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Friday, March 18, 2011

Which side are you on?: College sports edition

With the NCAA basketball tournaments getting under way, I wanted to post about an issue that comes up this time of year: who's your team?  Most of us have multiple teams we could root for: we've been to college and law school; we have friends and relatives from various schools; and there are also hometown teams to consider.  Many of us profs have sports teams at the schools where we teach.  So how do we rank our various loyalties?

Here's my take.  I've ranked loyalties from 10 (complete attachment) to 1 (tepid enthusiasm).  These are not my personal ranks -- they are how I think these loyalties should rank.  (It's normative!)

  • Undergrad institution (9).  This should be your primary team -- so much so that it blots out the others.  After all, it's college sports -- you should root for the college you attended.  Division III folks may claim some mitigation here, as it's harder to follow your teams.  But I think you should root for your college over any other team on the list.  This ranking becomes a "10" if combined with another factor (your parent or spouse also went there, or it's your hometown team).  This could drop down to a 5, I suppose, if you really hated your college experience.
  • Current employer (7).  You might say that you don't have "loyalty" to your employer.  But I think it's natural and good for your institutional capital to have loyalty to the school where you teach, and enthusiasm for sports teams can be part of that.  This jumps to an 8.5 if you are the dean.  
  • Hometown team of your youth (6).  Often, this will be the local state school -- or you may have a choice, in which case you'll side with one or the other, or even a local city team (Fla vs. Fla State vs. Miami, for example).  The sentimentality of childhood is what puts this so far up the list.
  • Spouse's or relative's team (5).  Again, this is often a childhood thing -- you root for your parents' teams because they are rooting for them.  But this is easier to grow out of, I think.  You also root for your spouse's team, but you never root for your spouse's team over your own college team.  And this ranking can drop down to a 1 if it's the school where your mean older sibling went.
  • Close friend's team (4 or less).  You only hit four if a really close high school friend went off to a big time sports school, and you spent a lot of time rooting for this team because your own college didn't really offer much in the way of sports.  Schools of ex-boyfriends and girlfriends should be 1 or lower.  (Sports hate is an entirely different category, which is beyond the scope of this post.)
  • Law school team (3).  A lot of folks may disagree with this one, but I just don't think you accumulate much sports loyalty in law school.  If you did, you were longing too much to return to undergrad.  Or perhaps parlaying a D3 undergrad into a D1-A law school team.  Again, I don't really buy it.
  • Current hometown team (2).  The sports media in town probably have generated at least this level of enthusiasm in you, even if you have no other affiliations with the school.  But let's not get carried away.
  • Past employer (1.5).  Some residual loyalty remains, but absence generally does not make the heart grow fonder.
  • LL.M. school (1).  I'm looking at you, Georgetown LL.Ms!

I've tried to be exhaustive, but perhaps I'm missing something.  Feel free to chime in with your own take.

Posted by Matt Bodie on March 18, 2011 at 12:56 PM in Sports | Permalink


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I, too, think grad school should be ranked higher. I went to Notre Dame for UG where my classmates and I went nuts for everything from football and hockey to basketball and baseball, all the way down to women's soccer and lacrosse. I think it's this background of intense school spirit that would drive me to support my law school, regardless of whether I end up at Penn, Harvard, Yale, or UChicago. Besides, coming from a "big time" sports environment, I think there's a a fun irony to going all out for a game in the Palestra or Yale Bowl. ND always comes first, and then the hometown team, but why shouldn't the place where I'm spending 3 years and $200k be a close third?

Posted by: Irish --> T14 | Mar 29, 2011 1:26:34 PM

I liked how you tried to work in the D-III aspect. I did my undergrad at a D3 with a phenomenal football team (but I didn't like the team - arrogant, annoying). Upgraded to a D-I for law school (Go Bucks). Although my undergrad and law school will never play, law school is the team I would cheer for, especially because I am Ohio born and bred.

Posted by: Guy | Mar 22, 2011 9:29:28 AM

UConn Law addressed this very question quite well about a decade ago with a t-shirt I still love to wear (I did an adjunct gig there):
A Law School even the Women's Basketball team can be proud of.

Nuff sed.

Posted by: Diane | Mar 21, 2011 12:17:24 PM

My undergrad school blows big chunks at hoops. They regularly embarrass me by losing to lame teams. My law school is UConn: one men's title (Sweet 16 this year), multiple women's titles. (Undergrad won back in the 40s -- and they KEEP dragging it out like it's something to be proud of.) So yeah, I'm down with the Huskies.

Posted by: r_m | Mar 21, 2011 12:00:30 PM

Rob Vischer raises a valid point, though he reaches an invalid conclusion. If you never attended a Big 10 school but grew up in the Midwest, then you've got a basic 2 point loyalty to any and all comers of the Big 10, however large and unweildy it may grow. Don't even start on whether you're a Legend Division or Leaders Divison: bite me, Delaney. But Mr. Vischer notes that he never attended a Big 10 school, which is why he can muster 2 point loyalty to any and all comers. I don't care how much you want the Big 10 to stay relevant, Wolverines do not root for Buckeyes, even in the Rose Bowl against Oregon. I'll root to see Ohio State go down in flames any day of the week. The only time that's not going to happen is if, by some chance, they're playing the Yankees. I hate the Yankees.

