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Happy Sunday monkeys,

I came across a couple of interesting articles over at Bloomberg, written by Jonathan Mahler, one of their sports columnists, that touch on some peculiar happenings during the recent NCAA tournament: Florida Gulf Coast University's historic win streak into the Sweet 16, and Harvard's first tournament win since its inception 371 years ago. The author credits some interesting aspects of these two stories, FGCU's success is credited to none other than Ayn Rand, and Atlas Shrugged in particular, and the latter's success is credited to a rather shrewd move in attracting talent without the use of athletic scholarships.

Mahler immediately points the reader to the required reading for FGCU's economics and finance undergrads as a key to their success: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.

Quote:
Embedded in this long, ponderous novel -- required reading for all undergraduate economics and finance majors at FGCU -- is the formula for transforming your college from a bunch of trailers on a swamp into the most talked-about school in the country. It’s simple, really. All you need to do is practice what Ayn Rand called “rational self-interest.”

Don’t waste your time wooing Nobel laureates to your faculty or trying to recruit National Merit Scholars to a college they’ve never heard of. Do what any self-respecting entrepreneur would do: Devote your resources to building a first-class Division I basketball program.

For all of you sports lovers out there, this is not a bad idea. In fact, its not unusual to see a university, after some athletic success, be able to leverage it's newfound publicity into potential candidates with stronger academic performance. Virginia has seen two school, George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth turn NCAA tournament wins into better academic classes. I mean, prior to 2006 and 2011 respectively, neither of those schools had any presence nationally, now, they absolutely do. Butler's 2010 run to the Final Four was actually studied in terms of how much it was worth to the school:

Quote:
Just how valuable is a strong showing in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament? As it happens, Butler, whose improbable run to the 2010 Final Four is still the stuff of legend, has studied this very question. Its near-championship run -- it lost in the finals to Duke -- generated precisely $639,273,881.82 in publicity for the university. That’s to say nothing of the increases in merchandise sales and charitable giving, or the 41 percent surge in applications.

The connection to Ayn Rand at FGCU goes deeper, according to Mahler, and is epitomized in their head coach, Andy Enfield:

Quote:
Rand wasn’t much of a sports fan, but she would have loved Enfield. To begin with, he’s a proud capitalist: Before becoming a basketball coach, he made a fortune with a health-care startup. (Rand: “Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction.”) Enfield’s wife is a model, validating Rand’s belief that in order for a man to be truly satisfied, he needs “the highest type of woman … the hardest to conquer.” Rand would also have found a lot to like in the Eagles’ style of play: unconstrained, creative and utterly self-confident. “The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.”

What I do find interesting in the author's write up, is his mention of Harvard's coup in attracting talent away from former basketball powerhouses:

Quote:
Harvard won its first tournament game this year, too -- 371 years after its first commencement. (They may be a little slow in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but Harvard finally seems to have figured out the allocative efficiency of college basketball: This year, the Crimson managed to lure away one of the nation’s most coveted high-school prospects from the likes of Wake Forest, UCLA and Texas.)

Which leads us to the second column written by Mahler which outlines the very clever plan by Harvard and other Ivies to create an athlete monopoly, to accompany it's academic monopoly (okay, it might not be the stated goal of the plan):

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Several years ago, the Ivy League significantly altered its financial-aid structure. The Ivies didn’t start offering athletic scholarships. That wouldn’t have been consistent with their student-first images. Instead, they did something much more effective: They took hundreds of millions of dollars from their massive endowments and repurposed it toward need-based aid.

A Harvard (or Yale, or Princeton, etc.) education was suddenly a lot cheaper for the lower- or middle-income families. Student loans were essentially eliminated. Grants for middle-class families basically doubled. And families earning less than $60,000 would no longer be asked to contribute anything toward their child’s Ivy League degree.

Frankly, I'm surprised they didn't do this sooner, considering the size of their endowments, but the author raises a compelling point:

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From a pure cost perspective, that athletic scholarship to the University of Michigan is no longer necessarily a better deal than that financial-aid package from Harvard. What’s more, at Harvard, your aid package can’t be revoked at the coach’s whim if you underperform or get injured.

I see what you're doing there, Ivy league... Truly diabolical. But, as you'll see, the plan won't come full circle, its true genius revealed, until the inclusion of, you guessed it, Wall Street:

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Some 25 percent of Ivy League graduates will go on to work on Wall Street, earning untold millions. Many will donate at least a portion of their fortunes back to their alma maters -- further swelling their already bloated endowments, even as state schools suffer funding cuts and accumulate debt investing in their athletic departments. Some of that endowment money will, in turn, be used to upgrade athletic facilities and hire the country’s best coaches, while also subsidizing irresistible financial-aid packages.

Enjoy the games and have a great weekend!

Comments (6)

  • adast027's picture

    The pool of athletes who can actually play basketball at Harvard is still extremely low when compared with other schools such as a Michigan though all they've done is leveled the playing field slightly. I once heard an assistant hockey coach at an Ivy school with an OK program (Brown, Dartmouth, Princeton, Yale) describe the pool of athletes they have to choose from. He said that when they go and look at recruits at a high level junior hockey tournament in Canada, 90% of the players aren't good enough to play on their team and of those 10% who are good enough, 90% don't qualify academically.....I don't know if anyone else here knows if this is accurate (seems a little exaggerated to me).

  • TheGrind's picture

    the Ivies will most certainly lower their admissions standard for student athletes as the money continues to roll in. It will be the only way to lure big name coaches to the programs. How hard would it be to pluck a few more perfect SAT scorers to balance out the extra 4 and 5 star recruits they take in?

  • TNA's picture

    I don't know, why bother? The Ivy League schools will never be as good as even mid level college sports schools. They already have infinite demand because of their brand and recognition as the best educations people can receive. No need to focus energy on something that will never be a big driver of business.

  • Accrual Dictator's picture

    Would Harvard offer players just based on basketball, for example, prowess though? For example, take Andrew Wiggins, who is labeled the next LeBron James. He's clearly a basketball virtuoso and is the most accomplished amateur player in the world, but would Harvard offer a guy like that who probably doesn't have the grades or test scores to get in otherwise? I know Harvard accepts people with extraordinary backgrounds and isn't just GPA/SAT, so that's why I'm wondering about that.

    Also, in spite of that, I think we're overlooking the fact that most elite basketball prospects don't look at schools to get into Wall Street. If that were the case, Stanford, for example, would be a basketball powerhouse and Kentucky would be off the radar. Most of these guys want to go where they have the best shot at getting into the NBA, which would require a huge investment in top coaching talent, facilities, etc. I don't think a financial aid package alone is enough to attract the very best for the aforementioned reasons and the ivies would need to make a more conscious effort to invest in athletics to attract the top athletes in revenue generating sports like football and basketball.