Monday, June 29, 2015

Kara Goucher vs. Alberto Salazar on Testifying Under Oath



Compare Kara Goucher above with Alberto Salazar below. One wants to testify unconditionally, the other wants to talk to a lawyer. Hmmm ...
HT @scienceofsport

Thursday, June 25, 2015

So You Want to Go Pro: NCAA Basketball vs. the PhD

Tonight is the NBA draft. Most drafted players will come from the ranks of US universities, along with some international players. Most kids go to college, whether they are athletes or not, to gain skills, knowledge and credentials that will allow them to get a job. Unless they have a trust fund, just about all college kids want to go pro in something.

So if you play college basketball, what are your chances of playing professionally? The NCAA has helpfully provided these numbers based on last year's data.
  • Number of draft-eligible NCAA basketball players = 4,071
  • Number of Division I draft-eligible NCAA players = 1,210
  • Odds of reaching NBA from total NCAA eligible = 1.2%
  • Odds of reaching NBA from Division I NCAA eligible = 3.9%
  • Odds of playing professional (NBA & non-NBA) from Division 1 NCAA eligible = 29.3%
So if you play big-time college basketball (Division I) then you have about a 1 in 25 chance of making it as a multi-millionaire in the NBA. The odds are considerably higher for the Big 5 conferences, as I'll show in a forthcoming analysis. 

I'd wager that there are not too many undergraduate degree programs in Division I basketball schools that can boast a 1 in 25 chance of becoming a millionaire straight out of college. It turns out that big-time athletics has the opportunities for big-time rewards.

This fact cuts two different ways across current debates related to college sports. For scholarship athletes wanting to get paid these data point to a considerable opportunity for economic benefit by virtue of participating in college basketball, which may complicate cost-benefit calculations, especially for the big-time programs. The data also show that colleges in fact do an excellent job preparing students for careers in their chosen profession, as 1 in 3 Division I players get to play professionally at some level.

For some further context, let's compare athletic job placement with the academic PhD. The numbers, it turns out, are not so different.
The graph above comes from a 2013 Nature Biotechnology paper, and shows the annual number of U.S. PhDs awarded compared to the annual number of U.S. academic faculty positions. For the PhD, we can equate the tenure-track academic faculty position to the equivalent of making it in the NBA for the college basketball player. Sure, not all college basketball players want to go pro and not all PhDs want to be professors. But many do.

The data show that about 36,000 PhDs were produced in 2011 and there were about 3,000 faculty positions available. That equates to a success rate in job placement of about 8.3%. Since 1982, the number of annually-available faculty positions has remained constant at about 3,000 per year. The number of PhDs over this same time frame increased from 19,000 to 36,000. In addition, if you graduate from a PhD program at a R1 university (top 60 or so), then your odds of securing a tenure-track faculty position are surely higher than the overall numbers, just as with Division 1 basketball and the NBA.

Overall, the NCAA Division I basketball player has about a 3.5 times greater chance of playing professionally (at some level) than does the PhD in landing a job as a professor. The bottom line here is that the job market consequences of playing NCAA basketball are pretty similar to those of getting a PhD. Lots of people want to go pro, some are successful, but many are not.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Learning About Science in Controversy Through Deflategate

I haven't paid much attention to the whole "Deflategate" controversy, mainly because I think it is silly. However, the issues related to whether or not scientific analyses can help to identify whether wrongdoing occurred offers a great example of the limits of science and the power of procedure, with great relevance to more weighty issues in sport, like doping.

Delategate refers to allegations that in the AFC Championship game earlier this year the New England Patriots illegally manipulated the pressure in their footballs (each team provides their own balls) in order to gain a competitive advantage. In the Patriots previous game, the Baltimore Ravens made similar complaints.

The issue has consumed an incredible amount of air time and the NFL has responded by suspending Tom Brady, the New England quarterback, who had his appeal heard earlier this week. Despite the froth around the issue there is a learning moment to be found here having to do with the role of science in resolving adversarial claims.

To get to the bottom of the allegations the NFL did what many organizations do when there is a controversy -- they formed a committee and commissioned a report. A committee of three led by Theodore "Ted" Wells duly produced a 243-page report which concluded that based on the evidence the Patriots "more likely than not" tampered with the footballs. The study was reported by the media as implicating Tom Brady and the Patriots.

Everything looks oh-so-clear when there is just one expert opinion available. Controversy attracts expertise of course and Deflategate is no different.

So earlier this month some interested scholars at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, produced their own analysis of the Deflategate controversy and the Wells Report. They were not impressed (and said so in the New York Times). Faced with a critique of the Wells report, much of the media coverage swung 180 degrees and became very critical of the Wells report, in effect defending the Patriots against wrong-doing.

