Fantasy Baseball and the Future of Business Schools

Managing the future of business schools may have some uncanny relevance to the lessons of baseball.
Fantasy Baseball and the Future of Business Schools

Fantasy baseball leagues allow millions of participants to become fictional owners of a baseball team. At the start of each season, the “owner” assembles his best squad by bidding against others in the league for real major league players. As play progresses through the season, the owner wheels and deals, making changes in his roster. All owners play with the same bankroll, which is usually 260 units to spend on 23 players. Standings are based on the cumulative statistics of each team’s players in eight categories, such as RBIs and ERA. At the end of the season, winners are crowned.

In some circles, ERAs and RBIs might seem leagues away from GMATs and MBAs. During the past months, however, at the same time I’ve explored and reflected on the future of business schools and AACSB’s role in shaping that future, some of my leisure time has been devoted to managing a fantasy baseball team. It has occurred to me that parallels exist between the two, and that managing the future of business schools may have some uncanny relevance to the lessons of baseball.

Like effective business schools, winning baseball teams are built on much more than intuition. High achievement requires an understanding of the intricacies of the game; knowledge of the competitive environment; and anticipation of needs and trends. In fact, the ability to make strategic assessments with regard to what’s going to happen next and what the implications might be—plus knowing when and how to act on that appraisal —may be the nucleus of baseball and business school success.

Predicting the Future

Imagining the future based only on what we personally observe and experience is dangerous and unreliable. We need to find ways to tap into other sources.

One of the strengths of AACSB International is the collective power and knowledge of our membership. Valuable data from our schools, along with information and insights from an array of other sources, help to illuminate the future and lead us to six fundamental projections about the future of management education.

You can see a lot just by observing. Yogi Berra

1. One World

Corporate globalization is galvanizing the demand for quality management education around the globe. Increasingly aggressive and business-savvy developing economies, the actualization of the European Union, the transitioning markets of the former communist states, and other international developments will spur business school expansion, global coalitions, and fierce competition. The value of proven management strategies and principles will become even more entrenched, as business leaders around the world stake their claims and demand their share of the returns.

As the realities of “one world” become a given, the borderless marketplace will drive management education toward a global core curriculum that will incorporate regional and country-specific approaches and varying norms and practices within the business world. Ethical values and challenges will be addressed along with varying market behaviors and human resources management. Business schools will become even more closely attuned to the needs and expectations of their customers—the corporations that employ their graduates.

One of the benefits of AACSB International membership centers around our sense of community and mutuality. In some sense business schools are competitors, but business school leaders fully understand and appreciate the value of networking; exchanges of information, ideas, and best practices; and professional development. Opportunities abound for members representing all types of organizations to reach out to each other through AACSB International.

AACSB International’s commitment to globalization is not new, but it is now an even more important dimension of the organization—and it’s even reflected in our new name. In the near term, our efforts will focus on the expansion of international accreditation, programs such as conferences and seminars at sites outside the U.S., and mechanisms that will make it easier for members to share innovative/effective practices and business school data/information across all borders. An International Advisory Council has been established and is helping to ensure global perspectives and opportunities for members.

In baseball, the “playing field” is much bigger than the term suggests. Managers must make day-to-day, moment-by-moment analysis and assessments of players and their skills; but managers must also view their teams as a unit and within the broad context of what everybody else in the league is doing. Just as business school leaders must see their organizations from the fully informed perspective of one world, those who aim for baseball glory—even fantasy style baseball glory—can’t afford a micro view of the game.

2. Consolidation

Spiraling operating costs will compel consolidation among some institutions of higher education. At many schools, tough fiscal times have already descended. Remedies like large tuition increases, program cuts, and hiring freezes, unpleasant as they are, may still not be enough. Increased costs associated with fixed facilities, human resources, and other operating expenses will exert extreme financial pressures on institutions that rely on governmental subsidies and student tuition to conduct operations. Institutions that are unable to muster significant support from private sources may face insolvency or mergers with more financially able providers.

In some instances, schools are already acting to consolidate certain aspects of their operations. At the community college level, for example, eight Midwest community colleges in the U.S. have formed a nonprofit corporation, the Alliance of Community Colleges for Electronic Sharing. The consortium maintains student records and handles financial accounting, payroll, and other administrative systems. According to a Chronicle of Higher Education report, the consortium has saved the schools millions of dollars in hardware and software costs since 1995, when the alliance was formed. Although the process of joining forces may be far more complex for large institutions, it is a strategy that might be relevant in many different environments and areas.

Depending on particular circumstances, the specter of consolidation may be painful or positive, just as it is in business. In either case, management leaders with foresight will be ahead of the curve. They will strategize and act to optimize their situations, whether they’re standing pat, looking at consolidation of whole institutions, or possibly combining programs and services that will fill gaps and reduce costs.

A hot dog at the park is better than steak at the Ritz. Humphrey Bogart

In situations where consolidation appears to be a feasible solution to a problem, AACSB International members may be able to use their contacts within the organization to make their best deals. Connecting with colleagues who have been through some similar decision-making processes is one of our strengths.