Jill Goldenziel raises a slightly odder point that Princetonians may root for the Ivy contender. While I recognize the appeal of the collective strength we nerds may find in rooting for fellow nerds, I would profer that established rivalries must still take precedence. Harvard shall not root for Yale, Penn shall not root for Cornell, etc. Princeton, I suppose, may root for anyone, BECAUSE PRINCETON IS WITHOUT RIVAL.

Posted by: Tiger / Wolverine | Mar 21, 2011 11:47:45 AM

I hated my undergrad school, in the middle of nowhere...I always root for my law school, a division I basketball powerhouse and up and coming football program.

Posted by: div II undergrad | Mar 21, 2011 8:36:35 AM

I unfortunately have the pleasure of going to a law school that has no sports teams or for that matter recreation groups whatsoever. Fortunately they do give classes on court decorum: http://lawblog.legalmatch.com/2011/03/08/how-to-make-judges-like-you-or-at-least-not-hate-you/

Fun times...

Posted by: Gato Points | Mar 21, 2011 4:31:48 AM

Isn't this just an odd version of the notorious game of f-ck, kill or marry?

Posted by: Anon | Mar 20, 2011 11:13:11 PM

This is goony. If you grew up a fan of a team, there is literally nothing else that can compare. This question is neither close nor debatable. (Corollary -- If you don't feel this way, you weren't really a fan as a kid.)

Relatedly: if you grew up a fan of a team, you almost certainly see mere alums of the school as second class fans. You may even disdain their more strenuous protestations of affection as manufactured, purchased, or both. You recognize in your better moments that the latter is probably unfair, imposing as it does its own exclusionary hierarchy and can't we all just get along. But you roll an inward eye nonetheless when mere alums profess to live and die with the team's performance.

There is no fandom like childhood fandom.


A Townie

Posted by: anonymous | Mar 20, 2011 10:53:29 PM

A few questions: (1) What happens to the ranking scheme if your undergraduate school was a Division III school?

(2) If you have both a JD and a Masters from the same Division I school, does it go up in the ranking? Especially if # 1 is true too?

(3) If your current employer has the most NCAA basketball titles in history, is it band wagoning to root for it above all else?

To personalize it: UVa gets JD and MS, UCLA is current employer, Illinois was first law prof job, and McDaniel is my irrelevant Div III undergrad college. I think UCLA, yes?

Posted by: Stephen Bainbridge | Mar 20, 2011 7:23:30 PM

One more thing: We should distinguish loyalty to/support for a team in general from rooting interest in a particular game. I am a "fan" of my alma mater, my employer, my wife's alma mater, etc., all on the scale that Matt has suggested. Who I root for in a particular game between two teams with which I otherwise have no connection is a different analysis.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Mar 20, 2011 7:17:36 PM

I am very much with the other Tigers! But on the sad, sad years when Princeton doesn't make it to the tourney, I always root for the other Ivy league team first. Of course, this particular conference loyalty rarely takes me past the first round.

Posted by: Jill Goldenziel | Mar 20, 2011 4:42:10 PM

I'm trying to tally up my score here. My undergraduate and law school institution are the same university, my wife also did undergraduate and law school there, I have a son currently enrolled in that university, and, oh yes, my current employer is that same institution. So, I think that means my attachment/loyalty to the University of Mississippi sports teams is a 29 on a 10 point scale. Nice.

Posted by: David Case | Mar 20, 2011 1:16:57 PM

Agree with the weighting here. BTW, Duke grad students camp out one weekend, usually in an RV, in exchange for season tickets under the baskets. Undergrads camp out in tents for each game separately. If effort required translates to passion, then the undergrads win by a landslide.

Posted by: 2nd year prof | Mar 20, 2011 12:36:42 PM

Where does conference loyalty fit on this scale? Maybe a 2? Like many of my fellow native midwesterners, I tend to root for the Big 10 team whenever they're playing someone from another conference. It's a regional loyalty, even though I never attended at Big 10 school. Legitimate?

Posted by: rob vischer | Mar 19, 2011 11:06:18 PM

Matt -- this is a well thought-out and loyalty-sensitive analysis, but much like national loyalty (and with heartfelt apologies to conflicted dual-citizens, as well as those slippery "cosmopolitans"), there's only one loyalty that counts -- undergraduate school.

Let's go Duke.

Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | Mar 19, 2011 4:23:17 PM

I think the JD/LLM connection depends on the school. |I attended duke ugrad and played in the pep band 4 years. We had law students who also played, and many who were cheering in the graduate student section regularly. It is very easy to interact in all of campus life at Duke if you want to because of the physical proximity of the buildings. The law school is effectively across the street from Cameron indoor and very near all of the ugrad and other grad buildings.

