Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Against Platini: Why Goal Line Technology Makes Good Sense

The picture above is of course from last weekend's match between AC Milan and Juventus in which the goal ball pictured above was ruled incorrectly by the linesman to have not crossed the goal line, in the process overruling the referee. Such controversial non-goals have led many to call for the introduction of some form of goal line technology which would assist officials in determining unequivocally whether or not a goal has been scored. Remarkably, some object to the introduction of goal line technology.

The most prominent advocate against such technology is Michel Platini, president of UEFA and heir apparent to FIFA. Last year he explained that such technology was not necessary because missed calls were oh so rare:
"How often do you have an incident where there is a real doubt as to whether the ball crossed the line? Perhaps once every 40 years."
Platini said that once goal line technology had been accepted, then videos could be used to make other difficult decisions.

"I'm afraid that if you start with technology which is used once every 40 years, it could lead to other uses for the technology and I'm afraid that maybe this could lead to video refereeing," he said.

"I don't think this technology is really good for football."
Perhaps he had in mind the 1966 and 2010 World Cups during which England found itself on different sides of goal controversies in matches against Germany, with a questionable goal awarded in 1966 and a clear goal denied in 2010. Although England's two experiences with the goal line were many decades apart, recent experience shows that such controversies are fairly common in top flight football.

Last Saturday's phantom goal at the San Siro was not even the only missed goal that day. Wolfsburg and Hoffenheim saw the exact same situation occur with an obvious goal by Hoffenheim not given (below). Hoffenheim prevailed in the end so the sense of injustice was much more muted than the draw in Milan. And earlier this month an A-League game saw yet another apparent goal not given.
Later this week the International Football Association Board -- the international body responsible for the rules of the game -- will discuss the initial results of trials with goal line technology with a decision set to be made in July, 2012.

That goal line technology is in any way controversial is remarkable. Platini's arguments seem to rest on three legs. First, that such controversies are rare. Second, that the introduction of technology for one aspect of the game would represent a slippery slope. And third, the game should be played in the same manner at all levels. Let's consider these arguments one at a time.

First, Platini has backed off from his earlier claims that such events occur every forty years, stating earlier this week after the Milan-Juventus controversy: "A goal like that of the English at the 2010 World Cup against Germany, which was wrongly not given, happens only once every few years." He is still wrong. The three controversies in February, 2012 alone clearly show that goal line ambiguity is problematic for officials. So this argument can be dismissed.

Second, Platini worries that goal line technology will lead to the use of technology in other areas of refereeing: "When I introduce a camera to keep the goals under surveillance I also need one for the surveillance of offside. There are 10 offsides per game." Here Platini's argument fails a basic test of logic. There is no reason why introducing technology to monitor one aspect of the game means that it would have to be introduced in other areas -- the IFAB would still make decisions on changes to officiating a case by case basis. Consider that the addition of additional officials on the goal lines for Champions League matches has not led to a slippery slope of ever more referees being added on the pitch -- there has been no slippery slope. On this issue, Platini was a strong advocate for changing the rules and his opposition to goal line technology demonstrates a marked inconsistency with his previous advocacy of changing the rules to help officials.

Third, the idea that the game should be played in the same manner at all levels is romantic and quaint, but is simply not how things are done. Consider that referees now routinely use communication systems (pictured sticking out of Howard Webb's ear to the left), in place since 2003. This technology is not available at all levels and its implemented has been seamlessly into top level matches with essentially no complaints. Of course, referee communications systems are but one of many examples of how the top level game is different than as played elsewhere (e.g., consider the extra referees discussed above.) Platini's argument is easily shown to be empirically incorrect.

To sum, the game would benefit from goal line technology, which actually is a minor innovation compared to the technologies that have been deployed to assist referees in sports such as tennis, American football, basketball, rugby and hockey. For soccer, where goals matter immensely, the implementation of goal line technology is a matter of improving the performance of the officials with no arguments that I can see against it that make much sense.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Call for Papers on Sport Governance EASM 2012

At the 2012 meeting of the European Association for Sport Management (EASM) to be held in Aalborg, Denmark in September, Jean-Loup Chappelet, Tracy Taylor and I are convening a workshop on the governance of international and national sport organizations. You can see all of the details below. Paper abstracts for the workshop are due March 26th, and we are looking to accept 9-12 papers, the best of which will be assembling in a special journal issue.