In business schools, as in baseball, there’s no substitute for time spent on imagining the future. We can’t succeed or make the best decisions if we wait until everything is obvious because somebody will be there before us. We must fully understand the territory, make our best guesses about what the future holds, and then make those guesses work for us. He who hesitates is lost. If people wait too late to get in the game, they lose. We become reactors instead of actors.

3. Transformation of Accounting

Traditional accounting education will become a multidisciplined curriculum and form the new economy’s language of business. The ever-strengthening grip of information technology on business is only one of the forces that have resulted in a decline in the number of students acquiring bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting. Yet traditional accounting programs have given students a form and structure that elucidate and rationalize the world of business. That insight is invaluable; but it must be broadened, and it must become more relevant.

In their book, Accounting Education: Charting the Course through a Perilous Future, W. Steve Albrecht and Robert J. Sack argue for transformational changes in structure, curricula, pedagogy, research, and faculty development. They advocate approaches that will position accounting education so that it regains its synchronization with business and technology.

Accounting students must learn more than accounting. They must understand other disciplines, see business as much more than their own area of specialization, and learn how to be exceptional communicators. Thought leaders are already working to modify course requirements and integrate the new economy’s languages of finance and information technology. An evolved accounting curriculum will once again produce savvy business leaders for the new economy.

AACSB International is committed to helping accounting programs achieve and maintain quality. Although accounting accreditation isn’t essential, it does ensure that good programs don’t become complacent. It also promotes teamwork, boosts morale, provides credibility, and supports program currency and relevance.

Understanding the context of accounting is akin to “the great revelation” of baseball—and I perhaps can say this because of my own accounting background. Before I became engaged in fantasy baseball, I considered myself to be on a fairly high level as a student of the game; but the fantasy league experience forces participants to learn much more about the game and how all the pieces fit together. In a Sporting News story by Michael MacCambridge, Dan Okrent, one of the founders of fantasy baseball, talks about gaining an understanding of the intricacies of baseball: “You saw (for the first time) how futile it was to be a short reliever for Tommy Lasorda because he never wanted to rely on one guy. It was bullpen by committee. So you’d begin to understand bullpen strategies. Or how the trade of a player, like Sixto Lezcano from Milwaukee to St. Louis, caused you to see that those numbers wouldn’t translate because of the ballpark differences. You sort of got this underneath-the-fingernails level of appreciation and understanding of the game.”

While the elegance and precision of their profession will always hum and beat in the hearts of accountants, they must seek out that “underneath-the-fingernails” level of business understanding. Broad knowledge of finance, communications, marketing, and all the other elements of business will ensure relevance and help make accounting once again the language of business.

4. Faculty Shortages

A recent “All Things Considered” segment on U.S. National Public Radio included an excerpt from Professor Michael Bradley of Duke’s Fuqua School of Business in Durham, North Carolina. The reporter explained that Bradley was recording his lectures for a CD-ROM version of his corporate restructuring class. Armed with Bradley’s presentations, other faculty members will teach the course for him. Bradley says his teaching load has doubled and that he hasn’t enough time for research and other assignments. While the strategy may have seemed novel to some National Public Radio listeners, faculty shortages are compelling new approaches.

You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out it was the other way around all the time. Jim Bouton

News that the demand for business faculty is far exceeding supply hardly comes as a surprise. Only about 500 of the thousand business Ph.D. candidates who receive degrees every year seek academic jobs, and the supply of faculty through traditional sources will continue to dwindle. Business students are well aware that Ph.D. programs require four or five more years above the MBA. In addition, earning opportunities are far greater in the business world.

In the new scheme of things, academics like Bradley will design curricula and courses and focus on research and advanced delivery methods; but they will provide little classroom instruction. Professional instructors whose credentials are more practical than academic will teach students. They will operate effectively in the live and electronic classroom, but they will be purveyors, rather than the authors, of the course content.

At the same time, the 90-plus business schools with Ph.D. programs should strive to attract more students. Escalating salaries for faculty may help to make the case to Ph.D. candidates.

Business schools will explore other options, such as recruiting and retraining experienced managers to be professors. Intensive Ph.D. programs might be established for individuals who boast successful track records in real-world business environments but who might be looking for a different type of challenge.

Our AACSB International Board of Directors, staff, and leaders are constantly in search of strategies and initiatives that will allow us to leverage our collective strength and support our members as they deal with challenges like faculty shortages. Whether our role is to provide information, training, or forums, we believe that AACSB International should help to solve problems. Our new seminar program, which will be launched this fall, is only one of the mechanisms that might be helpful. The seminars will offer intensive training in areas such as teaching methodologies, for example, along with a lineup of other courses aimed at faculty, program directors, deans, development officers, and others. In addition, we’re developing one-day, drive-up programs that can be taken to campuses throughout the U.S. and can be adapted to other countries.

