Gregg Easterbrook, brother of the Honorable Frank Easterbrook, is my favorite football analyst. His breakdown of this year's BCS debacle is a must-read for any serious football fan. This analysis offers many lessons for MoneyLaw; by and by, I hope to connect Easterbrook's evaluation of college football with law school administration and the sabermetric concept of value over replacement player.
For the time being, though, I wish to draw attention to a single paragraph in Gregg Easterbrook's latest missive:
[F]ootball-factory schools in Division I-A hold such incredible advantages in recruiting, in cupcake-opponent scheduling and in playing more games at home than on the road that an orangutan could coach a Division I-A school to bowl eligibility. Almost every football-factory season ends in a bowl bid, and thus the typical football season outcome at a big school is officially characterized as a success. Two-thirds of NFL teams do not qualify for the postseason, and thus the typical season outcome in the pros is failure. That's why there are far more long-term coaching dynasties in college than in the NFL. It is simply easier to win games at a football-factory college than in the pros, meaning more college coaches with career winning records and longtime tenures.
Here is a clear instance in which empirical research can answer questions that people care about. First, we need to measure the lengths of football coaches' tenures in three categories: (1) the National Football League, (2) college football factories (essentially, BCS conference schools plus Notre Dame, the delightfully pathetic performance of this season's Irish notwithstanding), and (3) other Division I-A college football programs. If Easterbrook is right, coaches in category 2 should experience less turnover than their counterparts in the NFL and the non-BCS corners of Division I-A college football.
Durable dean, durable coach
Now it gets interesting. There is a clear equivalent to Division I-A football among law schools: the twenty or twenty-five or forty schools that claim (with varying degrees of persuasiveness) to number among — or otherwise be equivalent to — the fifteen-odd schools that Brian Leiter identifies as truly "national." I'll name names. My current school, as much as I love it, is a mid-major among American law schools. Bluster won't change our status; money might. Minnesota, where I worked before coming to Louisville, is the law school equivalent of a BCS-conference football program. It's pointless (albeit arguably entertaining) to debate whether Minnesota in law school terms is better compared to Ohio State (a perennial Big 10 powerhouse) or Baylor (the Big 12's perennial doormat) in football terms. What matters, for current purposes, is this hypothesis:
One way to put that proposition to the test is to compare the longevity of deans at elite law schools with the tenures of their counterparts at other schools. You can control for "promotions," defined as decanal moves to higher-ranked schools. You can also control for industry-wide variations in decanal tenure over time; perhaps we are living in a period of quicker triggers across all institutions. When the chips are down, though, I suspect that the managerial advantages at wealthy, elite institutions are indeed considerable, and these advantages are in fact reflected in longer, more comfortable decanal terms in office.