n=326) that either failed to fit within population parameters (i.e., age, full-time status, undergraduate, etc.) or failed to complete more than one instrument. The final tally of responses came to 1,252 for a final usable response rate of 26.10%.

Responses. Of the total sample included in this study (n = 1,252), a slight majority, 52.08%, of the respondents were women (n = 652) while the remaining subjects were men (47.92%; n = 600). Notably, while female students (M=5.40, S.D.=0.90) recorded significantly higher scores than male students (M=5.30, S.D.=0.86) in social capital (t[1251] = -2.45, p<.05); males (M=4.79, S.D.= 1.70) showed significantly higher levels of team identification (t[1250]=5.87, p<.001) than did their female counterparts (M=4.25, S.D.=1.62). Further, an overwhelming majority of the sample were white students (n=1074), a finding that brought significance as white students showed greater levels (t[1250]=-5.52, p<.001) of social capital (M=5.40, S.D.=0.86) when compared to the non-white college student respondents (M=5.06, S.D.=0.93). These white students also reported a greater team identity (M=4.56, S.D.=1.67) than the non-white students (M=4.08, S.D.=1.71; t[1249]=-3.26, p<.01).

The sample of college students also established an average age of 20.07 (S.D.=1.69) with half of the respondents living off-campus (n=626). Overall, the college students in the sample reported moderately-high levels of social capital (M=5.35, S.D.=0.88) across the 41 institutions. The sample of students also displayed a moderate level of team identity (M=4.51, S.D.=1.68).

Analysis of Data

To analyze the data for the relationship between fan identification and social capital, a hierarchical regression equation was constructed utilizing the subject variable (team identification) to predict the dependent variable (social capital). The hierarchical regression equation was constructed based off of Astin's (1977) Input-Environment-Outcome (I-E-O) Model. The I-E-O model, used throughout college student development research, arranges variables for college students according to inputs, such as traits and characteristics students bring with them to college; environments, such as programs, social influences, university policies; and outcomes, the subsequent consequences resulting from the experience of the environment (Astin, 1977). Using I-E-O, then, variables were arranged via separate models beginning with input characteristics: gender, race, age and state residence; environment characteristics: year in school, housing, hours worked, Greek membership, athlete status, GPA, and team identification; and outcome: social capital. Control variables were either dummy-coded prior to inclusion or entered continuously, while team identification (SSIS), and social capital (SCAT) were derived from their respective scales. Results are displayed in Table 2.


Analysis of the data revealed several items worthy of consideration for the current study. First, the overall regression indicated a slight, significant relationship of predictability between social capital and team identity of the college student respondents ([R.sup.2][DELTA]=7%, F[DELTA][1,1239]=96.84, p<.001). Thus, the extent to which each student maintained identification with the athletics teams of their university, the greater the direct impact upon their level of social capital ([beta] =.28, p<.001). Notably, this finding supports past literature which suggests that maintaining team identity enhances one's sense of community (Clopton, 2007, 2008a), belief in the trustworthiness (Wann & Polk, 2007) and has the potential to improve one's social well-being (e.g. Wann, 2006a) through social networks (Clopton, 2008b; Misener & Mason, 2006).

Also noteworthy from findings was the significant presence of race ([beta] =.05, p<.05) and gender ([beta] =.07, p<.05) in the relationship with social capital. Coded to separate students of color and White students, results suggest that those students who are White possess some element of an advantage in the creation or maintenance of elevated social capital levels. This racial difference echoes the aforementioned racial differences in social capital means and reverberates throughout past literature in social capital (see Putnam, 2000), higher education (Kenny & Stryker, 1996; see also Rankin & Reason, 2006), and team identity on college campuses (Clopton, 2008a). Much more importantly, this finding beckons further discussion in the following section upon the role and presence of race with sport and social capital.

