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Professor of economics recognized as a 2016 Benedum Distinguished Scholar

Dr. Brad Humphreys, professor of economics at the West Virginia University College of Business and Economics

Recognizing his remarkable research and scholarly activity, Dr. Brad Humphreys, professor of economics at the West Virginia University College of Business and Economics, is one of four outstanding faculty members at WVU named a 2016 Benedum Distinguished Scholar.

The Distinguished Scholars awards, funded by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, are given annually to faculty engaged in “creative research” in as many as four categories: behavioral and social sciences, biosciences and health sciences, humanities and the arts, and physical sciences and technology. This year, scholars have been selected in all four categories.

“I’ve done a lot of good research, but this is a campus-wide award. You don’t really think that you could possibly get an award like this,” Humphreys said. “It’s just humbling as an alumnus of the College [of B&E] and as a native of the state to be able to get this, which is one of the highest research awards that WVU gives. I’m just honored and amazed.”

Humphreys is a national leader in research on the economics and financing of professional sports and on the economics of gambling. He is the editor-in-chief of Contemporary Economic Policy, a high-level journal of brand policy-oriented research, and serves on the editorial boards of several others. He is also very betrothed within B&E.

“Brad engages junior faculty and co-authors papers with them that are targeted at high quality refereed journals,” Dr. Cliff Hawley, chair of the Economics Department, said. “His mentorship of junior faculty yields huge benefits to economics, to economics, to the College and to the University in its efforts to maintain its R-1 research status.”

The Office of the Provost did a call for nominations, and Hawley nominated Brad for this prestigious award, saying it was a no-brainer. With Humphreys, the two put together his package of materials, which included a nomination letter, his curriculum vitae and a sample of his research articles.

“He’s an internationally known sports economist, and the fact of the matter is that we couldn’t get someone that is among the top three or four sports economists in the world if it wasn’t for his West Virginia roots and his love of West Virginia and West Virginia University,” Hawley said. “He’s a fantastic researcher, but he does so much more that is of value to the College and the University. He teaches urban and regional economics in the Ph.D. program, and is a popular instructor in the Principles of Macroeconomics undergraduate course.”  

When Humphreys earned his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1995, future academics were not training as sport economists. So, in his early career, he did research in macroeconomics in business cycles in recessions – how business decisions change when the economy goes into a downturn.

“When I graduated, the economy in the U.S. went through something called the Great Moderation, where there weren’t any recessions anymore. There was long period of time where there were hardly any recessions, and it was pretty clear that I wasn’t going to be able to publish any research on the topic that I had written my dissertation on because nobody cared,” Humphreys laughed.

So, he had to find a new research interest. At that time, he was an assistant professor living in Baltimore, Maryland. Baltimore had just lured the Cleveland Browns to the city to become the Baltimore Ravens, and a new 100 percent publicly financed stadium was built for the new NFL team. An economic impact report was generated that said building this $600 million stadium with public money and playing 10 football games a year in the stadium would generate thousands of jobs in Baltimore and raise income by hundreds of millions of dollars in the area.

When reading that impact report, he thought to himself this couldn’t possibly be true. And this is where Brad began to set himself apart and become the well-known sports economist he is today.

“I started looking around for what research there was on this. There wasn’t much out there, and I thought, ‘I could do a better job than this.’ Teams have been moving in sports for a long time. So, I decided to go back and look at what happened when a city got a new team and see if they really got thousands of new jobs because when thousands of new jobs are created, I should be able to find some kind of evidence, and there was none,” Humphreys said. “So, I published a paper on that, and I thought maybe it would just be one paper. It turns out there’s always a team trying to move somewhere or wanting a new a stadium or arena. It just sort of grew from that one paper, and I’ve spent the last 20 years doing this research.”

Humphreys, who has been with WVU for four years now, and the other Distinguished Scholars will be recognized by President Gordon Gee and Provost Joyce McConnell at the faculty and staff awards dinner at Blaney House next month. Each scholar also receives $5,000 in professional development support from the Benedum Foundation and will deliver a public lecture on campus in fall 2017.

“I’m really looking forward to the public lecture. I will discuss some inconvenient economic facts about sports in America and on my research that talks about why we shouldn’t subsidize professional sports stadium construction and why universities should operate big time athletic programs,” Humphreys said.

Humphreys is the first B&E faculty member to be distinguished as a Benedum Scholar since 1999 when Ronald Balvers, a former WVU professor of economics, was named.