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Econ Course Features High-Profile Guests

New Book Views Baseball Through Commissioners' Eyes

The list of guest speakers in Economics 231: The Sports Economy, a course taught this semester by Andrew Zimbalist, reads like a Who’s Who of professional sports.

Don Fehr, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, dropped in on April 11. Stan Kasten, the longtime president of Atlanta professional sports teams, baseball’s Braves, the Hawks basketball team, and the Thrashers hockey team, spoke on March 28. Sunil Gulati, the chief operating officer of the New England Revolution and incoming president of US Soccer, visited the class on March 16. On April 20, Allen Guttmann, a professor of history at Amherst College and a preeminent expert on the history of sports, gave a presentation.

On Tuesday, April 25, Fay Vincent, the former commissioner of Major League Baseball, dropped by, fittingly as Zimbalist’s latest book, In the Best Interests of Baseball? The Revolutionary Reign of Bud Selig, was recently released (see accompanying story). The book—parts of which are required reading in his course—addresses the history of baseball and its evolution from the perspective of the nine commissioners to have held the post since it was created in 1921.

Zimbalist, the Robert A. Woods Professor of Economics, is widely recognized as one of the foremost experts on the business of sports, baseball in particular. Among his 15 books are Baseball and Billions (1992), Unpaid Professionals: Commercialism and Conflict in Big-time College Sports (1999), and May the Best Team Win: Baseball Economics and Public Policy (2003).

Zimbalist, who has taught a popular seminar on sports economics for 14 years, altered the course this year to offer it for the first time at the 200 level, doubling the class size in the process. His students, including six from Amherst College, come from an array of academic disciplines.

“One of the challenges of teaching a course like this is that students come with very different backgrounds and expectations,” he says. “But people in our culture go ga-ga over sports,” especially the college-aged set, many of whom play sports and personally connect with and follow sports teams.

The course probes a range of issues in professional and college sports, such as player salaries, equity in remuneration, the importance of competitive balance, and anti-trust and drug policies. But, Zimbalist emphasizes, it goes beyond sports in imparting economics concepts, public policies and legal theories that apply to industries of many types.

This semester is the first time Zimbalist has scheduled a lineup of sports experts for his sports economy course. Having consulted for several professional sports groups during the past 10 years and written numerous high-profile articles on sports business, he has cultivated relationships with those in the industry, such as this semester’s guest speakers.

The course will culminate in a class trip to Boston in early May, during which students will attend a talk by Red Sox co-owner Tom Werner, then take in a Red Sox game.

With that finale and its list of professional sports heavy-hitters, the Economics 231 waiting list is sure to grow.

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