Faced with competing experts, as so often happens, the next step in the process is to start looking at motives, interests, and funding. Perhaps truth might be found there,rather in analyses themselves. The Boston Globe asked: why are these individuals at AEI, who normally comment on tax policy and such, looking into the Patriots and the NFL? They didn't find anything.

Just yesterday, Steve McIntyre, known for being a thorn in the side of climate scientists via audits of some of their work, published his own critique of the Wells report. Like AEI, McIntyre finds the Wells report to be fatally flawed.

So who do you believe? Wells? AEI ot McIntyre? Well, who do you want to believe? There is plenty of evidence and analysis to pick and choose from to make a claim that "science" is on your side. Spend 5 minutes on sports talk radio and that is exactly what you'll find.

It is worth noting that the correctness or incorrectness of the Wells report bears only a tangential relationship to whether or not the Patriots broke NFL the rules. It is perfectly plausible that the Wells report is deeply flawed and the Patriots still broke the rules. Similarly, it is possible that the Wells report is mostly correct (despite its imperfections) and the Patriots actually did nothing wrong.

Thus, Defategate offers a great analogy for the role of science in many public debates. We often transform the issue that we care about -- Did the Patriots break the rules? --  into a technical issue and then debate the technical issue rather than what we really care about.

A further lesson is that if our public debates do devolve into a technical dispute, then we can find ourselves in a situation where arguing technical details offers essentially no route to a resolution, as pretty much any position can find some support, somewhere, in science. One could imagine the science of deflated footballs leading to multiple academic papers, even conferences and a professional society where experts can share notes.

These issues have broader relevance. Consider that Lance Armstrong famously claimed to never have tested positive for doping. That is pretty much true. Of course, at the same time he is now known to have been one of the most prolific dopers in the history of sport.  With respect to doping, if we wish to make better decisions, then we have to structure our procedures to lead to more reliable scientific knowledge, relevant to the decisions that we want to make.

The case of Deflategate illustrates that to better enforce rules of the game of football we ought to pay more attention to establishing better procedures. This would mean not having to rely on science as an arbiter of controversy, or by structuring procedures in advance in such a way as to maximize the utility of science in decision making.

Ultimately, the NFL itself bears considerable responsibility for the Deflategate controversy. As McIntyre observes, "More professionalism on these [NFL rule] protocols would have been expected at a high school science fair." the same can be said for doping in sport, where no one really knows how many athletes actually dope or the effectiveness of anti-doping efforts.

If we want science to help resolve controversies rather than stoke them, we have to pay careful attention to rules and their implementation. It is not as fun, I know, to focus on process when you could be having a good fight between competing experts. But ultimately, effective processes can often help to avoid such a fight in the first place, and less drama all around.

More Remarkable Claims About FIFA's Irish Appeasement (UPDATED)

UPDATE June 25: The FAI denies all of these claims and provides a timeline to suggest that the friendly was well in the works long before the match in which Henry handled the ball.

We have already learned that FIFA allegedly paid $5 million to the Football Association of Ireland as compensation following Thierry Henry's intentional handball during 2009 World Cup qualifying and Ireland subsequently missing out on the World Cup. That payoff seems pretty tame compared to what is being reported in the Argentinean media today.

At The Nation, Ezequiel Fernández Moores alleges that an August 2011 friendly between Argentina and Ireland was also a part of the appeasement of the FAI. To play the friendly would have required a $5 million insurance policy to cover the possibility that Argentinean star Lionel Messi would not be injured. No one had the $5 million, so FIFA ExCo member and CONMEBOL president Julio Grondona devised a program of self-insurance:
"Ten thousand dollars to every Irish player to not hit Messi"
So we have gone from bribery to match fixing, all in the name of appeasing the Irish. Messi was reportedly a non-factor in the match, which was decided by (IMO) a clearly offside goal.

Is the $10,000 per Irish player claim true? It is hard to rule out anything when it comes to FIFA these days.

The claim was also repeated in Argentina's largest newspaper.

HT: @JuanG_Arango

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A FIFA Document Library (Work in Progess)

