This is the time of year where America celebrates college basketball as a spectacle, and more and more, as a business. In 2010, the NCAA struck a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal with CBS and Turner Broadcasting System for the rights to the tournament. Part of that money eventually devolves down to the teams, some of which have become truly enormous profit generators. At The Atlantic, we wondered what this year's bracket would look like if, instead of their on-the-court play, teams won and lost based on their most recent balance sheets. Using data from the Department of Education, we calculated which teams earned the biggest profits during the 2010-2011 fiscal year, then set them up against each other.
The Final Four: Louisville, Duke Ohio State, and the University of North Carolina. Your national champion: Louisville. By a longshot. (Click the bracket below for a full-size version.)
The government's numbers have one major flaw for our purposes. Colleges can hide the true cost of running a money-losing team with some fancy accounting -- essentially by covering up their losses with dollars from the school's general fund. As a result, many teams appear to finish the year breaking exactly even, despite the fact that they're actually in the red. On the bracket, I've marked those programs as having "unknown losses."*
But while the data won't tell you much about most of the money losers, it will tell you a lot about the money makers. Louisville has been college basketball's earnings leader three years running, raking in a monstrous $40.89 million in revenue in FY 2010-2011, and $27.55 million in profit. Second place Duke made a total of $28.91 million in revenue, netting $15.1 million.
College basketball teams earn income off three main things -- ticket sales, donations, and distributions from the NCAA itself, says Transylvania University Professor Daniel Fulks, who analyzes university athletic department finances on behalf of the NCAA. The ticket sales are the most straight-forward part of the equation. Large schools with large stadiums that can pack a crowd have an obvious built-in advantage. Unsurprisingly, four of the five highest revenue generating teams in this year's tournament -- Louisville, UNC, Syracuse, and Kentucky -- also led the NCAA in average per-game attendance.
But a successful team can get by without massive attendance. Duke, with its relatively modest 9,300 seat stadium, is the second most formidable revenue earner in the tournament. They do it with donations from alumni and boosters. Before Blue Devils fans are allowed to buy season tickets at Cameron Indoor Stadium, they're required to make a sizable donations. According to Duke Senior Associate Athletic Director Mike Cragg, the two worst seats in the house require an $8,000 dollar gift on top of the ticket price. Fans give all the way to up to the cost of a year-long scholarship, roughly $55,000. Many other universities have adopted similar practices.
Finally, there are the funds the NCAA distributes to conferences based on their performance in the national championship tournament. Conferences earn money based on the number of games their teams have played in the big dance during the past six years. The more games, the more the conference earns. Last year, the NCAA doled out about $180 million this way. It's up to each conferences to split up its haul between its teams.
Combined, those three categories make up three quarters of most basketball teams' revenue, Fulks says. Now consider Louisville. The Cardinals play in the brand new, 22,000 seat YUM Center, where prospective season ticket buyers are essentially required to make donations before they can claim a seat. According to Forbes, the team received more than $20 million in total contributions last year. It also plays in the Big East, which received the single biggest portion of last year's NCAA tournament bounty.
Wealthy teams, like Louisville, only stand to get richer. In the last few years, the top athletic conferences have signed lucrative television deals for football and basketball worth many millions of dollars to each of their member schools.
But just like in any other game, earning a nice financial return won't necessarily earn a college basketball team points on the court. Arizona is sitting out March Madness, even though it was the third most profitable school in Division I-A last year, with more than $14 million in net income. Other big spending, big-earnings schools such as the Universities of Illinois and Minnesota* will also be watching from home. On the other hand, Mississippi Valley State, which operated at a loss despite a shoestring budget of $682,000, got a shot at the tournament.
Thankfully, in real life, the big money doesn't always win.
*A note about the bracket: In matchups between teams with two unknown financial losses, I gave points for thriftiness and advanced the squad with lower expenses. When a program with an unknown loss played one with a known loss, I gave points for honesty and advanced the team with the known loss.
*An earlier version of this piece mistakenly stated that Wisconsin had not made the tournament (despite having them on my bracket). Having spent time working in the badger state, I realize that residents there rightly get frustrated about being mixed up with their next door neighbor. My sincere apologies.
