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September 13, 2009

Great Law Schools, Great Football?

College football and the legal academy are two worlds that both seem obsessed with rankings.  What may be surprising is how little overlap there is between those two worlds.  Intriguingly, those rankings, at least at the very top, are nearly mutually exclusive.  As of today, only one school (Cal) has both a top-10 law school and a top-10 football team. 

Of course, the dearth of great football programs coinciding with great law schools is in part due to prioritization by schools.  The Ivy League chose not to continue with high-cost I-A football long ago, and thus it is not surprising that Yale, Harvard, Columbia, and Penn are not powerhouses.  NYU and Chicago play in Division III, at the other end of the spectrum from their academic reputations, and Duke, Northwestern and the University of Virginia often lose more games than they win in Division I-A (as did Michigan last year).

A few intriguing questions arise from comparing these lists.  First, there are a number of football powerhouses that also host excellent law schools just outside the top rank, including USC, the University of Texas, and Ohio State.  What if... they funded their law schools like their football programs?  Would that be enough for them to break through? 

Second, is it just about money?  Consider the one school on both lists, Cal-Berkeley.  It is the flagship school for a state under severe budget restrictions, which has been feeling a pinch for a while and certainly is not as well-funded overall as many of the other top schools.  How do they do such a good job at both simultaneously?

At a superficial level, the job of improving a law school's ranking is similar to bumping up a football program.  Hiring is crucial, and getting the right students into the program.  However, in football there is an objective measure that trumps all others:  performance on the field.  How different would our rankings be if they were based on such an objective measure?  And what does it say about us that when we do consider "objective" measures, it almost always has to do with scholarship rather than the outcomes of our students' lives? 

-- Mark Osler

September 13, 2009 | Permalink


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There is an objective measure of success.

Law schools should be ranked in accordance with the sincere value the public puts on its grads.

Controlling for time since graduation, the salaries of the alumni should be compared. If the grad is a government worker, the size of the budget he controls is a measure of ability.

Number of articles or citations by other articles is worthless. If people want accuracy, survey the salary and the public budget run by the grad.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 13, 2009 10:48:37 PM

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