I thought it might be useful to collect various documents related to the ongoing FIFA scandal in one place. If you would like to suggest an addition, please do so in the comments or via Twitter.
  • FIFA Russia 2018 Bid Report (2011, PDF)
  • FIFA Qatar 2022 Bid Report (2011, PDF)
  • Governing FIFA, by Mark Pieth, commissioned by FIFA (March 2011, PDF)
  • Safe Hands, Transparency International (2011, PDF)
  • The Sunday Times submission to the UK Parlimentary Inquiry (May 2011, PDF)
  • First FIFA IGC Report (March 2012, PDF)
  • Mohammed bin Hammam CAS Arbital Award (July 2012, PDF
  • FIFA ISL Report (April 2013, PDF)
  • The CONCACAF Integrity Report (April 2013, PDF, press release
  • Chuck Blazer testimony (November 2013, PDF)
  • Second (Final) FIFA IGC Report (April, 2014, PDF)
  • FIFA Summary of the Garcia Report (November 2014, PDF)
    • Cover Letter (PDF)
  • Resiognation statement of Michael Garcia (December 2014, PDF)
  • 18 Senators Letter to Sepp Blatter re: Russia 2018 (March 2015, PDF)
  • Senators Menendez & McCain letter to FIFA re: Russia 2018 (May 2015, PDF)
  • US DOJ Indictment of Jeffrey Webb et al. (May 2015, PDF)
    • Press release (PDF)
  • Statement of Sepp Blatter (June 2015, PDF)
  • Various FIFA IGC Documents (Basel Institute of Governance)
  • Various DOJ-related documents (FIFA indictment blog)
  • 2015 FIFA Statutes (PDF)
In the next iteration I plan to add a bibliography of analyses and essential media coverage. Suggestions welcomed.

How Much Were FIFA's IGC Members Paid 2012-2013? More than $80,000 Each

According to audit reports by Pricewatehousecoopers made available on the website of the Basel Institute of Governance, the members of the so-called "independent" reform committe of FIFA each received more than $80,000 each in compensation from FIFA during 2012-2013.

So much for independence.

The audit reports are available for 2012 (PDF) and 2013 (PDF) detail a total of 745,000 Swiss francs paid to 10 members of the Independent Governance Committee. One member of the committee Alexandra Wrage (the 11th) refused to accept the payments. All others, including Sunil Gulati, the head of US Soccer and currently a member of FIFA's Executive Committee, apparently accepted the payments. Gulati receives an additional (as reported) $300,000 per year as a member of FIFA's ExCo.

The 745,000 Swiss francs coverts to about $819,000 (using a $1.10 to 1 Swiss franc conversion), which is almost $82,000 for each of the ten IGC members who received compensation. FIFA also speant about $300,000 in travel and hotel expenses for the committee over the two years, or aboput $30,000 per member (Wrage also turned down the travel reimbursements).

While it is entirely appropriate to expect experts to be compensated for their time, there is a deeply problematic conflict of interest in having the organization being evaluated paying substantial fees to the experts doing the evaluation.

I have critiqued the FIFA reform process (here in PDF) and found it wanting. The financial arrnagements between FIFA and its "independent" evaluators may be one explanation for the lack of courage among its IGC members.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Nature on Binary Sex

The science journal Nature has a nice piece on the science of sex. Claire Ainsworth writes that science does not support a strict nbinary view of sex. One scientist that she quotes says:
“I think there's much greater diversity within male or female, and there is certainly an area of overlap where some people can't easily define themselves within the binary structure,” says John Achermann, who studies sex development and endocrinology at University College London's Institute of Child Health.
The scientific abiguity can be problematic because many parts of society have been designed on a binary model of sex (for isntance, at ESPN Kate Fagan discusses the issue of "sex testing" as related to FIFA and the Women's World Cup):
These discoveries do not sit well in a world in which sex is still defined in binary terms. Few legal systems allow for any ambiguity in biological sex, and a person's legal rights and social status can be heavily influenced by whether their birth certificate says male or female.

“The main problem with a strong dichotomy is that there are intermediate cases that push the limits and ask us to figure out exactly where the dividing line is between males and females,” says Arthur Arnold at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies biological sex differences. “And that's often a very difficult problem, because sex can be defined a number of ways.”
The article uses the term "disorders of sexual development" - DSDs - to refer to the condition of people who don't fall neatly into one or other of the male/female dchotomy. I am not a fan of this terminology as it suggests that people who fall outside of the binary have a "disorder" and thus are somehow abnormal. In contrast, what the science suggests is that what are called DSDs are in fact normal, but not typical.

Whatever terminology is used, the practical issues remain:
[I]f biologists continue to show that sex is a spectrum, then society and state will have to grapple with the consequences, and work out where and how to draw the line. Many transgender and intersex activists dream of a world where a person's sex or gender is irrelevant. Although some governments are moving in this direction, Greenberg is pessimistic about the prospects of realizing this dream — in the United States, at least. “I think to get rid of gender markers altogether or to allow a third, indeterminate marker, is going to be difficult.”

So if the law requires that a person is male or female, should that sex be assigned by anatomy, hormones, cells or chromosomes, and what should be done if they clash? “My feeling is that since there is not one biological parameter that takes over every other parameter, at the end of the day, gender identity seems to be the most reasonable parameter,” says Vilain. In other words, if you want to know whether someone is male or female, it may be best just to ask.
My draft paper - soon to be submitted - on "sex testing" proposes a policy solution to this issue based on scientific evidence that in some cases there is no clear binary of male and female. I'm still taking comments, please email me if you'd like to see the draft.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Blatter vs. Scala

So Sepp Blatter has apparently decided that he may try to hold on to the FIFA presidency, according to a report in the Swiss press.  That Blatter may be trying to hold on to power probably isn't a surprise to many FIFA watchers, and is consistent with a theory I aired here a few weeks ago.