We welcome high-quality papers from academics, journalists, practitioners and others -- the submission portal is here. Our contact information is below if you have any questions.
Governance of international and national sport organisations

Background: Governance has become an increasingly important theme for international and national sport in recent decades because of actual and perceived problems of corruption, lack of transparency and unaccountability within the ranks of many international and national sport bodies. In the last ten years, scholars (Foster, Henry, Katwala…), sport organisations (such as IOC, FIFA, UCI, Dutch NOC…), and some governmental and intergovernmental organisations such as the Council of Europe and the UK parliament have proposed guidelines for improved governance of this growing sector. We propose a workshop on the governance of international and national sports organisations.

Theme: The workshop papers will focus on sub-themes such as:
  • Evaluations of individual sport organisation governance (IOC, FIFA, national sport organisations, etc.): Present and future
  • Relationships between local, national and supranational sport organisations: how much autonomy? How much oversight? 
  • Comparison of existing sport governance frameworks: Towards minimum requirements? 
  • Comparison of governance regimes of other non-governmental organisations beyond sport 
  • Role of intergovernmental organisations at European and/or world level 
  • Monitoring of sport governance at national or international level: Need for a Global Governance index?
Keywords: Governance, sport autonomy, transparency, organisational democracy, accountability

Format: Each participant will present their research with Power Point or in a short paper and time will be made available for questions and discussion. The Power Point presentation or short paper should be sent to the session conveners at least two weeks before the conference.

Abstracts are to be submitted for the EASM conference according to the procedure outlined by the scientific committee. Please indicate that the paper is for consideration for inclusion in the Governance of international sport workshop.

Between 9-12 papers will be accepted and form the basis for a one day (three or four session) workshop. Each paper will be presented, commented and discussed within a time frame of 30 minutes at the workshop. The best papers may be published in an edited book or in a special issue of a sport science or international politics journal (ESMQ, IJSPP, Sport in Society, SMJ…).

Conveners: From 3 continents:

Jean-Loup Chappelet, professor of public management at the Swiss graduate School of Public Administration (IDHEAP) at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. Jean-Loup has published extensively on governance in the Olympic System, Jean-Loup.Chappelet@idheap.unil.ch

Roger Pielke, professor of environmental studies at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder, USA. Roger is an expert of football governance at national and international level, rpielkejr@gmail.com

Tracy Taylor, professor of sport management at UTS Business, the business school of the University Technology Sydney, Australia, with a particular focus on human resource management and executive leadership development. Tracy is the Editor of Sport Management Review, Tracy.Taylor@uts.edu.au

Saturday, February 25, 2012

How "Ball Possession" is Measured in Football

When you are watching a football match every once in a while you'll see flashed up on the screen a statistic showing how much "ball possession" each team has had. Opta explains how this statistic is computed:
[T]here are several data providers out there in the UK and across the world monitoring games, from TV companies themselves for live games, to specialists like Opta.

Each has their own method of working out possession. Some use calculations based on the data, but most use a “chess clock” approach where each team has a button which is hit when they are in possession. Some do this in the broadcast truck, others have analysts who call it out and inputters who hit the buttons.

Opta used this method originally, but the problem we found with a chess clock approach for time is that you are reliant on the person logging the data remembering to hit the button and the person doing it usually has other tasks to perform and other data to log.

Missing a couple of switches obviously skews the possession figures and it’s impossible to go back and change it. It may not sound much but one minute where the clock is wrong can affect the possession figures by two to three percentage points.

Opta now record possession in a football match by means of an automated calculation based on the number of passes that a team has in a game. We have two analysts, each monitoring one of the teams and they log each event in a game, totalling between 1600 and 2000 events per match.

Each of these events has a timecode plus an xy co-ordinate and the collection system is rigorously monitored by our team of checkers.