Georgetown was very different. I feel 0 sports loyalty for that school despite being very involved in the law school campus activities because the law school is an entity unto itself near capitol hill. I went to the main campus all of 2 or 3 times during my three years and never developed any affinity for Georgetown at large because of a lack of proximity and interaction. This bled into my apathy towards Georgetown sports. It doesn’t help that the basketball program perennially underachieves. (see eg, this year’s first round loss to VCU who shouldn’t even have been invited to the big dance)

In conclusion, I suspect student at other schools where the law campus is integrated with the rest of campus have a similar experience to Duke in terms of loyalty, while students at other schools where law is far from the rest of the school have a similar experience to Georgetown.

Posted by: Duke Ugrad/Georgetown Law | Mar 19, 2011 3:34:12 PM

I am one of the mentioned that thinks you are wrong on the law school- even the LLM. Team loyalty should be based on how close the connection is to you. Of the entire list, there are only two (three with the LLM) that you applied to, were accepted at, payed tuition to, made friends at, spent years at, and graduated from. Those diplomas have the school name and your name on them- those are your schools. You parents, friends, employers, and spouse are not you- they have their teams and their diplomas with their names tied to them. Only if undergad conflicts with law school, should you pick it. Law school was just as difficult to get into (hopefully), cost more than undergrad (usually), and has arguably marked you as much or more than your undergrad for the rest of your life. It's more than fair to root for the team.

Posted by: Law School | Mar 19, 2011 2:44:45 PM

PhD school should get a 7-10 IMHO. Joint JD/PhD school 8-10. I'm sure undergrads at these schools don't see it that way. Grad student sports loyalty is probably pathetic--but no less real for not being cool. Then factor in some sports like tennis or women's basketball may have a strong fan base among grad students while being relatively neglected by the undergrads.

Posted by: anon | Mar 19, 2011 11:45:52 AM

I think you need to put that LLM rating much higher for Georgetown. The school reserves really cheap basketball tickets in the lower bowl for law students, which a fair amount of LLMs take advantage of.

A fair amount of LLMs end up practicing in DC and become season ticketholders.

Posted by: Georgetown LLM | Mar 18, 2011 8:48:31 PM

I'm definitely taking this too far, but you wanted to be exhaustive. I think some sort of allowance should be made for the "this is their year" factor. For instance, Ed Rendell should be allowed (but perhaps not required) to root for Villanova (his law school alma mater) over Penn in an instance where the harm to Nova's prospects is greater than the upside for Penn.

Posted by: anonymous | Mar 18, 2011 7:56:26 PM

Great idea for a post. I think you could add another category..."Enemy of my Enemy" that I would rank in the 4-5 range.

Posted by: kevin o | Mar 18, 2011 7:40:27 PM

I'm with tiger, and Bodie '91.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Mar 18, 2011 7:32:02 PM

I'm an outlier here. I specifically chose a law school (Michigan) that would give me football and basketball teams to follow for the rest of my life. (Chose it over 3-4 "higher-rated" schools, that is; I don't buy into the rankings, so it wasn't as big a deal to me.) Still would root for my undergrad over Michigan, if they played, but otherwise I'm loyal blue.

Posted by: bonden | Mar 18, 2011 6:46:25 PM

Indeed. And I still think Mueller was fouled.

Posted by: Matt Bodie | Mar 18, 2011 6:27:19 PM

After posting, I looked up what schools Matt Bodie attended. Now I feel a little foolish. But only a little. I think Matt should have been rooting against Harvard as hard as I was.

Now, if only we'd gotten one more late turnover against Kentucky ...

Posted by: Tiger | Mar 18, 2011 6:23:59 PM

Those of us who attended Princeton and Harvard Law were extremely happy with the result of last Saturday's playoff game, even though it's ok to feel a little sympathy for Harvard, which had never been Ivy League champion and hadn't been to the NCAA Tournament since Truman was president. Undergrad 9, law school 3, isn't enough of a gap to capture the degree to which we were (or at least I was) rooting for Princeton.

Posted by: Tiger | Mar 18, 2011 6:16:05 PM

"Or perhaps parlaying a D3 undergrad into a D1-A law school team."

Haha, so true. Parlayed D1-AA (Ivy; non-Princeton/Penn) undergrad into D1-A law-school (Georgetown). But mostly because I went to Georgetown Law in the 90s during the years Iverson played there. Only reason Georgetown isn't even higher in my personal loyalties is that Georgetown conflicts (indeed, is rivals with) with my childhood hometown team (St. Johns).

Posted by: A.S. | Mar 18, 2011 5:58:58 PM

This is a fantastic idea.

Law school team should be a bit higher, although this may be because I went to the same place for undergrad and law school--and we actually were good when I was in law school, as opposed to when I was in undergrad. I think I would move close friend's team down much lower--I would say that should trail the teams of all schools with which you have direct employment, academic, or family connection, past or present.

Finally, keep in my mind that, given levels within D-I, rooting interests may not conflict or collide. I attended a Big Ten school and rooted for an ACC school as a kid, but I work at a mid-major.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Mar 18, 2011 5:17:37 PM

I think you're right on, for the most part, but I want to add one minor suggestion/caveat. I think that child's school deserves its own (higher) weight outside of the "spousal privilege." Just my two cents (or $125,000 in tuition).

Posted by: D3 Fan | Mar 18, 2011 4:21:00 PM

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