In response to the report, Dominico Scala, the chair of FIFA's Audit and Compliance Committee issued a statement:
"For me, the reforms are the central topic," Scala said in a statement. "That is why I think it is clearly indispensable to follow through with the initiated process of leadership change as it has been announced."
It seems safe to conclude that Scala is not a supporter of the idea that Blatter might stand again in the "snap election." When asked to clarify Blatter's intentions, FIFA said in a statement:
"We refer you to the remarks from FIFA President Blatter from 2 June. FIFA has no further comment."
This sets up the spectacle of FIFA's President being in open conflict with the organization's Audit and Compliance chairman. As both men are elected in their positions, they can only be removed by a vote of the FIFA Congress (and thanks to @michellechai12 for pointing this out). So if things do get all the way to the extraordinary Congress, one possibility are referendum's on both men being put before the FIFA Congress.

It also seems clear that any meaningful FIFA reforms will not happen in the next months with Blatter in charge. That agenda will have to await leadership change.

The conflict between Blatter and Scala sets up an extended period of considerable public awkwardness for FIFA. If Blatter wants to run again and Scala does not want him to, then things could get ugly. Scala does not appear to have any formal standing to weigh in on whether Blatter runs or not. Blatter has shown in the past that he is willing to use some dirty tricks to remove an internal opponent from the scene (e.g., case of Mohammed bin Hammam). And there is continuing uncertainty about what the US federal investigators may have on Blatter. Of course, Scala may also chose to resign in protest (though he finds himself is a uniquely powerful position in the mess that is FIFA). Who knows?

There is lots to play out and lots of uncertainty. What does seem certain is that there is more FIFA drama ahead.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

FIFA Presidents and Platforms: The Smorgasbord Option

At the BBC Richard Conway reports that FIFA is looking to schedule its "Extraordinary Congress" to elect the successor to Sepp Blatter later this year, on December 16 in Zurich. Conway reports:
A final decision on the date for a presidential election is not expected to be made until July, but it is believed holding an emergency congress in mid-December is Blatter's preferred option.

That would give him just six months to devise and implement the reforms he has promised before leaving the organisation he has been a part of for more than 40 years.
The FIFA plan seems procedurally problematic. Any agenda of reform will (it seems) have to be voted on by the FIFA Congress. But this is the same Congress who will be voting on a new president who may or may not share the same reform agenda. Unless Sepp Blatter intends to put himself forward as a candidate (don't laugh) it makes no sense for there to be a "Blatter Reform Agenda."

Will the FIFA Congress first vote on Blatter's reforms and then after that vote for the next FIFA president to implement them? Or vice versa? Neither makes much sense.

Here is a better idea.

Over the next months, FIFA might put together a smorgasbord of possible reform proposals. This won't be difficult as there are lots of experts and groups willing to help, like Transparency International, and the reforms FIFA needs are not exactly rocket science. With a finite list of clear options for reforming the organization, perhaps in place within 3 months, the candidates to succeed Blatter would then be in a position to announce which of the reform options are part of their platform to serve as the next FIFA president, and which reform proposals that they reject.

Then, when the election occurs the FIFA Congress and others will be able to clearly associate each candidate with a specific reform agenda. With candidates working from a centralized set of proposals there will be much less opportunity for gaming the reform agenda. Candidates could of course ignore such a smorgasbord of options for reform, but that would certainly call into question their commitment to reforming the organization.

Putting forward a "Blatter Agenda" seems unwise and a recipe for further problems. At the same time, if Blatter is actually sincere about reforming the organization, he could easily and visibly lay out a set of options for reform as building blocks that would allow his potential successors to clearly articulate their platform for leading FIFA into the future.

Jack Warner on President Obama's "Bribe"

Jack Warner has compared his visit to the White House with the various other perks (called "bribes" as part of a RICO by the US Government) he received as a top FIFA official.

AFP reports:
Warner called the United States two-faced, since he and Blatter had once been welcomed to the White House by President Barack Obama.

"Was the president of the United States seeking a strong lobby from a FIFA vice president or was he 'bribing' a FIFA official with a visit and a meal to the White House? I think not," Warner said.

"In each case, the answer is no, but it just goes to show how selective this 'bribe' issue can be," he added.
There is a different in law between legitimate and illegal efforts to win influence. That this escapes Warner speaks to how ingrained favors-for-influence are as part of the FIFA culture.

At the same time, Warner does have a point, which is awkward for the White House and for US Soccer.