Similarly, while predictability differences in team identity have failed to occur across gender in recent research (Clopton, 2008a), past literature remains mixed on the role that gender plays in the relationship with team identity (e.g. Clopton, 2008a; End et al, 2003; Warm, Melnick, Russell, & Pease, 2001). As the race variable before it, the significant presence of gender in the regression analysis predicting social capital from team identity is consistent with aforementioned demographical differences where significant gender differences occurred across both social capital and team identity means. In this finding, it was the female college students that were determined to be positively impacted ([beta] = .07, p<.05). That is, the more likely each respondent was to be female, the greater the positive impact upon the student's level of social capital. These results are also discussed further later in the article.

A final finding of note occurred when both year in school ([beta] = -.10, p<.05) and age ([beta] = .16, p<.001) showed significance in the analysis, indicating that as age or year in school increases, typically, the other does as well. This finding potentially provides for greater clarity into the environment in higher education that impacts social capital amongst students and merits further discussion. Another variable of significance was grade point average ([beta] = .09, p<.01) which showed a direct impact upon social capital.


The relationship between social capital and sport has been intertwined since its inception and the current results suggest a reinforcement of that notion. However, the finding that team identification significantly contributes to the overall perceived social capital of the respondents has been the first empirical data to answer the question of whether indirect sport participation (i.e., as a fan or spectator) has any significance in social capital construction (Putnam, 2000). Here, the extent to which the college student respondents identified with their university's athletics teams played a significant role in their reported levels of social capital. This finding is crucial in establishing a potential empirical link between the communal benefits of fan communities and the contribution to the overall community. More specifically, this finding is one of scant literature that has empirically established this relationship in sport in the United States and, even more so, within college sport. These results, in general, also echo previous findings where identifying with a team is connected with perceptions of trust (Warm & Polk, 2007) and, of course, Wann's (2006a) conceptual model of Team Identification-Social Psychological Health. The connection between team identification and Putnam's social capital runs consistent with Wann's model has numerous implications to be discussed later.

Also important within this finding is its alignment with past literature within sport management that allude to sport's community-building potential (e.g. Chalip, 2006). The link between team identification and social capital also advances Heere and James (2007) which outlined the group identities of sport fans and the connection with a behavior or outcome--here, team loyalty. The current research has shown that it is also individual identities (e.g. team identity) that exist as a connector of sport and social capital. Still, many questions remain unanswered regarding the power of sport upon social capital--namely that of the type of social capital being impacted by sport and team identity. While we have demonstrated benefits of belonging to a sport community through team identity, similar past research has also reminded us of sport's ability to diminish potential community-building activities. This is most likely due from the over-bonding, or hyperbonding, ability of sport. Thus, more exploration is vital to clarifying this all-important relationship between sport and social capital.

Important here, also, is the element of causality in relationship between team identification and social capital. Data used here are not intended, or able, to explore any causality between team identification and social capital, but rather any predictability within the relationship and any interpretation of the results should take this into account. Such causality stemming from team identification towards social well-being has begun to be explored in the past (Warm, 2006b). Based upon the current findings, it is recommended that future research build upon this and explore potential causality between team identification and social capital.

A second major finding occurred here when race and gender showed significant presence in the relationship between team identification and social capital. With White students possessing this significant advantage in social capital maintenance, numerous questions arise --most echoing past sentiments towards the type of social capital being impacted by sport and fandom (Chalip, 2006; Coalter, 2007; Putnam, 2000). These differing findings suggest strongly that this relationship is one constructed of the bonding-type, where deep social networks are enhanced among already-homogenous groups. Because the landscape of higher education is already comprised of racial segmentation (Levin, Van Laar, & Foote, 2006), student affairs officials and university administrators invest considerable resources into bridging the academic and social disparity among White students and student of color (Levin et al., 2006; Rankin & Reason, 2005). Thus, with the current data suggesting that team identity possibly encourages further segmentation, a number of stem implications belie this finding. First, the ability of college sport to act as a builder of bridging social capital is potentially weakened. That is, Toma's (2003) anecdotal depiction of big-time college sport bringing together diverse constituencies is a limited one, and one that may or may not include a bridge across race. Further, with the numerous academic outcome differences between White students and students of color, any university-supported program that might encourage hyperbonding to the extent that racial disparities are perpetuated should require additional examination. That is, it is critical that colleges and universities review the messages that athletics sends to its shareholders, the perceptions among its constituencies, and the impact of maintaining big-time athletics upon the campus community. This review becomes more important as the salience of diversity in higher education increases with both the prediction of increased diversity in college-bound students (NCES, 2007) and the changing racial and ethnic composition of the United States (Keller, 2001).

