Alumni Feature: Stephen Bergman


Getting Published: An Undergraduate’s Hard Work Pays Off

Alumnus Stephen Bergman (BS, economics, 2013), a security analyst for Hengehold Capital Management in Cincinnati, just learned that research he conducted as an undergraduate has been published in a peer-reviewed journal generally reserved for tenured professors.

“I’m honored and I’m gratified,” said Bergman on hearing the news. “I’m not sure it’s really hit me yet – maybe when I see it in print.”

In 2013, when Bergman was an undergraduate majoring in economics, he submitted a research paper, “The Effect of Recruit Quality on College Football Team Performance,” to the Journal of Sports Economics, a top peer-reviewed journal in the field. His faculty advisor and mentor throughout the research and writing process was Trevon Logan, associate professor of economics. The article was published in the August 2014 online version of the journal.

“It is rare for undergraduates to stick to long term research projects and extremely rare for them to get published in a peer-reviewed journal,” said Logan.

When Bergman was an undergraduate majoring in economics, he met Logan at a meeting of Ohio State’s Undergraduate Economic Society. Logan was presenting his work on betting lines predicting college football outcomes. Bergman was interested in whether better recruits resulted in better on-the-field success and, if so, how to measure the relationship.

Logan hired Bergman to work on his betting and finance project. At the same time, he challenged Bergman to consider researching a better way to test for the effect of recruits on performance.”

“I was new to economic research and was eager to learn the proper way to conduct a research project,” said Bergman. “Professor Logan and I met every week. He broke the project down into smaller parts to be tackled, piece by piece and helped me organize the method for collecting the data.”

Working with Logan, Bergman began collecting data on every college football recruit for every FBS Division NCAA team—not just the overall recruiting classes, but every recruit’s individual rating. Then, he matched the data to team performance year by year—wins, losses, conference championships, bowl games and BCS bowl games.

“It took nearly a year to gather all the information that I needed,” said Bergman. “”But I was finally able to test my work. After a few preliminary tests, I determined that the results had statistical significance and the project evolved from there.

“Professor Logan would constantly raise objections to my findings, and that would send me back to do more tests to make sure that the results were accurate (what economists call “robust”). This took a long time, but I learned that the key to research is to be thorough—check every possibility at least twice.”

Using his coursework in statistics and econometrics (including fancy statistical models such as fixed effects, probit regressions and other advanced methods), Bergman used his data to find that a significant portion of the relationship between recruits and team performance is a “team effect.”

“In layman’s terms, Ohio State does better every year than, say, Indiana because they always recruit better players than Indiana,” explained Bergman.

But Bergman also found that when Ohio State (or any other school) recruits better players than they normally do, the effect is very big. For example, when the Buckeyes land a rare five-star recruit they significantly increase the number of wins that year—and five star players have a larger effect on wins, conference championships and BCS bowl wins than four star recruits or any other recruits.

Logan encouraged him to consider publishing his findings.

“Writing in the academic form was a huge challenge for me and an equally huge learning curve,” said Bergman. “I can’t count the number of times where I rewrote sentences and paragraphs – I think I reviewed the pages hundreds of times. I needed to eliminate any uncertainty in my writing and reduce misinterpretation”

Were the time and effort worth it?

“Absolutely,” said Bergman. “Applying economic theory and statistical analysis to college recruiting (one of my passions) was pretty cool.” “I love sharing with people what I was working on.

The process of editing his paper followed Bergman to his job in Cincinnati. Barely a month into his new job as an analyst for Hengehold Capital Management the journal contacted Bergman to begin edits on his submission.

“It was definitely a transition getting use to a full time job while at the same time editing an article and readying it for resubmission,” Bergman said. “Every lunch, all of my weekends and every night were consumed with writing.”

Bergman’s hard work paid off.

“I’m truly honored to have my work published in a peer-review journal,” Bergman said. “All of the social events I skipped, the late nights and missed opportunities…. It was all worth it.”

“I learned so many things during this process that I would not have learned anywhere else in college,” said Bergman. “I learned how to be patient and thorough with my work and how to use sophisticated statistics and how to collect data. I discovered that a project can evolve into something that you don’t expect and you need to adapt.

“One of the most gratifying moments happened through an email. It was one of the last emails I received from Professor Logan in response to a question I asked about next steps. His reply was ‘we are done.’”

According to Bergman, the research and writing skills he developed while gathering data and preparing a paper for publication have been invaluable in helping him at his new job.

“I do a lot of research on what securities to include or monitor and on what asset classes to consider implementing in our portfolio,” explained Bergman. “The critical analysis skills I developed while working with Professor Logan – I use them every day. If it wasn’t for the research project, my reports and analyses wouldn’t be up to my company’s standards.”