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UCF's Presentation To The Big XII Was Full of Bad Data For Sale, Lies, And Irrelevant Nonsense

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Can't take you anywhere, Knights. Especially you, John Hitt.

UCF

We generally try to avoid politics around here, but in this case it's relevant, so go with it.

The Laffer Curve is one of the more renowned economic theories in history. We won't get into the nitty gritty on a sports blog, but the basics are this:

In 1974, during a famous breakfast with Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, new Office of Management and Budget Director Arthur Laffer postulated that cutting tax rates on the wealthiest would generate so much economic activity they'd pay for themselves. He showed his work on the back of a napkin, and it became the basis for most of the neoconservative economic dogma that still exists today.

It was a panacea to previously acquired wealth. That you can have your cake and eat it too. That you can cut taxes on the rich and still not have revenue fall. It was born in fantasy, and it's a fantasy that continues to this day all over the right wing of political discourse.

Naturally, It didn't work when it was finally implemented in the early 1980s. The national debt ballooned under Reagan relative to the size of the economy more than any President before or since, and George W. Bush's doubling down on this theory only added to the near-depression of 2008. This isn't our left-leaning view of the world coming out here: it's just dealing in things like "facts" and "math" (granted, areas often missing from current political discourse).

Arthur Laffer's napkin became a rallying cry for "supply-side economics," ironically trashed by Reagan's future Vice President George H.W. Bush as "voodoo economics." The "trickle-down" theory just never saw anywhere near enough money flow downstream, and the national wealth inequality that has spawned both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump began to widen further than ever. Laffer's theory of the case has been mocked by Nobel laureates the world over as on a par with flat-earth'ers and alchemists.

So what has Arthur Laffer done since? He's a partner in the firm of Arduin, Laffer, and Moore that wrote a big chunk of UCF's awkward, inaccurate, and pretty horribly designed case to the Big XII Conference.

And he's not the only partner in his firm with a history of "junk economics" for sale either. An Oklahoma State professor, the same school this pitch was made to, analyzing the firm's work for Sarasota County (total cost: $90,000) said, "if I had a student turn in a paper like this, they would have gotten an ‘F'... because they're not looking for a result here. They're designing a result."

Sarasota County Commissioners rejected ALM's original report because it "read less like a rigorous analysis and more like an ideological essay on the perils of government regulation."

You can download the written report for UCF from Arduin, Laffer, and Moore, as well as the accompanying fancy graphic proposal in full here.

C.Florida Big XII 1

C. Florida Big XII 2

To say it's all based on a less than rock-solid view of reality is an understatement.

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John Hitt's letter to Oklahoma State President Burns Hargis reads with all the warmth and closeness of a cold call to sell you office supplies.

John Hitt Letter

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Also, we're running a great deal on coffee mugs when you order at least 100 with your logo this week!

Hitt notes that Orlando will grow FIVE HUNDRED TIMES more than Hartford will according to ALM's projections. That's great for the Knights, right? I mean, it's a good thing UConn's reach only extends through the media market 45 minutes from their campus, and not to neighboring markets like Boston or NYC or anywhere else? Whew, that would have been bad.

Also Hitt is sure to let the Big XII know that they can expand their stadium to 65,000 seats if necessary. Well, thank God for that.

* We'll get to that "top choice of high school seniors in the Southeast" line later. SPOILER ALERT: no.

It's not all bullshit and junk science. Everything in this graphic is good, and that Graduation Success Rate is very impressive. Graduating 93% of any group of students within six years is fantastic. That's certainly something to brag about.

UCF 1 Page 2

The title of the text-only report that follows is "University of Central Florida in the Big XII? A Summary of Economic Growth: Past, Present, and Future." Seeing as it's written by ALM, you can imagine the liberties being taken with things like "facts" and "math."

In March 2016, the University of Central Florida requested an independent study examining the historical economic and demographic growth trends in the geographic areas surrounding UCF, the University of Cincinnati and the University of Connecticut.

In addition to examining historical data, the study was to draw upon Arduin, Laffer, & Moore Econometrics' expertise in understanding the implications of economic policies and trends to make growth forecasts.

I mean what could go wrong there?

Also notice the lack of comparison to Tampa in this study. Is that because Tampa compares more favorably than Orlando in basically every category? Or is it because trashing USF probably isn't the wisest move if the schools are going to find an escape route together. I'd prefer to think it's the latter, but I just don't know.

Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA)

Population: Orlando's population grew at the fastest rate among all three MSAs, at a rate of 355% between 1970 and 2014. Hartford's population grew at a rate of 18.9% and Cincinnati's population grew at a rate of 28.8% during this same period.

10-Year Forecast: Based on historical trends, Orlando's population growth is expected to be 500,000 over the next 10 years, which is 6 times the expected population growth of Cincinnati and 500 times the expected population growth of Hartford.

Employment: Orlando's employment growth was the fastest among all three MSAs, growing at a rate of 99.4% between 1970 and 2015. Cincinnati's employment growth was 22.9% and Hartford's employment growth was negative at -3.4% over the same period.

500 times! Good thing all three cities are starting from the same exact period there you guys!