Today’s empires are born on the web, and exert tremendous power in the material world.
Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t had the best week.
First, Facebook’s Free Basics platform was effectively banned in India. Then, a high-profile member of Facebook’s board of directors, the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, sounded off about the decision to his nearly half-a-million Twitter followers with a stunning comment.
“Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades,” Andreessen wrote. “Why stop now?”
After that, the Internet went nuts.
Andreessen deleted his tweet, apologized, and underscored that he is “100 percent opposed to colonialism” and “100 percent in favor of independence and freedom.” Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, followed up with his own Facebook post to say Andreessen’s comment was “deeply upsetting” to him, and not representative of the way he thinks “at all.”
Einstein’s gravitational waves rest on a genuinely radical idea.
After decades of anticipation, we have directly detected gravitational waves—ripples in spacetime traveling at the speed of light through the universe. Scientists at LIGO (the Laser Interferometic Gravitational-wave Observatory) have announced that they have measured waves coming from the inspiral of two massive black holes, providing a spectacular confirmation of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, whose hundredth anniversary was celebrated just last year.
Finding gravitational waves indicates that Einstein was (once again) right, and opens a new window onto energetic events occurring around the universe. But there’s a deeper lesson, as well: a reminder of the central importance of locality, an idea that underlies much of modern physics.
The revolution that ended the reign of beards occurred on September 30, 331 b.c., as Alexander the Great prepared for a decisive showdown with the Persian emperor for control of Asia. On that day, he ordered his men to shave. Yet from time immemorial in Greek culture, a smooth chin on a grown man had been taken as a sign of effeminacy or degeneracy. What can explain this unprecedented command? When the commander Parmenio asked the reason, according to the ancient historian Plutarch, Alexander replied, “Don’t you know that in battles there is nothing handier to grasp than a beard?” But there is ample cause to doubt Plutarch’s explanation. Stories of beard-pulling in battles were myth rather than history. Plutarch and later historians misunderstood the order because they neglected the most relevant fact, namely that Alexander had dared to do what no self-respecting Greek leader had ever done before: shave his face, likening himself to the demigod Heracles, rendered in painting and sculpture in the immortal splendor of youthful, beardless nudity. Alexander wished above all, as he told his generals before the battle, that each man would see himself as a crucial part of the mission. They would certainly see this more clearly if each of them looked more like their heroic commander.
Most people know how to help someone with a cut or a scrape. But what about a panic attack?
Here’s a thought experiment: You’re walking down the street with a friend when your companion falls and gashes her leg on the concrete. It’s bleeding; she’s in pain. It’s clear she’s going to need stitches. What do you do?
This one isn’t exactly a head-scratcher. You'd probably attempt to offer some sort of first-aid assistance until the bleeding stopped, or until she could get to medical help. Maybe you happen to have a Band-Aid on you, or a tissue to help her clean the wound, or a water bottle she can use to rinse it off. Maybe you pick her up and help her hobble towards transportation, or take her where she needs to go.
Here’s a harder one: What if, instead of an injured leg, that same friend has a panic attack?
When four American women were murdered during El Salvador’s dirty war, a young U.S. official and his unlikely partner risked their lives to solve the case.
On December 1, 1980, two American Catholic churchwomen—an Ursuline nun and a lay missionary—sat down to dinner with Robert White, the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador. They worked in rural areas ministering to El Salvador’s desperately impoverished peasants, and White admired their commitment and courage. The talk turned to the government’s brutal tactics for fighting the country’s left-wing guerrillas, in a dirty war waged by death squads that dumped bodies in the streets and an army that massacred civilians. The women were alarmed by the incoming Reagan administration’s plans for a closer relationship with the military-led government. Because of a curfew, the women spent the night at the ambassador’s residence. The next day, after breakfast with the ambassador’s wife, they drove to San Salvador’s international airport to pick up two colleagues who were flying back from a conference in Nicaragua. Within hours, all four women would be dead.
By mining electronic medical records, scientists show the lasting legacy of prehistoric sex on modern humans’ health.