During the game, the passes for each team are totalled up and then each team’s total is divided by the game total to produce a percentage figure which shows the percentage of the game that each team has accrued in possession of the ball.
For Opta "ball possession" means percentage of completed passes, and is not a measure of time, though Opta does claim that the two are very closely related.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Rules for Referee-Spectator Interactions

The video above from last Saturday's NC State-UNC basketball game shows referee Mark Hess tossing out two spectators who happened to be former NC State stars players Tom Guliotta and  Chris Corchiani. The ejections prompted a host of reactions including this from NC State head coachMark Gottfried:
"I'm disappointed quite frankly in the ACC because not only did he throw out two of North Carolina State's greats, he threw out two of the ACC's greats," Gottfried said. "The league is supporting an official rather than supporting former great players. The former great players, in my opinion, were embarrassed and wronged when they shouldn't have been. I don't think you can have rabbit ears like that if you're a referee and start throwing people out. I was disappointed in the whole thing."
The Atlantic Coast Conference has backed the referee, but issued a reprimand for not following procedure: he had a police officer escort the two fans off the court rather than officials from the home team.

The incident raises the broader question of referee-spectator interactions. We are generally accustomed to thinking of referees as responsible for governance of action on the court. But the reality is that most big-time sporting events, not just frenzied college basketball games, see interactions between spectators and referees. Most of the time this interaction comes in the form of abuse hurled at the referee from spectators.  On a football field (US, soccer, rugby or Aussie) the officials are at a healthy distance from fans, but do have to deal with the occasional pitch invasion, object launched onto the field or even racial or other forms of abuse.

Being a referee is a difficult job. Here is how one referee describes the role in an essay about the NC State controversy:
Let there be no confusion: it takes an absolutely supreme amount of confidence to do the jobs that high-D1 basketball officials do. Imagine what it would be like to talk to Coach K or Roy Williams one-on-one about basketball. Now imagine the mental and emotional toughness it would take for you to stand your ground with either of those two men when he says you’re wrong about something. Now imagine he’s not just saying you’re wrong, but that he’s yelling it. At you. Along with nine- or twenty-one thousand of his best friends. Now turn around (he’s still yelling at you) and go make split-second decisions about the movements of elite athletes trying to pummel each other. And make those decisions accurately.

You have to be arrogant as hell to even try.
No doubt there are guidelines in each relevant sport that govern referee-spectator interactions, but as demonstrated in the case of NC State, these guidelines are rather imprecise and rarely invoked, hence the wide range of opinions on the appropriateness of the referee's action in this case. The referee explained his decision as follows:
They were ejected for excessive demonstration on several calls as they came right up to the scorer’s table. The policeman at the end of the FSU bench was warned that their continual excessive demonstration that incited the crowd would result in ejection.
The same basketball referee quoted above provides a cogent explanation for the factors that a referee must consider in making a judgment about fan behavior:
As most university ticket managers will tell you, not all fans are created equal. At least, not all seat-privileges are. For example, there are different standards of decorum for those seated behind the home bench versus those in the student section. It’s also not uncommon for schools to have a couple of rows of seats reserved behind the visitors’ section. The conventional practice is that people who acquire those tickets are told in no uncertain terms that their primary responsibility is to provide a buffer between the visiting fans and the more spirited of home fans. These ticket holders are typically given strict instructions that they are not to negatively engage, much less taunt the visiting fans, even in the slightest. The enforcement mechanism tends to be that if the ticket office learns that a fan in that section hasn’t lived up to the standard, the violator loses eligibility for those tickets in the future.

Schools aren’t required to do that kind of thing (though I expect that virtually all do), but it’s just plain common sense from a PR standpoint. Along the same lines, any school that fails to set standards and expectations for those holding tickets directly behind its scorer’s table is asking for trouble. Fans seated there should be informed (and in most cases probably are) that clear channels of communication simply must be maintained between the officials and the staff at the table, and that sitting in that area implies a sharing of the responsibility to insure that part of the game. Does that mean people in the front row shouldn’t be allowed to cheer? That those spectators shouldn’t be able to make any noise at all for fear of distracting a scorer or referee? That they should never be allowed to loudly criticize a referee or a call? Of course not. But it must be acknowledged that fans sitting in that area are capable of impacting the administration of a game in ways that fans anywhere else in the arena simply are not. As such, when it comes to fan conduct no one should be surprised that the definitions of “extreme” and “excessive” (the most important words in the relevant part of Rule 10) aren’t necessarily the same for everyone for every fan in the gym.
Referee-spectator interactions provide a fine example of where the governance in the game overlaps with the governance of the game. In the case of Mark Hess, he now has become part of the story and a personality in the game, which for both referees and for sport, is an outcome surely to be avoided.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mark Pieth on What Happens Next

