MICHELE NORRIS, host:
For future generations of American taxpayers, few things loom larger financially than the national debt. It's now at $11 trillion and counting. But that doesn't necessarily make it interesting to young people, even though the national debt does have its own Facebook page. That's right. The national debt has its own Facebook page. And now it also has its own game, combing the rapid-fire action of football with the excitement of budgeting. NPR's Greg Allen reports.
GREG ALLEN: Here's a catchy name: Budgetball. The idea is to get young people thinking about debt, savings, interest, taxes and a whole bunch of concepts most of us avoid as much as possible. Jennifer Dorn of the National Academy of Public Administration says it's the latest thing in public policy: games that use physical activity to teach humdrum topics.
(Soundbite of crowd)
Ms. JENNIFER DORN (National Academy of Public Administration): You can simulate reality and have a way to have people learn a serious subject and still have fun while doing it.
ALLEN: Budgetball is a real game. And Steve Guagliardo(ph) of the National Academy is sort of like the league commissioner.
Mr. STEVE GUAGLIARDO (Student, The National Academy of Public Administration): Budgetball is a sport played on a space about the size of a basketball court. And you pass a volleyball to each other, you pass it to someone in the end zone to score points. So it's a basketball court with end zones, essentially.
ALLEN: Guagliardo and about 300 very game students are involved in a Budgetball tournament at the University of Miami. But back to the rules.
Mr. GUAGLIARDO: And it's punctuated by budget sessions, which is where the strategy comes in and which is where it ties into budget issues and budgeting in general.
ALLEN: To get all these students out, it helps that there's an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C. for the winners and a bunch of other prizes and giveaways. And since these are bright college students, they've all no doubt picked up the rules, which Guagliardo is still patiently trying to explain to me.
Mr. GUAGLIARDO: So in a single game, you might have to go into debt to beat a particular team and move on, but you want to pay that debt off, otherwise when you get to the championship round, you're going to pay the price.
ALLEN: You know, of course, that that's all totally over my head.
(Soundbite of laughter)
ALLEN: But here's a team that gets it, led by seniors Dan Stein, a political science major, and Tim McNaught(ph), who studying economics.
Mr. DAN STEIN (Student, The National Academy of Public Administration): Co-captains.
ALLEN: Co-captains. Okay, what's the name of the team?
Mr. TIM MCNAUGHT (Student, The National Academy of Public Administration): It's Go Keynes, in reference to John Maynard Keynes, the greatest economist of the 20th century.
(Soundbite of laughter)
ALLEN: And, of course, for people who aren't from Miami, Keynes is also the hurricane.
Mr. MCNAUGHT: Yeah.
ALLEN: So it's a bit of a pun, here.
Mr. STEIN: A little bit, play on words, if you will.
ALLEN: Despite what you may think, McNaught says Budgetball is not for wimps.
Mr. MCNAUGHT: Yeah. I mean, it pretty tough. We actually had to cut a couple people. And I got a six-foot-five basketball player playing for us now. And so we went for some good recruits, yeah.
ALLEN: Does he also have a degree in economics?
Mr. MCNAUGHT: I'm not sure about that, but he can catch the ball when it's really high.
(Soundbite of whistle)
Unidentified Man #1: Last period.
ALLEN: But enough talk. Let's play Budgetball. Play by play is by Steve Guagliardo.
Mr. GUAGLIARDO: You can see those short three passes really help you out. You have a very wide field to work with, and you can throw the volleyball through space.
Unidentified Man #2: Hey man, come closer. There you go.
(Soundbite of cheering)
Mr. GUAGLIARDO: The players can hold onto the ball for only 10 seconds. And if they hold longer than ten seconds, it results in a turnover.
Unidentified Man #2: Shane, go.
ALLEN: This is a tight game. It's the last minute. Some players on the field are wearing oven mitts. Others have on life preservers and hula hoops. Don't ask. The tension mounts.
Unidentified Man #3: Believe in yourself. Get open.
Unidentified Man #4: Throw it down field.
Unidentified Man #5: No.
(Soundbite of whistle)
ALLEN: That's Budgetball: the thrill of victory, the agony of accrual accounting. The excitement continues in June when the National Academy of Public Administration plans to bring Budgetball to the National Mall in Washington.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.
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