Similar questions arise as female students gained an advantage in the contribution of team identity towards their level of social capital. This gender presence in the analysis suggests a potential reverberation of past literature which encourages exploration into the types of values that are reinforced within these communities--here, fan communities and college campuses. Perhaps, it can be most accurately deduced along the quality of trust being reinforced within the communities that impact social capital. That is, trust that is based on reciprocity has been shown to impact overall social capital differently than that of ascriptive trust, or trust based on group identity. Here, trust is not about behavior, but about being a member of a certain demography, such as race or gender (Warren, 2001). Thus, while female college students place much less importance on the role of team identity upon their self-identity or group membership (Dietz-Uhler, Harrick, End, & Jacquemotte, 2000), this may actually allow them to receive more of the communal benefits of team identification toward trust and overall social capital within the campus community. Perhaps it might be the overshadowing of the team identity itself that impedes the transfer of these potential social benefits from sport to social capital of the male respondents. This overshadowing would advocate potential hyperbonding of team identity--a potential that belies most communities with social capital (Putnam, 2000). What is important here, also, is that the social capital was measured as that of the campus community and not a fan community. Such a balance of group identities has been suggested in past literature (Clopton, 2008b; Heere & James, 2007) and future research could include the potential presence of racial or ethnic identity and gender identity, along with both team and overall university identities. This potential imbalance of group identities has existed amongst fans, college students, and college student-athletes, though with no empirically-established element of trust or social capital existing (Clopton, 2008b). Thus, while trust might exist within the specific parameters of certain communities, little is known as to whether this is ascriptive trust, or trust built upon reciprocating social networks which contributes to a healthy overall social capital (Warren, 2001). It is also the potential differentiation of social capital within fan communities and within the overall campus community that must be included in future research. Such an inclusion might provide for greater clarity into the relationship of college sport and social capital.

Another important finding also alludes to the overall programming of the campus culture within higher education. Interestingly, both year in school and age maintained a significant presence within the final relationship between team identity and social capital. However, while age was positively related to social capital, the respondents' year in school was negatively related. That is, the longer the student remained on campus, the more it diminished social capital. The actual implication of this finding is unclear, though the data do suggest that the students were able to generate social capital, potentially through team identification, in spite of the students remaining in school over time. Such a finding would bring into question the actual role that student affairs programming plays in creating a sense of community on campus that reinforces the elements of trust and reciprocating social networks, or social capital.

Limitations and Directions for Future Research

One of the limitations within the current research is that of the five-item SCAT as the only measurement of social capital. While the SCAT has been used in previous empirical studies, social capital, nonetheless, exists in a broad spectrum that makes the capture of social capital through any instrument imperfect. Thus, it is suggested that future research expand upon these findings through both the SCAT and other instruments in order to investigate a valid confinement of social capital. In addition to the instrument, it is difficult to account for all of the potentially-confounding variables that impact social capital. Because of the slant towards the college campus community here, the variables of inclusion were based upon previous literature in college student development, social capital theory, and sport management. We recommend that future research attempt to include additional variables of control.

