Saturday, April 21, 2018
Opinion

Editorial: Ayn Rand's formula for hoops success

If you're wondering how Florida Gulf Coast University became the first 15th seed in the history of the NCAA men's basketball tournament to advance to the Sweet 16, look no further than the ur-text of the school's economics department: Atlas Shrugged.

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.

FGCU pulled it off pretty quickly. It might have happened sooner, were it not for that great bane of Rand and her acolytes: regulators. The Eagles basketball program started in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and had to apply more than once before being accepted into the National Collegiate Athletic Association — at the Division II level. Even after being granted permission to move up to Division I, the team had to wait three years before becoming eligible for postseason play.

Florida Gulf Coast University won its first NCAA tournament game in the school's second year of eligibility, a mere 16 years after graduating its first student. Harvard won its first tournament game this year, too — 371 years after its first commencement. (They may be a little slow in Cambridge, Mass., 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.)

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.

FGCU didn't need to commission any studies. It understands implicitly the crass commercial calculations that the NCAA promotes, against its own stated goals. FGCU recognized from the start that nothing would raise the young school's profile like sports — men's basketball in particular.

"I knew that the university would grow, and it will, as a result of the athletic program," William Merwin, then the school's president, said in 2001, after the chief executive officer of a local agribusiness company donated $5 million for FGCU's sports programs.

A chunk of that money went toward finishing the construction on the basketball team's $14 million arena. (Randians might not approve, but the state agreed to underwrite the bulk of the arena's cost because it includes classroom space.) The balance was reserved for athletic scholarships and coaches' salaries.

The program is less a Cinderella story than a college basketball powerhouse in its infancy. FGCU's athletic director, Ken Kavanagh, came from Bradley, a school with a storied hoops tradition. Its 43-year-old head coach, Andy Enfield, was a well-known assistant coach at Florida State, where he developed a reputation as an aggressive recruiter.

Enfield hasn't exactly had to scrounge for talent at FGCU. For example, his team's point guard, Brett Comer, grew up playing youth basketball with Austin Rivers, a current starter for the New Orleans Hornets and the son of former NBA star Doc Rivers.

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.") 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."

Ayn Rand wrote that, too.

Jonathan Mahler is the author of "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning" and "Death Comes to Happy Valley."

© 2013 Bloomberg

Comments
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Anyone looking to make Hillsborough County government bigger, costlier, more dysfunctional and less of a regional force should love the idea that Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out this week. She proposes enlarging the seven-member board to nine, e...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

A new foster care provider in Hillsborough County is poised to take over operations in May, only months after its predecessor was fired for what was alleged to be a pattern of failing to supervise at-risk children in its care. Many of the case manage...
Published: 04/18/18

Another voice: Back to postal reform

President Donald Trump is angry at Amazon for, in his tweeted words, "costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy." Yet in more recent days, Trump has at least channeled his feelings in what could prove...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18
Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

A bipartisan Senate bill clarifying that only the attorney general or a high-ranking designee could remove a special prosecutor would send an important message amid President Donald Trump’s attacks on the investigation into Russia’s inter...
Published: 04/16/18
Updated: 04/17/18
Editorial: Don’t fall for Constitution Revision Commission’s tricks

Editorial: Don’t fall for Constitution Revision Commission’s tricks

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission has wasted months as a politically motivated scam masquerading as a high-minded effort to ask voters to improve the state’s fundamental document. The commission on Monday added amendments to the Nove...
Published: 04/16/18
Editorial: Redner’s court win on medical marijuana sends message

Editorial: Redner’s court win on medical marijuana sends message

Florida regulators have done far too little to make voter-approved medical marijuana widely available for patients suffering from chronic illnesses. A circuit court judge in Tallahassee ruled last week there is a price for that obstruction, finding t...
Published: 04/15/18
Updated: 04/16/18