Business Model Shooting Air Ball for 76ers (and Education Reform)


There are few things I am more passionate about than public education. Sports is one of the few (GO BRONCOS). My dad, who was a high school teacher turned university professor, loved sports, particularly football and particularly The Ohio State University Buckeyes (OSU), the Youngstown State University Penguins and the Woodrow Wilson High School Presidents. My dad passed his love of sports, particularly football, on to me. You can imagine the “competition” that arose between us on rivalry Saturday when OSU played my alma mater, the University of Michigan. And growing up in Youngstown, Ohio we both loved the Cleveland Indians, especially with Al Rosen, Luke Easter, Mike Garcia, Bob Feller, Herb Score and my all time favorite Rocky Colavito. Now you have to be somewhat of a die-hard sports fan to admit your love for the Cleveland Indians in the 1950’s and ‘60’s. Heartbreak after heartbreak.


So when the New York Times ran a front page story with the headline, “76ers Keep Losing, and It’s All Part of the Plan,” my curiosity was aroused. The first two paragraphs further piqued my interest. “When a team of Wall Street financiers (with skills “honed at the private equity firms”) bought the Philadelphia 76ers three years ago, they gave fans of the beleaguered basketball franchise reason for hope.”  The business model being inflicted onto unsuspecting consumers? Boy, did this sound familiar, but this time the arena wasn’t public education “reform.” This time the business model entered a much more public arena, a high profile professional basketball team, and the results would be hard to disguise.  As I continued to read, the comparisons between this ownership experiment and the already failing business model that is education “reform” in our country today jumped out at me.  Unfortunately for Philly, it has been the experimental playground for both of these business models.  Education “reform” has certainly taken a huge toll on public education in the city through enormous budgetary cutbacks, school closures, charter school proliferation and mayoral control.  So bear with me, if you will, as I analyze and compare these two models. Perhaps I can save the billionaire owners a lot of aggravation and maybe even some money, because the business model isn’t working for either public education or Philly’s NBA franchise.


OK here we go. (I suggest you read down the left-hand column first to get a sense of the article, then go back and compare left column to right column. Enjoy!)


76ers Business Model Reforms from the New York Times Article

Education Reform Business Model Comparables

  • “Instead of spending lavishly on star players
  • Instead of hiring professional educators “reformers” have ceded policy making to
  • billionaire owner Josh Harris
  • billionaires Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Walton Family, Michael Dell, Joe Williams who believe in
  • sized up the marketplace
  • choice, charters and competition as exemplified by
  • and discovered something counterintuitive: the best route to the top just might be through the subbasement.”
  • Race to the Top, turnaround schools, declaring schools ,teachers and students as failing.
  • A storied franchise (the 76ers)
  • Public education as a cornerstone of our democracy and
  • “has become a test case for what happens when the cold, hard calculations of the business world are applied to the emotionally charged landscape of professional sports.”
  • has become a test case for competition, school closings, high stakes testing,  and Common Core which have taken much of the human part of public education away.
  • Sports business professor Scott Rosner says, “They’re tearing it down from a performance standpoint…
  • Public education based on test scores and fewer professional educators
  • while building it up on the management side.
  • has resulted in many more administrators, evaluators, observers, and non-student contact people.
  • It’s unorthodox.  It’s risky.  And it may not work.”
  • Supporters of public education to new owners:  The business model hasn’t worked in public education.   Save yourself a lot of aggravation.  Find another route to success.  Two websites to confirm this:,
  • The article cites wasted money on name players and how it is now focusing on “purging the roster of big names and costly contracts.
  • Public education “reform” is wasting money on outside consultants, tests and curricula developers, lawyers, and financiers.
  • And the team is counting on the draft to build a team rather than going after proven professionals.  No surprise here: the 76ers have the “youngest team in N.B.A. history and with that face the perils of youth.”
  • Public education “reformer” model: Teach for America recruits with five weeks of training are just as able to deliver a quality education as professional educators. This reliance on the young has produced similar results to those of the 76ers: a few wins, many more losses.
  • The 76ers have a” data-driven general manager.”
  • All the data in the world can’t change the bottom line of the failing “reforms.”


76ers CEO Scott O’Neill concludes that in order reach great heights and in order to make a fortune, his team has “to take outsize risks” based on the private equity and Wall Street model of going against the wind. “The great ones are the big bets, and this is a big bet.” Tell that to the increasing number of disgruntled fans of the 2 and 18 Philadelphia 76ers. And tell that to the increasing number of victims of public education’s business model experiment who have already lost so much from the bad bets Wall Street financiers turned education “reformers” have made.  And those whooshing sounds you hear?  Those are the “reforms” missing their marks.