Column/ Opinion

Harvard’s billionaires

According to a 2022 Forbes report, among the alumni of Harvard University there are 188 billionaires. This is more than any other school in the world.

Other high-ranking billionaire educators are Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cornell, Yale, the University of Southern California, University of Miami, and University of Chicago.

Wonder why, in an age when prospective college athletes can openly sell their services to the highest bidder (good for them) there isn't a more direct correlation between the richest universities and the best college football and basketball teams? Why don't the Harvard boosters buy themselves a bunch of five-stars and roll up the Ivy League every year? Why don't they pick up a couple of super-athletic wings who can create their own shots and take them deep into the NCAA tournament?

The obvious answer is they choose not to. Harvard has certain admission standards, and while they might make exceptions for kids whose parents can write checks for new science buildings, they don't make exceptions for kids who can run the 40-yard dash in 4.2 seconds. They--and the rest of the Ivy League--don't offer athletic scholarships, and they play in the Division 1 Football Championship Subdivision, which is a step below D1 Football Bowl Subdivision.

Harvard and other Ivy League schools have traditionally declined to play post-season games on the grounds that it would take too much time away from their student-athletes' study and class time.

They don't do it because they have other priorities. Because some things are more important than college sports.

Harvard has its problems, chief among them is that it has become as much a luxury brand as a first-rate university. While you can get a fine education at Harvard, a motivated, intellectually curious person could probably spend four years in a public library and learn as much. What distinguishes Harvard students is their luck--they are by and large the children of a professional class who guide them toward elite schools since early childhood.

Some of my friends' children go to Harvard; if I had children I would have steered them toward the Ivy League or some similar situation, because I would seek every advantage for a loved one. I have met (and fired) mediocre Harvard graduates, but I don't hold Harvard responsible for their mediocrity. Maybe a little responsible for their lack of self-awareness.

College football and basketball are not so important to me as they are to a lot of people, but I watch the games and stay current, and know enough about basketball to offer semi-informed opinions. (Football is too complicated; a lay person's football

opinion is like a lay person's opinion on thoracic surgery. Football coaches do not have a higher moral instinct than the average person, but they know a lot more about football.) I enjoy watching and talking about college sports.

But I don't really care who wins the national championship. It's just entertainment, and while I'm glad that we have exploded the myth of the student-athlete and started to dismantle the hypocritical underpinning of big-time college sports--which is really professional sports--I'm alert

to the absurdities we embrace to sustain the drama.

The University of Arkansas couldn't afford to buy out Sam Pittman's contract. Even if it could, I'm not sure it would be a good idea. Pittman seems like a good man and a good coach; the Arkansas fan base ought to understand that unless we start diverting tax money to an NIL fund it's going to be increasingly difficult for Arkansas to field a football team that can be competitive in the Southeast Conference. We don't have Harvard's billionaires.

Pittman is probably as good as we can do given our circumstances; he's not one of the very few coaches who can single-handedly elevate a program. He's not Nick Saban. He's not (thank God) Urban Meyer. But he's probably in the same class as Mike Elko or Eliah Drinkwitz. Continuity is undervalued; most coaches get fired simply because people are discontent.

I'm not upset by the return of Bobby Petrino to Arkansas--he's good at his job, he has a right to work--but some people would be OK with Jerry Sandusky running the Razorbacks if that meant a playoff spot.

Covering sports snuffed out the fan in me; I root for individuals, not teams, when I root at all. I can pretend to dislike some teams because of perceived attitudes; I don't much care for The Ohio State University. Mostly I just look for interesting storylines. I like it when the Razorbacks are good because it makes people I care about happy.

But I liked it better when conferences were regional and hermetic, and developed their own styles and characters. It was a better product when we had Southwest Conference football and Big East basketball. Now everything has been turned into a television show. At the top the players are better, the teams are better, but the product is not.

Just as baseball was a better watch before we applied analytics to it--when we believed in the value of the hit-and-run and sacrifice bunt--college football and basketball were better spectator experiences before we emancipated the student athlete.

We can't go back to those days. It's good that athletes are sharing in the revenue that they're generating; to return to Harry Walker or Wee Willie Keeler-style baseball would be malfeasance. But we can recognize that we've ruined things, can't we?

What won't happen, what would get me shouted down, would be to suggest that schools like the University of Arkansas temper expectations and accept that there are inherent limits on what they can accomplish on the field. They can be very competitive in basketball, which doesn't require a 100-man roster, but college football has become a game for superpowers.

A winning record is a good record in Fayetteville; we should get excited by making a bowl game. And maybe every generation or so expectations might be exceeded.

But that won't happen by buying players. It might happen by building culture. Which takes more than money. Which takes patience.

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