Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Football factories and decanal tenures

Gregg EasterbrookGregg 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:
Orangutan[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.
Ohio State footballHere 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.

Erwin GriswoldJoe Paterno
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:
Law schools that routinely appear in or near the top tenth of the U.S. News rankings enjoy significant managerial advantages relative to the rest of American legal academia.
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.

UpdateTwo quick addenda:
  1. Goldy GopherA correspondent from Minnesota reminds me that the football Gophers went 1-11 this year, arguably because of and not in spite of the coach's Rose Bowl talk. The Gophers in the Rose Bowl, let alone champions of the Grandaddy of Them All! The Hebrew word that comes to mind is Yitzhak: one laughs. I finally got to see Navy beat Notre Dame. Watch the Gophers on New Year's Day in Pasadena? Ha! I should live so long.

    In other words, Minnesota football is much closer to Baylor than to Ohio State. The proper characterization of Minnesota's law school remains an exercise for the reader.

  2. Chattering about Gopher football reminded me that I neglected to complete my thoughts on the main subject at hand . . . .

    Interim deanships should not be counted positively in any measure of decanal longevity. Indeed, the frequency and duration of interim deanships, I imagine, would correlate negatively with a law school's wealth and prestige. By my hypothesis, turnover is generally a symptom of second-tier status and resources.

    Nick Saban
    And to the extent that there is a positive correlation between institutional wealth and prestige on one hand and decanal longevity on the other, a BCS-class law school that changes deans more often than its counterparts might well be perceived as — and be — an underperformer within its cohort. The proper college football analogy here is Alabama, which has cycled coaches unceremoniously and often while waiting in vain for the Second Coming (I speak, of course, of Bear Bryant's much coveted return to this world). And for all the money Alabama has thrown at Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide got all of six wins this year. But being two states closer than South Carolina is to Shreveport did earn the Tide a trip to the Independence Bowl. Even though he has plenty of time on his hands this winter, Steve Spurrier probably won't be watching.


Blogger Mr. B. said...

Since MoneyLaw deals with pay for performance and some readers, at least Jim Chen, are football fans:

The clever foks at USA Today
have figured out the cost per football win for the last season - in terms of coaches salaries.

My beloved Gophers are at least number one in that aspect of football.

Minnesota cost/win = $1,000,000

Why we have even beaten Duke - they come in third at a piddly 544K. Alabama edges out Duke for the number two spot at 584K.

Louisville, by the way, is in the middle of the pack at 236K.
In medio stat virtu?

The numbers are great fun and somewhat surprising.



12/07/2007 12:23 PM  

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