Effective management of human resources is critical in any enterprise. In fantasy baseball, it’s the name of the game. You have to be able to recognize talent that may not be visible to others, and you must understand the ins and outs of developmental processes. You also have to recognize when those processes and people aren’t working out so that you can cut your losses.

This year I was late joining the fantasy baseball league, which meant that all the top players had been drafted by others. To move from last place to first meant that I had to acquire quick, in-depth knowledge of the players—their histories, possibilities, and limitations. When large corporations—and maybe business schools— refer to people as “their most important asset,” they really mean it.

5. For-profits and Not-for-profits

Traditional not-for-profit institutions will reverse recent trends and win back market share from the for-profit sector. Education has become big business; and many venerable not-for-profit higher educational institutions have been on the run from slick, low-cost, for-profit education providers. In fact, a recent report by the U.S. Education Commission of the States shows that for-profit, degree-granting institutions have grown at a significantly faster rate than their not-for-profit counterparts. From 1989 to 1999, for-profit four-year degree-granting colleges increased to 194, or 266 percent. The public sector grew three percent, to 613 institutions, while the number of not-for-profit private colleges increased four percent, to 1,536.

Still, “the game ain’t over ’til it’s over”—to quote the incomparable Yogi Berra. The not-for-profit, bricks-and-mortar learning centers will make a comeback. From bold initiatives in e-learning to global alliances in curriculum delivery, not-for-profits have just begun to take back their marketplace. Taking some of their cues from the audacious upstarts, not-for-profit institutions will provide higher quality, more reliable management education than the new for-profits at a competitive cost to students.

The mission of AACSB International is to advance management education, and how that overarching purpose plays out depends on the needs and wishes of members. Historically, our membership has been largely centered on traditional institutions of learning; but as the business school environment changes, so must we. Our membership is far more heterogeneous than it has ever been. It includes the world’s most established business schools, but it also includes smaller schools, private schools, corporate universities—accredited and nonaccredited, for-profits and nonprofits. Our underlying standards haven’t changed, but our leaders have recognized that excellence comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors.

Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you. Satchel Paige

Consistency and comebacks are as inherent to business schools as they are to baseball. What’s important in both environments is to honor the fundamentals and embrace change when it’s necessary. In today’s supercharged world, the pendulum sometimes seems to swing with the same regularity as the baseball bat.

6. E-learning

Electronic delivery and wireless technology will transform the management education process. Demand from emerging economies and busy employees and traveling executives everywhere will ignite the marketplace. Increasingly, students will come together in electronic communities, although their colleagues are as likely to be halfway around the world as in the next room. The 24/7 format will become the norm. Technology not only has revolutionized management education, it has also made business school far more accessible to far more people.

Still, e-learning will be only one management education tool among many. Striking the right balance between varied, innovative learning strategies will be an important goal. The benefits of face-to-face contact among learners and instructors will not be easily dismissed, and the possibility of learning from someone with enormous passion and knowledge of a subject will not lose its cachet or appeal. Business schools will find ways to harness technology, but their real goal will be to optimize learning and the educational experience.

Our AACSB International Board, along with staff and other leaders, is committed to helping members capitalize on technology. Our e-commerce conferences have informed and educated members in many aspects of e-learning, for example. We are also introducing a special technology boot camp that will provide hands-on, intensive training designed to enhance the skills of faculty in this area.

Technology has had as great an impact on fantasy baseball as it has had on education. Fantasy baseball probably would never have taken off as it did without technology. Easy access to computers reduced the drudgery for statisticians, who then were able to disseminate worlds of vital data to fans. According to ESPN.com baseball columnist Rob Neyer, the Internet “has brought a whole new wave of fans into the game, fans who didn’t have the time to sit down and add up their own numbers and now only have to push a button.”

Stepping Up to the Plate

Like many other venerable institutions around the world, management education is caught up in a tumult of change and excitement. A century ago, the American writer Mark Twain wrote, “Baseball is the very symbol, the outward and visible expression of the drive and push and rush and struggle of the raging, tearing, booming nineteenth century.” He might almost have been describing the 2001 business school environment.

The benefits business schools offer have never been more valued, and the fervor for knowledge and skills has indirectly led to keen competition and unparalleled opportunities for growth. It has also spurred management educators to reaffirm an unequivocal commitment to excellence and continuous improvement. Our prospects are ripe with possibility.

Fantasy baseball seems to be caught up in a similar whirl. The game has burgeoned into an explosive industry, fueled by the ease and accessibility of the Internet. The oldest and most elaborate fantasy site belongs to ESPN.com, with about 100,000 teams. To me, it’s an intriguing hobby, one that invites me to apply the principles and practices of business that are a part of our AACSB International environment. I’m not sure whether or not baseball truly explains the meaning of life, as some aficionados have claimed, or if life imitates the World Series; but I’ll let you know if I finish in first place.

John J. Fernandes is the President and Chief Executive Officer of AACSB International—The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. Fernandes has more than 25 years’ internal auditing and management experience, and serves on the Board of Governors of the business honor society, Beta Gamma Sigma.