Last week the Guardian reported some comments by Mark Pieth as to what should be expected from the FIFA good governance committee, whose initial results are now expected in April.  Here is an excerpt:
The committee overseeing reform at Fifa will decide in April whether it will conduct an investigation into the widespread allegations of past corruption at the highest levels of world football's governing body. Mark Pieth, appointed by Fifa to chair the new independent governance committee, said it would examine how Fifa responds to his committee's reform recommendations when the organisation's decision-making executive committee next meets, in Zurich on 29 and 30 March.

"We will decide then, after that meeting at the end of March, whether there should be an investigation into the more serious allegations of the past," Pieth told the Guardian. "We want to see Fifa's responses to our recommendations for future reform and other issues, including how seriously they deal with allegations themselves. If we are not satisfied with the response, all options are open to us, including setting up a commission with specialist investigators."
Pieth's turnabout on the issue of whether the past matters is in line with recommendations made by Transparency International and also a set of journalists who protested the scope of the committee's investigation.

But here is the fundamental problem with his approach: The FIFA committee only has standing because it is a body of FIFA. If FIFA decides to shut it down after the initial report, then there is no recourse. There is no other body with formal standing in a position to investigate FIFA (aside from the Swiss legal system under which FIFA is incorporated). Thus, all of Pieth's leverage exists right now, while he is the chair of the committee. He should recognize that while he may say in public that "all actions are open to us" at the same time all options are open to FIFA as well, and in this instance FIFA holds the trump card.

Kicking the can down the road on whether or not to investigate FIFA's past has a predictable outcome. Let's see what happens in April.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Wonky Definitions of Governance of and in Sport

Here is a conceptual distinction that I find quite useful, drawing on some wonkish literature of the policy sciences.

The governance of sport refers to decisions that are made at the constitutive level, specifically (from p. 205 in Lasswell and McDougal 1991) :
[C]onstitutive decisions ... establish and maintain the community's most comprehensive process of authoritative decision. These are the decisions, it may be recalled, that establish and characterize authoritative decision makers, state and specify basic community policies, establish appropriate institutional structures, allocate bases of power to the different institutional structures, authorize procedures for the making of different types of decision, and secure the performance of all the different types of decisions necessary to clarifying and securing common interest and effectuating community policy.
In contrast, governance in sport refers to decisions that are made within the constitutive frameworks, and can be simply thought of as decisions related to what happens on the pitch, court, ice, etc.

Most attention is paid to the governance in sport, understandably -- Should Torres be included on the Euro 2012? Who should manage England? Is a 4-4-2 preferable to a 3-5-1-1? These are decisions that involve the implementation of sport. However, the implementation of sport is only possible because of the larger constitutive processes. Every sports fan cares deeply about governance in sport, but what they may not know is the critical importance which sport depends upon effective mechanisms of governance of sport.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Why are College Football Games on Saturdays?

Why are college football games played on Saturdays, and NFL games on Sundays? Why, politics and money, of course. Specifically, the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961 (SBA) created an anti-trust exemption for professional football broadcasting, which lifted the exemption on Friday evenings and Saturdays.

From the Tulane Sports Law Blog:
While section 1291 of the SBA exempts the NFL and other professional leagues from antitrust attack when pooling their broadcast rights, section 1293 takes away that protection in certain circumstances.vi Section 1293 was designed to protect college football gate receipts from the potentially devastating effects of competing for crowds against televised professional football games.

The SBA prevents NFL broadcasts from competing with college football attendance by removing the antitrust exemption granted in section 1291 when the NFL broadcasts games at times when college games are typically played. If the NFL and its broadcast partners were to televise any of the games sold in the pooled packages during the prohibited time frame, they would risk treble damages in the event those pooled packages are held to be in violation of antitrust laws.

Specifically, the antitrust exemption granted in section 1291 does not apply to any professional football game televised (1) between the hours of 6 pm Friday and 12 am Sunday, (2) beginning on the second Friday in September and ending on the second Saturday in December.

