Yale University shield -- the Latin reads: "light and truth"
Yale University shield -- the Latin reads: "light and truth" - 
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KAI RYSSDAL: Thanksgiving-season football rivalries are a ways off yet, but we have the score from a Harvard-Yale game today: It's Yale 28, Harvard 23.

We're talking investment returns here -- Yale's take of 28 percent for its endowment puts it number one in the country for this fiscal year. Harvard was third in returns, although it does still have the largest endowment overall.

Big university endowments like those score big gains a lot. Marketplace's Steve Tripoli takes us inside their playbook.

STEVE TRIPOLI: IFormer Harvard CFO Allen Proctor says university and foundation endowments have some big advantages you don't have:

ALLEN PROCTOR: An endowment basically has an infinite time horizon -- so if you had a bad year, you have decades to recover that money.

That means endowments can take on more risk than individual investors. They also have professional money managers. But Mark Ruloff of Watson Wyatt says that even talent plus time isn't the whole equation.

MARK RULOFF: There's individuals with talent and resources. And even if the individual might have the talent, he as an individual wouldn't necessarily have the resources to outperform the market.

So, you need talent, time and billions of dollars to score like these mega-funds. Allen Proctor says there's a message in that for small investors: Don't try endowment-level risks at home.

PROCTOR: Absolutely -- except for an extraordinarily wealthy individual, an individual has to worry about it. If they had an investment that was tied up, or needed 30 years to recover, it's one thing when you're 25 years old. But in your 50s you can't even think about those investments.

A while back, Yale endowment head David Swensen set out to write down how individuals could at least approach Yale's investment returns. He came away with the opposite conclusion: The vast majority of small investors can't do it, and it's dangerous to try.

Swensen also says little guys are victimized by excessive mutual fund fees and advisers' conflicts of interest. His one-stop way to address all those problems? Low cost, broadly-diversified index mutual funds.

I'm Steve Tripoli for Marketplace.