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Yale School of Management MBAs Take to the Basketball Court

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Yale basketball isn’t one of the more celebrated collegiate athletic programs. Neither the men’s nor women’s teams earn much hardware beyond Ivy League conference titles. In fact, the most famous moment in Yale basketball history was big man Chris Dudley getting tormented in the post by a young Shaquille O’Neal during a now-infamous nationally televised game in 1999. Dudley, drafted into the league in 1987, was angry after being dunked on and knocked to the ground and chucked the ball to the turned back of the future NBA Hall-of-Fame player.

At the April 12th Swersey Cup basketball game at Yale School of Management (SOM), there were no human tornadoes like O’Neal barging through the paint. Nor were there any technical fouls akin to Dudley’s wistful fastball. However, the contest between first- and second-year Yale SOM students was similarly one-sided, with the second-year squad earning a 70-48 victory.

Basketball is the third of five athletic matchups in an annual tournament pitting Yale SOM first years against second years. The tournament as a whole is called the 4035 Cup, which is the sum of 2017 and 2018, the two classes’ graduation years.

The first-year students triumphed in the Oster Bowl football game, which kicks off the intramural competition each year in September. It’s named for Sharon Oster, longtime SOM professor and former dean. The second-year students followed with a 3-0 shutout in the February Gartska Cup ice hockey game. With both sides tied at one victory apiece prior to the contest, winning the basketball game—which is named for Arthur J. Swersey, professor of operations research at Yale SOM—temporarily tips the scales back in favor of the second years. Still to come are rematches on the soccer and softball fields.

For a group of committed, hard-working business school students, it comes as no surprise that participants take the competition seriously. “Students get pretty serious about these events!” remarks first-year student Tobby Yi. “Especially since there’s a lot of pride and glory attached to it.”

“The basketball folks already have a rematch game scheduled with dinner and drinks wagered,” Yi adds. Sometimes the competitiveness drew fiery comments from both sides, he recalls, noting that students on both sides “barked at the opposing ref” during the Swersey Cup for apparent no-calls.

The ultimate objective of the 4035 Cup, Yi explains, is to build a connection between students from both years. “We have a committee of students who work together to integrate both classes through events, discussions, and, of course competition,” Yi remarks. “It’s just a great outlet to celebrate traditions and to offer the broader community [a chance] to come together to support —and jeer—their fellow classmates.”

Yale SOM second-year students, posing with their Swersey Cup trophy. The second-year students defeated the first-year team 70-48 on the April 12 contest.

Building camaraderie through competition isn’t just a Yale tradition. Several other business schools have similar contests between their MBA students. The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, for example, holds its annual Cluster Olympics each August. Wharton’s activities are a bit less intense, though, with students going head to head in contests like kickball, cornhole and chess.

HEC Paris, for its part, holds an annual Olympic-style competition on a much grander scale. The May HEC Paris MBA Tournament draws more than 1,000 MBA students from business schools across the globe to participate in a mammoth three-day spectacle that involves 23 sports overall, including track and field, tennis, ultimate Frisbee, rock climbing, touch rugby, traditional rugby, rowing, basketball, cricket, chess, and, of course, soccer.

The Yale SOM first-year student team.

If there’s a lesson to learn from the HEC Paris and Wharton competitions, it’s that MBA students are open to playing less-traditional sports.

“It would be great to add more and more contests to the 4035 Cup—which next year will be the 4037 Cup,” Yi says. “We try to make each event inclusive and accessible by ensuring that the sport has broad appeal and enough participants. We’d love to add some more informal sports matches (cricket, dodgeball, Quidditch, etc.) to offer opportunities to learn about sports that we may never have had exposure to.”

Though the Quidditch suggestion may have been somewhat in jest, Yale wouldn’t be the first school to try it. Several years ago, a group of UCLA students put together a group to attempt the Harry Potter–inspired sport. Of course, the contest was missing the flying sticks and magical winged golden ball, instead featuring spirited young adults playing a blend of dodgeball and imaginary horseback riding.

With the team of second-year students at Yale SOM up 2-to-1 in the best of five series, it’s do-or-die time for first-year students. While coursework, case competitions and recruiting might compete with soccer and softball practice, the amount of effort put into the previous three contests suggests that students won’t be taking it easy.

Matthew Korman
Matthew Korman is a contributing author and editor for Clear Admit. Since graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism and political science, Matthew has worked with numerous academic institutions, in addition to roles as a music industry writer, promoter, and data analyst. His works have appeared in publications such as NPR and Sports Illustrated.