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Sweat Equity: Welcome to the World of Budgetball

SPA students play budgetball in Bender Arena.

Professor Andrew Yarrow's students learn how to play budgetball. (Photo: Jeff Watts)

With just one period remaining, it’s anyone’s game.

The Deficit Hawks huddle, discussing how many of the team’s budget bucks to risk on an investment. Meanwhile the T-bills, clinging to a narrow 12-11 lead, also confer among themselves, their inclination tending toward conserving their money by making “sacrifices.”

Sweat pours from all the players’ brows, yet it seems likely that this game will be decided more by brainpower than brawn.

Welcome to the world of budgetball.

Created by the National Academy of Public Administration to raise awareness about the federal debt and fiscal responsibility among college students, budgetball is a half-physical, half-mental team sport that forces participants to make tough decisions about budgeting.

The game rolled into AU on April 1, when students in Professor Andrew Yarrow’s SPA course, Our Nation, Our Finances, took to the Bender Arena floor to duke it out.
 
Figuratively, that is. Budgetball is a noncontact sport that matches two teams of six against one another. Played on a basketball court using a volleyball, players pass the ball from teammate to teammate, with the ultimate goal of completing a pass into the end zone for a point.
 
The game is punctuated by strategy sessions before each of the three, eight-minute periods during which teams can be paid for taking “sacrifices” on the court, such as sitting down when they inbound the ball or wearing a mask that hinders sight. However, teams also have the option of spending budget bucks to gain advantages, like adding an extra offensive player. At the end of the game a team’s debt reduces its score, while any surplus increases it.

“It’s fast, it’s quick, it’s strategic, and it’s fun,” said Lois Fu, NAPA’s senior advisor to the president. “You’re going to experience debt and manage savings throughout the game.”

Prior to each period, both teams chose to take a majority of “sacrifices.” Tim Murphy of the Deficit Hawks donned oven mittens, making it very tough to catch and throw, and members of the T-bills were forced to jump up and down when they had the ball. For making these sacrifices, each team’s coffers grew.

“We’ve been playing this for a little while, and we’re finding that there is a tendency to take a savings strategy,” Fu said. “I don’t know if it has to do with the current economic trends, but that isn’t what the game’s creators predicted. They thought people would go in debt to score more.”

The fiscal conservativeness meant that before the final period, each team had plenty of budget bucks (by operating in the black, they earned 20 percent interest before each period) to play with. The T-bills, up by one, elected to save even more money and go with two sacrifices and one small investment. That meant at the end of the game they would have 26 budget bucks, which would translate into an additional eight points (three budget bucks equals one point).

On the flip side, the Deficit Hawks opted to spend, buying the right for one offensive player’s scores to count for two points instead of one. They would have only five bucks at the end of the game, translating to just one extra point.

Turns out it was the Hawks who made the right call. Despite knowing they had to outscore the T-bills by nine to win, the advantages they purchased proved highly effective, and they rode a big third-period to a 26-14 final lead. After the budget bucks were factored in, they won the game 27-21.

“The first part of the game we saved, so we could spend at the end when we needed to,” said Murphy, a junior. “That’s the basic philosophy of Keynesian economics.”

The game seemed to be a hit among the students. As the contest progressed, the intensity and competitiveness on the floor increased noticeably. After it was over, many of the winded players were intrigued by both the on- and off-court strategic decisions the game presented.
 
One student voiced this idea: “Can this be our final?”