July 9, 2020 Boston

March Madness still happened, just in April

Last weekend I participated as a judge for a great event – the “Fiscal Challenge.” This annual academic competition invites college teams from throughout the nation to develop and defend their plans for a sustainable fiscal path for the federal government of the United States.

Led by University of North Carolina professor Mike Aguilar, with financial support from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the Fiscal Challenge invites student teams to compete for one of four finalist positions. The finalists usually deliver their proposals in presentations in Washington DC. Amidst current pandemic conditions, however, this year’s competition was conducted virtually. Teams from Pace University, Montana State, an intercollegiate squad, and Notre Dame made it to the “final four,” out of more than 20 teams competing around the country.

The event went very smoothly, technologically, a credit to Aguilar and his colleague Brady Gingrich. At the outset of the competition, the students had an exciting visitor. David Walker, former Comptroller General of the United States and long-time champion of fiscal responsibility, dropped in to say hello, and offered encouragement and support.

Four solid presentations later, we had a winner, as judges Diane Lim (Penn Wharton Budget Model), Brian Riedl (Manhattan Institute) and I (Bill Bergman, Truth in Accounting) evaluated each team on four criteria, settling on the team from Notre Dame as the national champion.

Granted, for basketball fans, it was sad to miss March Madness this year. But the Fiscal Challenge has developed an intercollegiate competition based on another set of priorities, which arguably deserve as much or more attention as hoops.

Still, I’m reminded of the fabled run to the final four by the men’s basketball team at Loyola U. Chicago a couple years ago. What a wonderful team, characterized by hard work, defense, and unselfish passing and team play. I was reminded of them by the response of the Notre Dame team to one of my questions, after I asked them to discuss how they resolved any disagreements among themselves as they developed their final product. Team leaders emphasized how they were inspired by the overall goal, prioritizing that over individual achievement.

In that classic Loyola “Final Four” run a couple years ago, Loyola’s Sr. Jean (Jean Delores Smith), the 98-year-old team chaplain, had her days in the sun. Sr. Jean bobbleheads were going for $300 on Ebay.

A couple weeks ago, Sr. Jean, now age 100, cut an inspirational video for the campus amidst current events. One of her lines was “This is the strangest March Madness I’ve ever seen.”

Let’s hope next year’s Fiscal Challenge is near-normal. For that matter, I also hope the real fiscal challenge doesn’t threaten students, and the rest of us, more than it already is.

in Economy
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