The Most Popular College Football Teams on Facebook


Produced by the New York Times’ Upshot Blog

According to the New York Times’ analysis of the number of “likes” it receives on Facebook, Virginia Tech has easily the most popular football team in Virginia, but among undergraduate applicants, Virginia Tech is not nearly as popular a choice. Data from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia reveals the most popular college to attend for each of Virginia’s counties.

The Most Popular College to Attend for each of Virginia’s Counties


State Council of Higher Education for Virginia Locality Data

Though it may be surprising –even to those familiar with Virginia’s universities — Virginia Tech is the most commonly attended four year college in only a few counties. Similarly, despite rumors that it draws heavily from Northern Virginia, the University of Virginia is the most popular college to attend in just one county and several cities. Instead, the most popular college in much of Virginia is each region’s largest state university. Virginia Commonwealth is the most popular college in an area extending outwards from the Richmond Metro Area, while Old Dominion is the most popular college in Hampton Roads. This pattern remains consistent throughout much of the commonwealth, except in some rural areas without large universities, such as the Northern Neck or the Allegheny Highlands.

One reason that some well known universities, such as Virginia Tech and UVa, are not as popular is that their admissions are more selective, so fewer applicants who live nearby actually get to choose whether to attend or not. Additionally, both schools have smaller undergraduate enrollments than some other state schools in Virginia.

The fact that local universities remain the most popular college to attend in most of Virginia counties, rich and poor, suggests that for many students the proximity of a college to their home may be as important a factor as the university’s overall ranking and prestige.

Data from the early 1990s shows that local universities were the more popular choice even back then. However, one important change is the emergence of Liberty University. While the state has debated building a university to serve the Southside region of Virginia, over the past decade Liberty has become the most popular college to attend in much of the region. As recently as 2000, Southside counties, such as Pittsylvania or Halifax, only had a handful of undergraduate students enrolled at Liberty. Since then the number has grown into the hundreds.


State Council of Higher Education for Virginia Fall Count Data

While George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth and Old Dominion were the most popular colleges to attend in their respective metro areas during the early 1990s, their undergraduate enrollments have expanded rapidly along with their metro areas’ overall population growth. During this period, Virginia Tech, which is located in a slower growing part of the state, slipped from having the largest in-state undergraduate enrollment in Virginia to fourth place.

If the location of a university is a big factor in whether undergraduate students will attend or not, then the increasing concentration of population growth in Virginia’s Urban Crescent will benefit the commonwealth’s universities unevenly. Perhaps not coincidentally, after decades of enrollment growth, Old Dominion’s football team recently joined the same division as Virginia Tech. Several other of Virginia’s universities’ football teams are also considering joining the division. In a few years someone may want to make a new map of the most popular college football teams in Virginia.