Modern humans originated in Africa, and started spreading around the world about 60,000 years ago. As they entered Asia and Europe, they encountered other groups of ancient humans that had already settled in these regions, such as Neanderthals. And sometimes, when these groups met, they had sex.
We know about these prehistoric liaisons because they left permanent marks on our genome. Even though Neanderthals are now extinct, every living person outside of Africa can trace between 1 and 5 percent of our DNA back to them. (I am 2.6 percent Neanderthal, if you were wondering, which pales in comparison to my colleague James Fallows at 5 percent.)
This lasting legacy was revealed in 2010 when the complete Neanderthal genome was published. Since then, researchers have been trying to figure out what, if anything, the Neanderthal sequences are doing in our own genome. Are they just passive hitchhikers, or did they bestow important adaptations on early humans? And are they affecting the health of modern ones?
Ben Stiller’s follow-up to his own comedy classic is a downright bummer, no matter how many celebrity cameos it tries to cram in.
You don’t need to go to the theater to get the full experience of Zoolander 2. Simply get your hands on a copy of the original, watch it, and then yell a bunch of unfunny topical lines every time somebody tells a joke. That’s how it feels to watch Ben Stiller’s sequel to his 2001 spoof of the fashion industry: Zoolander 2 takes pains to reference every successful gag you remember from the original, and then embellish them in painful—often offensive, almost always outdated—fashion. It’s a film that has no real reason to exist, and it spends its entire running time reaffirming that fact.
The original Zoolander, to be fair, had no business being as funny as it was—it made fun of an industry that already seems to exist in a constant state of self-parody, and much of its humor relied on simple malapropisms and sight gags. But it was hilarious anyway as a candid snapshot of the fizzling-out of ’90s culture. Like almost any zeitgeist comedy, it belonged to a particular moment—and boy, should it have stayed there. With Zoolander 2, Stiller (who directed, co-wrote, and stars) tries to recapture the magic of 2001 by referencing its past glories with increasing desperation, perhaps to avoid the fact that he has nothing new to say about the fashion industry or celebrity culture 15 years laters.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
The bureau successfully played the long game in both cases.
The story of law enforcement in the Oregon standoff is one of patience.
On the most obvious level, that was reflected in the 41 days that armed militia members occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns. It took 25 days before the FBI and state police moved to arrest several leaders of the occupation and to barricade the refuge. It took another 15 days before the last of the final occupiers walked out, Thursday morning Oregon time.
Each of those cases involved patience as well: Officers massed on Highway 395 didn’t shoot LaVoy Finicum when he tried to ram past a barricade, nearly striking an FBI agent, though when he reached for a gun in his pocket they finally fired. Meanwhile, despite increasingly hysterical behavior from David Fry, the final occupier, officers waited him out until he emerged peacefully.
The country’s growth is slowing. The wrong response might make the problem worse.
An anxious superpower is confounded by a troubled economy. For a generation, its growth has been envied; now that growth is decelerating sharply. For decades, it has shaped and guided its economy via tight control of its banks; now that lever is malfunctioning. For years, it has carefully managed its exchange rate and limited the flow of capital across its borders; now the dam is cracking. To anyone who keeps up with the news, the superpower would seem easy to identify: China. But for those with a long memory, it could just as well be the United States of the Nixon era.
Like China today, the United States of the 1970s experienced an abrupt economic slowdown. Its economy had expanded by 4.4 percent a year, on average, during the go-go ’50s and ’60s, but growth slowed by about one-quarter during the following decade, to 3.2 percent a year. Even though growth of more than 3 percent may sound robust by today’s standards, at the time it felt ghastly. Time magazine lamented in 1974 that “middle-class people are being pushed into such demeaning economies as buying clothes at rummage sales”; a year or so later, its cover asked, “Can Capitalism Survive?” In September 1975, after President Gerald Ford survived two attempts on his life in quick succession, an adviser named Alan Greenspan responded with a memo about the “nihilism, radicalism, and violence” that seemed to grip some Americans. When New York City flirted with bankruptcy, its plight was taken as a symbol of broader moral and cultural decay.