The first Saturday game played by the NFL for the 2011 season is on December 17th. It is the third Saturday in December.

Thus, while not a direct prohibition, the risk of treble damages is more than enough to keep the NFL at bay-not to mention that in today's marketplace it would not make much business sense to try and compete with college football broadcasts. After all, over the last 50 years, the football fan has become accustomed to watching college games on Saturday and professional games on Sunday.
College football is far, far from an amateur sport conducted among self-organized clubs and associations. It is big business with Congressional protection.

Rare Footage of Original Hoosiers Released

Yahoo Sports reports on newly released footage of the 1954 Indiana state high school championship basketball game that inspired the movie Hoosiers:
Of all the great movies involving American sports, few are more ingrained in the nation's culture psyche than 'Hoosiers'. The film gave Indiana high school basketball a national profile, it romanticized how tournament basketball can lionize the little guy and set the stage for much of the popular mythology that engulfs America each March during the NCAA Tournament.

Now, rarely seen footage of the final minutes of the famous game that inspired the movie has been put online, thanks to the Indiana High School Athletic Association. As first brought to Prep Rally's attention by Jeff Eisenberg of our fabulous brotherly college basketball blog, The Dagger, the final three minutes of the 1954 state title game between Muncie (Ind.) Central High and Milan (Ind.) High was re-released by the IHSA over the past week, showing us just what Bobby Plump (or Jimmy Chitwood in 'Hoosiers' parlance) and his teammates looked like while pulling off one of the most famous upsets in American sports history.

There's no code to bring the video on to sites outside the IHSAA portal, but you can see the entire closing sequence right here.
Yahho reminds us that Milan High School, which won the game, had only 162 students, while Muncie had 10 times that many. Below is A. O Scott's NYT review of the movie:

Friday, February 17, 2012

FC Sion's (Legal) Losing Streak Continues

FC Sion has hit upon a run of bad form on the jurisprudential pitches of Europe. Here is a round-up
For is part, FC Sion asserts that they will press (at least some of) these issues via appeal in higher judicial settings.

FC Sion is rapidly seeing its legal options winnowed and the further it pushes its various cases up the judicial hierarchy the more authoritative and lasting will be the resulting decisions. For now, it looks pretty conclusive that the various FC Sion challenges to the authority of Lex Sportiva will have the effect of strengthening and delineating sports governance mechanisms in relation to national and European laws. They might not see it this way, but the European associations will have FC Sion to thank should the challenges to Lex Sportiva help to strengthen their mechanisms of governance.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Open Books for You, Open Books for Me?

Explosive and troubling allegations out of Trinidad & Tobago:
Funds donated for earthquake-hit Haiti that never made it to the Caribbean island were paid into a bank account controlled by the former Fifa vice-president Jack Warner, the Trinidad & Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) claimed on Thursday.

Around £440,000 of emergency aid money has gone missing since it was donated two years ago and Fifa has frozen funding to the TTFF until it explains what has happened.

In 2010 Warner was special adviser to his country's federation and the cash from Fifa ($250,000) and the South Korean FA ($500,000) was paid into a TTFF account it claims only he controlled.

It is claimed the TTFF "surrendered their authority" to Warner, who resigned from football last year after being accused of bribery and he has refused to explain what happened to the money.

A TTFF statement said: "The TTFF acknowledges it is aware of funds made available by both Fifa and the Korean football federation for the football victims of Haiti's devastating earthquake in 2010.

"However, we are unable to confirm the quantum of funds received, as these monies did not go into the account used by the TTFF administration for its day-to-day operations, but instead to the TTFF's LOC (local organising committee) account as was requested by Mr Jack Warner, the former vice-president of Fifa and special adviser to the TTFF."
 The situation puts FIFA in a bit of a spot -- will they demand financial accountability from the TTFF? If so, will FIFA then offer the same?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Nationalism in Football, Who Knew?

FIFA is shocked, shocked:
Soccer’s governing body FIFA has questioned the Argentine FA over reports that the country’s championship could be renamed after the General Belgrano battleship sunk during the Falklands conflict with Britain in 1982.

AFA has been warned that the potential name change for the Clausura championship, second of two tournaments in the season, which began last weekend, could breach FIFA statutes.

