Wall Street’s Lacrosse Mafia

Why a marginal college sport is a better entree to high finance than an MBA.

By Paul Wachter

Photograph by Darren Braun

For a small, mainly East Coast sport whose exposure is largely confined to ESPN’s higher multiples, collegiate lacrosse has managed to draw more than its fair share of unwanted national attention. In 2006 members of the men’s team at Duke University were accused of sexually assaulting an exotic dancer. And last month, George W. Huguely V, a former player for the University of Virginia, was found guilty of second-degree murder for the death of his girlfriend, Yeardley Love — a UVA lacrosse player.

Such incidents have sullied the game’s reputation among the general public, yet having lacrosse on a résumé is a major advantage to grads entering the world of finance. There are more than 600 varsity men’s and women’s U.S. collegiate lacrosse programs. Unlike football or basketball, college lacrosse doesn’t offer the prospect of a lucrative athletic career. (The average annual salary in the two established professional lacrosse leagues is less than $20,000.) But it has long been something of a farm system for bankers. Describing his players to a Canadian newspaper in 1879, a Baltimore Athletic Club lacrosse coach said, “The members are principally sons of wealthy merchants, with a good sprinkling of merchants themselves.” Five generations later, the demographics of the sport — invented by the Iroquois and popularized by Canadians — have hardly changed.

A.B. “Buzzy” Krongard is a former executive director of the CIA who once served as Chief Executive Officer of Alex. Brown & Sons, the nation’s oldest investment bank. He also played for Princeton in the 1950s. “Just in Baltimore,” says Krongard, “if you culled from the banking and real estate firms, you could assemble a world-class team.”

The same goes for Boston and New York, where the sales and trading desks of Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and other Wall Street firms are stocked with former All-Americans. Among the 11 members of the Duke lacrosse team’s 2006 senior class, nine went to work in finance. (When charges were filed against one senior, David Evans, JPMorgan Chase pulled its job offer; Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack, who played football at Duke, later offered Evans a place at his firm.) Of the two seniors who didn’t pursue a career in banking, one is currently an assistant property manager working in real estate, and the other is an associate attorney at a personal injury law firm.

Robert Cummings, 46, grew up playing lacrosse in Long Island and was recruited by Cornell University. Cummings began college hoping to pursue a career in architecture. Through his lacrosse connections, he found himself instead spending his summers working at Manhattan financial firms. “Playing lacrosse was hugely helpful,” he says. “I was on a nationally ranked team, so among a handful of interns I was a star figure.”

After graduating in 1986, Cummings took a job at UBS, where he was soon joined by a younger teammate, Matt Gleason. Gleason received an MBA from Notre Dame, but he says his lacrosse bona fides are a more valuable industry credential. “Not long ago, I found out that Peter Cordrey (Princeton ’82), who I’ve been playing tournaments with for years, is the managing director at Prudential in fixed income, which is what I do for my firm,” says Gleason, now the executive vice president at Dwight Asset Management in Burlington, Vt. Yet another Wall Street lacrosse all-star, Princeton’s Scott Bacigalupo, widely considered to be the greatest goalie in college history, is a managing director at Merrill Lynch.

Many ex-players in New York gather for a regular game organized by a Morgan Stanley executive director, Slater Carberry, who played for Hamilton College. Afterwards they convene for drinks at Pete’s Tavern near Manhattan’s Union Square. Pete’s bartenders have rewarded Carberry’s patronage by naming a drink after him.

Lacrosse players say the sport rewards the kind of determination required to do well on Wall Street. “By and large, lacrosse players aren’t necessarily the best athletes in the country,” says Joe Lizzio, a former Cornell player and co-founder of CapRok Capital. “We don’t have huge vertical leaps or run the 40 [meter dash] in 4.4 seconds.” The best lacrosse players “are smart kids that put in the long hours,” adds Cummings. “The same goes for finance, where you’re going to do well if you can outwork the other guy.”

Another common attribute of lacrosse players is the kind of privileged upbringing that might have led them to banking careers even if they had never touched a stick. In lacrosse, as in finance, there are minimum capital requirements. According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, more than 55 percent of lacrosse players come from households that earn at least $100,000. “It’s an expensive sport,” says Gleason, whose son plays. “A good helmet costs $200, and the same goes for a stick. Then there are pads and cleats. When it’s all done, that’s about $1,000 for equipment, which kids outgrow, and that’s before you start talking about going to camps and tournaments.”

The sport’s largely WASP-y demographic has made it a target of criticism. Even as it was clear that the charges of rape against the Duke players were about to be dropped, New York Times sports columnist Selena Roberts attacked those defending the accused: “Feel free to excoriate the African American basketball stars and the football behemoths for the misdeeds of all athletes, but lay off the lacrosse pipeline to Wall Street, excuse the khaki-pants of SAT wonder kids.” The defendants were eventually declared innocent, the district attorney who brought the charges was disbarred, and the accuser is currently facing murder charges for allegedly killing her boyfriend. “If those kids, through their parents, didn’t have access to good lawyers,” says Krongard, “then they might have been railroaded by the district attorney.”

Roberts was wrong about the “SAT wonder kids” but not about the lack of diversity in the sport. According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, in 2011 only 2.4 percent of Division I lacrosse players, male and female, were black. Lacrosse players, though, are quick to mention that Jim Brown, who competed in football, lacrosse, basketball, and track at Syracuse in the 1950s, is regarded by many to be the sport’s greatest player. A two-time All-American midfielder, Brown was so dominant that the NCAA installed the rule that players must keep their stick in motion at all times when they’re in possession of the ball.

Those who’ve studied what financial institutions are looking for in candidates have noticed that recruiters often favor athletes. “In an era of increased access to higher and elite education, the prestige requirements for elite jobs have intensified, and extracurricular activities now serve as a new credential of candidates’ social and moral character,” writes Northwestern sociologist Lauren Rivera in the academic journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. Recruiters, she found, “tended to favor those sports that had a strong presence at Ivy League schools as well as pay-to-play club sports, such as lacrosse, field hockey, tennis, squash, and crew, over ones that tend to be more widely accessible and/or are associated with more diverse player bases such as football, basketball, and soccer.” When reached by phone, Rivera was hard-pressed to say exactly why a Wall Street firm giving an advantage to lacrosse players over non-lacrosse players was bad. “It may not be bad in itself, though it does reinforce firms’ homophilic tendencies and gets away from the diversity that they say they’re trying to achieve,” she says.

There may be no shortage of homophilic tendencies at the rowdy Pete’s Tavern reunions. But the lacrosse-finance network is no longer just a boys’ club. “When I was finishing college, it wasn’t really a career option,” says Princeton women’s coach Chris Sailer, who graduated from Harvard in 1981. “Now each year we send two or three players each summer for internships on Wall Street, and we have our own alumni career night.”


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