Another limitation is the aforementioned use of team identity and the general campus social capital measurement. Perhaps further clarification would be achieved should additional group and individual identities, as well as each group's specific communal social capital, be included in future analysis. Still, it was the intent of the current study to examine what relationship, if any, existed between one's identification with the sports teams on campus and the perceived level of social capital of the overall campus community. Additional identities and communities in the analysis would enhance the clarification of these initial findings. Specifically, the use of additional identities, and identity salience (Stryker, 1980), will enable research to more accurately place the impact of sport within the relationship with social capital. For example, while team identification was discovered here to have a significant impact upon social capital of the college students, additional follow-up research is necessary to explore where, and how, identifying with the college sport impacts social capital. There exists, then, a potentially mediating presence of team identification. That is, not only does team identification serve as network of transference of social capital from college sport to the campus community, but, further, the presence of college sport might be, more accurately, impacting the transference of social capital within the college experience--rather than transferring or generating any social capital itself. Such a potential presence serves as both a limitation of this study, and the recommended course of inclusion for future research.

Still, numerous pertinent questions remain between sport and social capital. Namely, little is known regarding the specific type of social capital produced by sport and the specificity regarding that of the type of sport and community itself (Coalter, 2007). Future research is necessary to differentiate the bonding and bridging construction of social capital within sporting communities. Because clear distinction between bonding and bridging groups do not always exist (Putnam, 2000), it is critical that both formal and informal networks are meticulously inspected with regard to their specific purposes (Zmerli, 2003). Thus, a more qualitative approach may improve the analysis of specific social networks created from, and impacted by, a strong presence of college athletics upon a college or university campus. Still, both a bonding and bridging element should be included in all research aimed at social capital within sport communities.


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Address Correspondence to: Aaron W. Clopton, Department of Kinesiology, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA, 70803. E-mail:

Aaron W. Clopton

Louisiana State University

Bryan L. Finch

Oklahoma State University
Table 1. Social Capital Assessment Tool (SCAT, Krishna & Shrader,

Trust Items                   Does not
                             apply to me
                               at all

Most students/faculty at          1        2     3    4     5    6
this university are
basically honest and can
be trusted.

At this university, one           1        2     3    4     5    6
has to be alert of someone
who is I ikely to take
advantage of you.

Norms of Reciprocity Items

Students/faculty are              1        2     3    4     5    6
always interested only in
their own welfare here.

Most students/faculty at          1        2     3    4     5    6
this university are
willing to help if you
need it.

I feel accepted as a              1        2     3    4     5    6
member of this university.

Trust Items                  Completely
                                to me

Most students/faculty at          7
this university are
basically honest and can
be trusted.

At this university, one           7
has to be alert of someone
who is I ikely to take
advantage of you.

Norms of Reciprocity Items

Students/faculty are              7
always interested only in
their own welfare here.

Most students/faculty at          7
this university are
willing to help if you
need it.

I feel accepted as a              7
member of this university.

Table 2. Summary of hierarchical regression analysis predicting social
capital (n=1252).

(figures from final      B       SE B    [beta]
step of analysis)

Step 1
  Gender                 0.62    0.24    0.07 *
  Race                   0.77    0.39    0.05 *
  Residency              0.26    0.26    0.03
  Age                    0.42    0.12    0.16 ***

Step 2
  Year in School        -0.31    0.16   -0.10 *
  Campus Residence       0.29    0.28    0.04
  Hrs Worked per Week   -0.02    0.01   -0.06
  Greek Status           0.38    0.33    0.03
  Athlete Status        -0.85    0.51   -0.05
  Grade Point Average    0.76    0.24    0.09 *

Step 3
  Fan Identity           0.14    0.02    0.28 *

Note. [R.sup.2] =.02, p <.01 for Step 1; [R.sup.2] [DELTA] = .01, p
<.05 for Step 2; [R.sup.2] [DELTA] = .07, p <.001 for Step 3.

* values significant at the .05 level

** values significant at the .01 level

*** values significant at the .001 level
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Publication:Journal of Sport Behavior
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Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2010
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