However, an AFA spokesman said the championship had not been given that name and the issue would probably be discussed at the body’s weekly executive committee meeting late on Tuesday.

FIFA earlier issued a statement on the matter.

“FIFA contacted the Argentine FA (AFA) with regards to a potential change of name of the Liga de Primera Division. According to media reports, the league was set to be named after ‘Crucero General Belgrano’,” said FIFA.
FIFA has walked right into a mess here. You may recall not long ago England's desire to recognize its military, including those who participated in the Falklands War against Argentina, by wearing a poppy on their uniforms during a recent friendly against Spain. England protested vociferously, with interventions by David Cameron and Prince William, and FIFA ultimately relented.

At the time, John Leicester summed up the situation well :
England 1, FIFA 0. And at what cost to football?

With help from Prince William and well-timed indignation from Prime Minister David Cameron, England won this time. It bent FIFA’s arm so that its players can wear a symbol — a red poppy — during a football match this weekend, to remember the dead from the past century of wars Britain fought in.

But the begrudging ‘If you insist’ from FIFA sets an unnecessary and perhaps risky precedent.

Post-poppy, what’s next? North Korea demanding that its footballers keep their lapel pins honouring dictators Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung when they play?

Could China now request that its team be allowed to commemorate Japan’s 1937 slaughter of at least 150,000 people known as the “Rape of Nanking?”

Can Japan have a dove of peace or other symbol to remember the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

The list could run on and on.

There are 200 or so countries under the FIFA umbrella, and each and every one of them has political and social issues, special days of historical importance, perceived injustices and long-held grudges, and nationally recognized symbols that are as dear to their hearts as the poppy is to those Britons who wear it ahead of Remembrance Day on Nov. 11 in tribute to soldiers killed from World War I onward.
Is FIFA now surprised to find other national soccer federations wanting to honor their military via symbolic acts? It will be interesting to see how this one develops.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Racism in European Football

In the aftermath of the latest Suarez/Evra theatrics, Simon Kuper of the FT reports that British PM David Cameron will hold a summit on discrimination in sport. Kuper also suggests that the UK is not necessarily where the biggest problems lie:
Many other leagues give racism less attention. Italy’s football authorities, for example, have often been slow to acknowledge or condemn racist abuse heaped on the black Italian footballer Mario Balotelli. In 2009, after Juventus fans chanted “There are no black Italians” at Balotelli, Italy’s under-21 manager Pierluigi Casiraghi said: “It’s his personality that’s irritating. It’s not racism.” Italy’s then manager Marcello Lippi said “cases of racism in football don’t exist in Italy”, historian Simon Martin has written in his book Sport Italia. Mr Martin says: “So much here is like Britain in the 1970s and 1980s. Italy needs to look at Britain. There is quite a lot to be learned from the British example.”

In Spanish football too, racism often goes unpunished. Fans are not the only culprits. Luis Aragones remained coach of Spain’s national team after calling Thierry Henry a “black shit” in 2004. Here, too, some in authority seem reluctant to tackle racism. After Real Madrid accused Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets of racism last year (he was later cleared), Barcelona’s vice-president Josep Maria Bartomeu said his own club would not report any racist incidents on the field. He explained, “I don’t know what Señor Busquets said and what they were talking about, but they are things that happen all the time in football.”

Laurent Blanc remained France’s manager despite having participated in a meeting at the French federation to discuss limiting the number of black youngsters entering football academies. Talking about supposedly over-physical and uncreative black footballers, Blanc had said: “The Spaniards told me, ‘We don’t have a problem. We don’t have any black players.’”

In the Netherlands last month, nobody was punished after Feyenoord fans chanted, “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas chamber” at Ajax Amsterdam’s team bus. Indeed, the chant is a hardy perennial of Dutch football. And in eastern Europe, said the international footballers’ trade union Fifpro last week, “Players are still regularly the victim of racist incidents, committed either by spectators or clubs.” In the Czech Republic, 37 per cent of players polled by Fifpro reported having experienced racism or other discrimination. 

