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Is the NFL Smarter Than the Ivy League?

If I were to say that the NFL’s governing body is smarter than the administrations of our nation’s wealthiest universities, would you believe me? People may look in wonder at the nature of the statement, asking themselves “How could a handful of individuals in the sports business outwit those that are responsible for educating our nation’s brightest students?” The answer is simple: they understand that their own success depends on the success of the group.

Last year the NFL team owners overwhelmingly passed a new revenue sharing plan designed to lessen the financial divide between large and small market teams. The owners agreed to take a financial hit because they knew that the future of the league depended upon the economic viability of each and every team. I wonder how long it will take for college administrators to come to the same realization.

We are in a time where the billion-dollar endowments of a handful of universities grow at rates approaching and exceeding twenty percent per year, while the majority of colleges have endowments below $10 million. Just look at the $5.7 billion growth in just Harvard’s endowment last year. To most individuals, $10 million still seems like a pretty respectable sum, but when only a portion is spent each year, it leaves many institutions strapped for cash when it comes time to update buildings, give financial aid, and provide reliable services to their students. These schools — and more importantly their students — would benefit greatly from just a small influx of money; money that is accumulating in the accounts of a few wealthy institutions.

Our nation’s wealthiest universities need to come to the same realization as the NFL owners: that they cannot succeed on their own. In light of the recent focus on endowment spending by Congress, now is the perfect time to offset the growing gap between college endowments. By sharing a portion of investment earnings — not touching the endowment itself — wealthy universities can curb government speculation and improve the quality of education across the nation.

Schools that are short on cash would be able to improve financial aid and their degree programs.

What do these schools stand to lose? Just a few percentage points from their annual endowment growth; money that primarily goes back into the endowment and not to the students that could benefit from it. These schools claim to stand for education, yet they continue to increase tuition and limit spending, all just to enlarge their own portfolios.

Drew K. Cameron ’10