I am a proud Florida resident and a graduate of Orlando's Boone High School, but the amount of income generated in UConn's area is much greater than the income generated in right-to-work-and-low-wage-job Orlando. And no, my beloved Tampa isn't much better in this area.

Of course UConn's reach should include a little bit of Boston, a teeny tiny sliver of NYC, and a lot of rural New England. Especially since UConn is 50 minutes by car (at 4:45 pm on a Thursday afternoon) from Hartford itself. Pretty disingenuous here.

MSA Projections

A lot of this report is pretty crap, but this part is true: Orlando (and the rest of Florida) is going to continue to grow as the national population shifts south and west, while the northeast corridor will continue to bleed population relative to the rest of the country. If you want a growth area, come to the sun. Americans are more mobile than ever due to easy travel, cheap flights, and more flexible and remote employment. They like warm weather because they aren't stupid. That's not gonna change either.

UCF income cities

So the people coming to Orlando are making more money than the people leaving? Hooray! Guess what? They're also making a helluva lot less than those that stay put in their cold-weather cities. And people that make more income spend more on season tickets and premium sports cable packages. Not sure how the above chart helps that case.

Also, the piece freely quotes the "ALEC-Laffer state ranking," which pairs a conservative state legislative organization with a disproven economist to come up with numbers that the economist is now using to make his case for which he is paid. How could this data possibly be biased? I'm sure it passes academic muster!

There's a ton of data on employment figures and GDP, and we'll certainly agree that over the last four decades, Orlando has grown much faster than Cincinnati and Hartford.

CONCLUSION

After evaluating the historical and projected performances of the key economic metrics contained within this report, it is clear that the Orlando area not only outperforms Cincinnati and Hartford in its ability to attract population, employment, and income, but also much of the U.S. as well. In 2015, Orlando added more jobs than any other MSA in the U.S., creating around 52,000 jobs and achieving a 4.6% employment growth rate, making it the fastest-growing city of the 30 areas that have an employment base of at least 1 million jobs.

Orlando has proven that it is capable of attracting and sustaining economic growth, making it an ideal candidate to join the Big 12 Conference.

See, SCIENCE!! FLAWLESS VICTORY!! ADMIT US NOW BOWLSBY OR FEEL OUR EMERGING ECONOMIC WRATH!!

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So that's the first document. Then they put together a graphic presentation. And... just...

SMH

The first five pages of 13 are dedicated to the Cappex College Considerations Report. Cappex is a site which helps match students with scholarships and colleges to attend, while also data mining for schools that are clients. Cappex says of the report: "We've dug through the data to determine which schools our students are looking at most frequently during their college decision-making experiences."

So yeah, a lot of students are "considering" UCF. And by "considering" they mean "looking them up on a website." Go back to what John Hitt said in his opening letter:

UCF is the top choice of high school seniors in a 12-state Southeastern United States region.

How is this data showing UCF is the "top choice?" This is like saying people look at more videos of corgis than any other dog on YouTube all day, so corgis must be the "top choice" of all the people on YouTube.

This is complete and utter junk science, misinformation, and lies at their worst.

UCF WTF

Look at what happens: students dream of going to Harvard, then think about Gainesville, and end up settling for UCF. Good thing we spent 38.4% of our presentation space telling a potential new conference this!

It also makes sense a ton of students "consider" UCF: IT'S THE LARGEST UNDERGRADUATE SCHOOL BY POPULATION IN AMERICA. That tends to happen when you have 65,000 students. But why exactly is this a point of pride?

Of course the "smaller" (but still huge) USF is further down these "consider" lists. But USF is also more selective academically and performs better by metrics and does 263% more research annually and has more than twice UCF's endowment.

But lots of people look up UCF on the internet! So... yeah.

Some of what UCF says is just a lie. Like this graphically made bullet point:

UCF Performance Funding

How can you put #1 next to a caption saying you're in the top three? By the way, total dollars in performance funding from the Florida Board of Governors since 2013:

  • UF $76,231,527
  • USF $62,233,476
  • UCF $61,086,881

The next few pages are just a repackage of the ALM report.

Then there's more stuff like this:

UCF impressions

Well yeah you've got more impressions... you're a school that's more than twice the size of the others. And though putting the TV market rankings in there was wise... since even OU President David Boren now says "that boat has sailed," don't think this is gonna help too much anymore.

Also, way to really make an impression on your new school by adding a SCREENSHOT OF A YOUTUBE VIDEO TO YOUR VERY PROFESSIONAL PRESENTATION.

UCF screenshot

That's not an embed guys: this is a print piece. Seriously.

And after all that, the best part of their case is buried at the end of Page 12. It's this:

UCF not being stupid

Huge student-athlete graduation success, and a monster school that will have a metric shit ton of alumni someday. Stick to what you're good at, Knights.

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I write this only because it seems both schools on I-4 might be a package deal to get out of American conference purgatory. USF could really use a trusted partner. Someone they can work with that deals in facts and reality. Someone aware of their shortcomings, and is willing to take an honest view of their strengths and weaknesses. Someone with some understanding of how conference realignment discussions generally work. Hint: it's not unsolicited presentations mailed like sales brochures.

That someone might not be C.Florida. And that could be very bad for both schools.