Why We Watch: Zambia v. Ivory Coast

Why We Watch: Phil M

Richard Nixon and the NFL Blackout Policy

Newly released tapes show President Nixon in 1972 seeking to negotiate with NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle to lift its legislatively-supported restriction on TV blackouts for home playoff games in exchange for his support for continuing the regular season blackout. The AP reports:
The president was a serious fan and in the early 1970s, he shared the anger of Washington residents who couldn't watch Redskins games on TV, former aides recalled. The Redskins routinely sold out and the NFL blackout policy left no way for Washington fans without tickets to watch home games. In October 1972, Nixon's Justice Department had even told Congress it was time for some modification of the blackout policy "in the public interest."

By December it was clear the NFL would black out that season's playoff games, including the first-round Redskins-Green Bay Packers game in Washington.

In a Dec. 19, 1972, telephone call just days before that game, Nixon told Attorney General Richard G. Kleindienst to relay this message to NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle: "If you make the move, for these playoff games, we will block any — any — legislation to stop anything else. I will fight it personally and veto any — any — legislation. You can tell him that I will veto it. And we'll sustain the veto. … Go all out on it and tell him he's got the president's personal commitment. I'm for pro football all the way, and I think it's not in pro football's interest to allow this to build up because before you know it, they'll have the damn Congress go all the way. We don't want Congress to go all the way."

Nixon told his attorney general that the NFL "should have absolute protection on all regular-season games" and that "if we can get the playoff games, believe me, it would be the greatest achievement we've ever done."

As Kleindienst began to outline what he would tell Rozelle, Nixon interrupted him.

"But let me say, that I want us to get some publicity out of this," the president said. "I just don't want to do this to accomplish it."

"I understand that," Kleindienst responded. "And that's what I'm going to tell him. That without putting your neck on the line …"

"Oh, I don't mind my neck on the line at all," Nixon said.

"Now see if you can work that out and tell him this would be the greatest move he could ever make," Nixon said at the end of the call. "He'd be a hero to the nation."

Incredibly, the next day Rozelle rebuffed the attorney general.
Television rights for professional sports have long been restricted by Congress as part of the general anti-trust exemption given to professional sports.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Fairy Tale in Wellington

American footballer Alex Smith is having a great run in the A-League:
As Australia’s A-League season enters the final stretch, the Wellington Phoenix’s American midfielder Alex Smith is enjoying a remarkable comeback while aiming to lead the New Zealand-based club to its first championship.
Smith is living a  bit of a fairy-tale story:

In 2005, after completing a strong sophomore season at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Smith went to England to train with professional clubs. He intended to return to college for his junior year but, to his surprise, the N.C.A.A. ruled that he had lost his eligibility during his trip to England.

Smith ended up signing with Dallas of Major League Soccer in 2005, but did not stay with the club. As a young man, Smith had lost his focus on soccer and simply quit the game. He then packed his bags and moved to Australia for no other reason than it was a place he enjoyed once on a vacation. At the time, soccer was the last thing on his mind.

It was not long, however, that soccer would work its way back into Smith’s life.

“I got done with college and didn’t really want to get into the corporate America world,” Smith said. “I was just over the whole business of soccer. I just packed my bags and took off. I didn’t know anybody. I had a bit of money saved up and didn’t plan it. I started playing again by juggling around a little with a ball just to get in shape. I ended up meeting a few people, and that’s what led to everything.”

In 2010 Smith was back to playing competitive soccer when he joined for Fraser Park in the New South Wales Super League, a minor league in Australia. Shortly after, Smith was on the move to Sydney Olympic, another N.S.W. Super League team where he became one of the team’s best players in early 2011.
Following Yanks abroad is no longer an easy task, but this website (where the author of the piece excerpted above writes) helps.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Contador Guilty of Doping

I'm not sure which is more troubling, that Alberto Contador was found guilty of doping or this statistic:
Only two Tour de France winners since 1995 — Carlos Sastre in 2008 and Cadel Evans last year — have not become embroiled in controversies involving performance-enhancing drugs.
The joker in the picture above, who had simulated a syringe application on Contador, apparently gets the last laugh.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Friday Linkage and a Rugby Documentary

RUGBY: LIFEBLOOD OF NEW ZEALAND from 100distrib on Vimeo.
I watched the documentary above earlier this week on an Air New Zealand flight from Auckland to Sydney, enjoy!  Some various links that went unblogged this week: