Friday, June 29, 2012

Expansion Happens

Writing at his Forbes blog Stefan Szymanski identifies some key similarities bewteen US college football and European club football (soccer).
1. In both cases regional leagues have evolved over a long period of time and command intense loyalty among fans (in Europe these are national leagues, in the US they are regional conferences- Big 10, Big 12, Big East, Pac12, etc).

2. The regional leagues generate highly uneven contests which has worked for the big teams (who can dominate) and for the little teams (since they get exposure to a high level of play).

3. TV has made a significant impact relatively recently compared to other sports (the 1984 antitrust case in the US opened up college football to blanket coverage, European leagues only really achieved significant exposure with the advent of pay TV systems in the late 1980s).

4. Now that it has, casual fans have started to ask the obvious question- what would happen if the big team in league X played the big team in league Y? The traditional league structures give relatively few opportunities to answer this question.

5. The potential TV revenues are driving realignments. For once, European football is ahead of American football. The European Cup, which was really an extended version of NCAA basketball’s March Madness (or vice versa) morphed into the Champions League in the 1990s, to generate an increased number of match-ups between top teams from different regional leagues.
The news that US college football has adopted a limited playoff system in coming years has motivated much discussion over the past week.  It is a subject I'll return to before long.

For now I'd point to the graph at the top of this post which shows the history of the expansion of the NCAA college basketball tournament. It shows that tournament expansion is the norm. Much the same can be said about the European club championships and the European championships, which are going to expand significantly in Euro 2016 in France.

How long will the college football tournament stay at 4 games? My guess is not as long as the NCAA stayed at 8 games.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

An Olympics Qualifying "Rules Hole"

One of the distinctive features of sport is that action on the field is governed by a set of laws or rules that are expected to cover every contingency. This is certainly not the case for governance of sport off the field, where it seems that anything is possible.

The expectation of comprehensive is a key difference between on-field sport jurisprudence and the rest of society. So it is as notable as it is rare to encounter an on field situation that falls outside the rules. It is notable for jurisprudential reasons, but also for reasons of probability, as the vast on-filed experience afforded by competition typically tests rules in all their dimensions.

Earlier this week a "rules hole" was revealed in the procedures of USA Track & Field, the national governing body, which has responsibility for overseeing the track and field athletes who will represent the US in the upcoming Olympics.

In the finals of the 100m on Saturday Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh (pictured above) finished in a third place tie. With the top 3 advancing to the Olympics, a third place tie is problematic. It turned out that the USATF had no procedure for resolving a third place tie, and needed to come up with one quickly.

The resulting policy, designed and implemented in a hurry, can be seen here. As Oliver Wendell Homes said, hard cases make bad law, and this situation appears no different. The new policy has already been panned and the participants are already gaming the new rule in hope of some advantage. I'd expect that it will be revisited after the Olympics and after the spotlight of a single case has dimmed.

Other examples of "rules holes" and fillers:

Many, but not all, of the "rules holes" are actually the result of technological innovation. For instance, the NFL "tuck rule" and other rules that define fumbles and catches are the result of instant reply that allow the game to be seen with much more precision than was previously the case. Perhaps ironically, the dead heat in the 100m race this week may have been resolved in earlier years with less precise technology.

"Rule holes" show us that even in the most contrived situations unforeseen contingencies arise. How we deal with those contingencies -- in sport but also broader society -- is a hallmark of good policy making.

Monday, June 25, 2012

An EU Convention on Match-Fixing?

Play the Game reports that the Council of Europe has recently resolved to as one of its subsidiary groups to initiate coordination of "a possible new international legal instrument relating to manipulation of sports results."

The full resolution, which was passed in March says the following (available here in PDF):
--Welcome the work performed in the framework of the Feasibility Study on a possible new international legal instrument relating to manipulation of sports results, and notably match-fixing, based on the Recommendation CM/Rec(2011)10;
--Invite the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Sport (EPAS), where appropriate, in co-operation with the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), the European Committee on Crime Problems (CDPC), Moneyval, and the Economic Crime Division (Cyber crime), and in coordination with the European Union :
  • to launch the negotiation of a possible new international convention against manipulation of sports results and notably match-fixing, that could establish an appropriate framework of commitment and co-operation to fight this scourge;
  • to involve in this work all interested EPAS members and observer states (which are or are not parties to the European Cultural Convention), with a view to developing an instrument that may be opened for signature to non European states, as well as by states, which have not yet joined EPAS guaranteeing a broad participation in the discussions and a broad support for the possible outcome(s);
  • to report to the Committe of Ministers on a draft instrument that may be eventually finalised as a convention or as another instrument;
  • to take into account in the negociations the possibility of setting up a platform of co-ordination and follow-up that will rely, as far as possible on existing bodies and structures and that will ensure co-operation with the betting operators and the sports movement;
  • to continue to implement the Recommendation CM/Rec(2011)10;
--Propose to the Committee of Ministers of Council of Europe to invite the CDPC, in co-operation with GRECO and EPAS to consider, as a separate issue, the feasibility of an additional protocol to the Council of Europe Criminal Law Convention on Corruption (ETS no. 173), that could expand to the sport sector the scope of application of its provisions;
--Invite EPAS to explore the possibilities of the establishment of an international network of national authorities in charge of the policy regarding the betting market, in order to address sport integrity issues;
I see that neither Italy nor Turkey are members of the EPAS, which raises some interesting questions about the process of initiating a convention, as both countries are sites of recent major match-fixing scandals. I will make some inquiries about the significance of that fact, and report back.

The actions by the EPAS and the COE are most welcome and add additional evidence that the resolution of vexing sports governance problems lies with governing bodies and not sports organizations alone.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Ukraine's Goal That Wasn't

As if more evidence was needed why goal line technology makes sense.

European Patriotism and Nationalism

Nationalism and patriotism are important concepts in political culture which are also expressed on a daily basis in sporting competitions. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy discusses the concepts as follows:
Discussions of both patriotism and nationalism are often marred by lack of clarity due to the failure to distinguish the two. Many authors use the two terms interchangeably. Among those who do not, quite a few have made the distinction in ways that are not very helpful. In the 19th century, Lord Acton contrasted “nationality” and patriotism as affection and instinct vs. a moral relation. Nationality is “our connection with the race” that is “merely natural or physical,” while patriotism is the awareness of our moral duties to the political community (Acton 1972, 163). In the 20th century, Elie Kedourie did the opposite, presenting nationalism as a full-fledged philosophical and political doctrine about nations as basic units of humanity within which the individual can find freedom and fulfilment, and patriotism as mere sentiment of affection for one's country (Kedourie 1985, 73–74). 
George Orwell contrasted the two in terms of aggressive vs. defensive attitudes. Nationalism is about power: its adherent wants to acquire as much power and prestige as possible for his nation, in which he submerges his individuality. While nationalism is accordingly aggressive, patriotism is defensive: it is a devotion to a particular place and a way of life one thinks best, but has no wish to impose on others (Orwell 1968, 362). This way of distinguishing the two attitudes comes close to an approach popular among politicians and widespread in everyday discourse that indicates a double standard of the form “us vs. them.” Country and nation are first run together, and then patriotism and nationalism are distinguished in terms of the strength of the love and special concern one feels for it, the degree of one's identification with it. When these are exhibited in a reasonable degree and without ill thoughts about others and hostile actions towards them, that is patriotism; when they become unbridled and cause one to think ill of others and act badly towards them, that is nationalism. Conveniently enough, it usually turns out that we are patriots, while they are nationalists...
My attention to this subject resulted from a column in this week's FT by Simon Kuper who argues that the Spanish national football team has served as a powerful means of integrating the nation.  He writes:
When Spain won the World Cup in 2010, many fans celebrated even in Bilbao and Barcelona. These people were not binning their regional identities. Rather, they felt both Basque and Spanish, or Catalan and Spanish. Xavi himself again showed the way: after the World Cup final, he ran around the field waving a Catalan flag. This was a new sort of nationalism, one that Franco would not have understood. . .
All over Spain, people are watching. Meanwhile, the government battles to stay in the euro. But even if it fails, Spain will surely keep exchanging cutting-edge knowledge with other European countries and retain its improved emotional relationship between regions and centre. The new Spain still exists, and this team exemplifies it.
If it works at the national level, then a logical next step would be, why not use sport at the European level as a means of fostering "europatriotism"? Indeed, some have argued that the entire European project has been an antidote to nationalism on the continent, and an extsention to sport would seem to make sense.

Writing in 2006 Kuper readily dismissed such thinking in a discussion of the Ryder Cup, the only pan-European team competition in major sports:
The "European" veneer at Ryder Cups is thin. Daniel Keohane, senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform, a London think-tank, says: "It's interesting that in the last few holes, when a European makes a putt, they take out their national flag and go off to celebrate with their national supporters."
And yet Europatriotism exists. A "Eurobarometer" survey for the European Commission last year showed that 63 per cent of Europeans felt "proud" to be Europeans. Britain scored lowest, with 44 per cent. However, proud Europeans are almost all proud of their own countries. Europatriotism doesn't replace national pride. It supplements it.

And although Europatriotism is a widespread sentiment, it's a weak one. Nobody has ever run drunken out of his house waving the EU flag. That's why Romano Prodi, then commission president, got nowhere with his suggestion that European teams in the Olympics fly the European flag besides their national ones.

Even the players in the Ryder Cup seldom lose themselves in Europatriotism. Asked "what is patriotism to you guys?", Ireland's Padraig Harrington replied: "I think we are playing for our tour." Italy's Costantino Rocca said of the Americans: "They are more attached to this cup than we are because they are from one nation."

Brussels will have to accept that Europatriotism is a weaker emotion than real patriotism. Then it might consider adopting the Ryder Cup as a model. Keohane notes that the European team was created not out of love but out of pragmatism. It was accepted as the only way to compete with the outside world. That is probably how most Europeans regard the EU.
With the EU and the Euro Zone facing a massive political crisis of identity, it may again be time to rethink Romano Prodi's suggestion of using sport as a means of cultural and social integration. Pan-European elections would have a similar, and much more significant, effect of focusing attention on Europe rather than on its member states.

Of course, such reflection might only serve to rue opportunities missed. Developing a sense of patriotism for an institution only a few decades old is always going to be a mountain to climb in the context of nationalist passions stoked for centuries and longer.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

UEFA Euro 2012 Tiebreakers

What happens if teams are level on points after the group stage of Euro 2012?

The UEFA Regulations for the tournament provide the answer on p. 6 (here in PDF):
8.07 If two or more teams are equal on points on completion of the group matches, the following criteria are applied, in the order given; to determine the rankings:
a) higher number of points obtained in the matches among the teams in question;
b) superior goal difference in the matches among the teams in question (if more than two teams finish equal on points);
c) higher number of goals scored in the matches among the teams in question (if more than two teams finish equal on points);
d) superior goal difference in all the group matches;
e) higher number of goals scored in all the group matches;
f) position in the UEFA national team coefficient ranking system (see Annex I, paragraph 1.2.2);
g) fair play conduct of the teams (final tournament);
h) drawing of lots.
8.08 If two teams which have the same number of points, the same number of goals scored and conceded play their last group match against each other and are still equal at the end of that match, the ranking of the two teams in question is determined by kicks from the penalty mark (Article 16), provided no other teams within the group have the same number of points on completion of all group matches. Should more than two teams have the same number of points, the criteria listed under paragraph 8.07 apply.

Wrage Discovers FIFA's Faustian Bargain

Writing in the FT last week, Roger Blitz reveals that FIFA is only willing to go so far and no further on its reform efforts. What is the latest point of contention? The inclusion of women in FIFA governance (I kid you not). 

Blitz writes:
The Independent Governance Committee, set up by Fifa president Sepp Blatter to combat accusations of inertia over dealing with investigating corruption allegations, recommended the reform and nominated four women for the eight seats on the investigatory and adjudicatory chambers.

But Alexandra Wrage, an IGC member, said she was told at the lunch the nomination of any female candidates was “entirely unacceptable”.

Ms Wrage told the Financial Times: “They sat down next to me, two senior Fifa executives. They said, ‘you are pushing too hard, leave this for another time. You’ve made a lot of progress, you should be content.’ It was so clear-cut, it was expressly stated.”

Ms Wrage, who advises companies on anti-bribery compliance, declined to reveal the identity of the officials who, she said, had created an atmosphere of “unapologetic chauvinism”.

She added: “I was gobsmacked. We were making progress in this environment. I guess you have to admire their candour.”

Her account was corroborated by Guillermo Jorge, another IGC member, in an email to the FT.
The revelations can't be said to be terribly surprising to anyone paying attention to FIFA "reform." Though, it was only three weeks ago that Alexandra Wrage enthusiastically applauded FIFA efforts as being on the "threshold of reform."

Like Transparency International, it seems that TRACE International, which is led by Wrage, is learning about FIFA's commitment to reform through hard lessons of experience. Now she is talking about resigning from the IGC. It is hard to see how she can remain.

For his part Mark Pieth had some very strong criticisms of FIFA:
Mark Pieth, IGC chairman, said: “What this demonstrates is that this is an organisation which has a really long way to go. Gender issues are part of the governance issue, and they don’t seem to understand that.

“If you were to defend that attitude, you would say they are a boys’ club and they are in a transition phase.”

The IGC is expected to hold a conference call in the next few days to discuss how to respond. Ms Wrage said she was uncertain whether she could continue serving on the IGC.

Mr Pieth added: “What doesn’t surprise me is that this organisation has a problem with women in their ranks. That is typical. Obviously I’m saddened that we have to deal with this issue as well, but it just means more work.

“They need a kick from outside. I think it’s serious.”
If Wrage resigns from the committee it will do great damage to the FIFA 'reform" process, such as it is. However, if she stays, it will do great damage to her own credibility. Like Mark Pieth before her, Wrage is learning that binding oneself to FIFA can be a Faustian bargain. It looks like Placido Domingo got off easy.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Odds of Advancing in Euro 2012

The graphs in this post show the proportion of squads that advanced to the knock-out stages in the Euro football championships 1996 to 2008, during the period of a 16 team competition. The graph above shows that 100% of teams with 6 or more points advanced to the knock-out stage, with 75% with 5 points advancing and 57% of those with 4 pointsNo squad advanced with 3 or fewer points. One win is not enough and two is a guarantee.

The graph below shows that there is only a 1 in 4 chance of winning a group with 5 points, and 1 in 3 with 6 points. Going undefeated in the group stage is not a guarantee of winning the group, however, as two teams could each collect 7 points, but only one would win the group.  This has not happened since 1996, but such an outcome is still in play this year in all four groups.
Data from UEFA.

Clamp Down

Andrés Iniesta meets five of the Italians. [Courtesy Javier Matallanas via Martyn Ziegler on Twitter.]

Evocative of Maradonna 1982:
 And Messi 2010:
Also courtesy of Martyn Ziegler (from Ruud Verdellen on Twitter).

Transparency in College Athletics

I explain that college athletics are not going anywhere anytime soon, however, that means a need for greater transparency and accountability:
The money involved is significant. According to an analysis from USA Today, from 2004 to 2010 CU Athletics received $33.3 million (inflation-adjusted) in direct university support, or about 12.4 percent of the total athletics budget over that time period. A recent report from Bloomberg found that CU students in the year 2010-2011 paid $625.58 each to subsidize the athletic department, a number exceeded in the Pac-12 only by Oregon State and Washington State. Washington and UCLA students contributed the least in the conference, about $100 per student, and Stanford, a private university, did not provide their spending.
The op-ed was motivated by some comments made by one of our university administrators, defending the news reported earlier this month that the Athletic department had received a $10 million low-interest loan from within the university, as well as a $3 million gift:
Frances Draper, CU vice chancellor for strategic relations, said the loan is scheduled to be paid back in six years at 2 percent interest. Draper said the loan did not have to be approved by the Board of Regents because eight years ago that panel gave schools the discretion to make internal loans without regent approval.

Draper said no tuition dollars were used for the loan or the $6 million in gifts. She said the funds come from interest earnings. Draper said faculty groups were made aware of the assistance the campus and system gave to the athletic department and they raised no objections to it because there was widespread approval by the faculty for the switch in conference affiliation.

"The campus and system saw the overall value of going to the Pac-12 because it is much more consistent with our alumni footprint and with our research collaborations," Draper said. "We do a lot with Cal. We do a lot with UCLA and Washington. We were already in joint research agreements with a lot of them. ...

"The faculty overall were pretty darn supportive of moving over to the Pac-12."
I will resist the urge to argue concepts such as opportunity costs and participatory governance to the vice chancellor, but suffice it to say that her comments were not well received by at least a few on the faculty.

My call for a bit more transparency here is not particularly radical -- we should simply to treat athletics in a manner comparable to other organizations under university governance.  Here is another excerpt from the op-ed:
CU-Boulder is like most major universities in that revenue-raising activities that involve entertainment are common parts of our incredibly wide-ranging portfolio of activities, which include the Colorado Shakespeare Festival and the Artist Series from the College of Music. And of course, almost all of the research done on campus is funded through external sources based on then entrepreneurial successes of the faculty. So athletics is not unique in its need to raise funds to operate.

Similarly, the athletic department is not unique on campus in receiving subsidies from elsewhere on campus. Last year, the Law School spent $1.7 million more than it took in, and the College of Music $4.4 million and the College of Engineering $6.1 million. Such deficits are problematic because there is not a lot of money to go around. Over 2007-2012, state support to higher education in Colorado dropped by 13 percent, according to data from Illinois State University, and faculty recently went several years without raises.

With respect to the Law School deficit Regent Steve Bosley said, "The law students -- as a body -- are probably going to make more money than any other group on campus. Why should the other students be subsidizing a group that has a greater lifetime earning?" The same question might be asked of the campus subsidy to athletics, given that those resources are going to a tiny subset of students.

Decision making related to athletics is typically kept far from the faculty, and operates from within its own cocoon within the university bureaucracy. I am surely typical of most of my peers on the faculty in learning of the most recent gift and loan to the athletic department via the pages of the Daily Camera. This separation may make sense as big-time college athletics -- specifically men's football and basketball -- today have far more in common with their professional counterparts than with faculty in various departments on campus.

Yet, even as we recognize the tradition, uniqueness and importance of college athletics, it is precisely because of these values that the enterprise should be opened up to a greater degree of transparency and accountability in the broader university environment. CU is far from alone in this regard, but like others across the nation, has a long way to go.
Read the whole op-ed here.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Analysis of Compensation in the MLS

The availability of a dataset on compensation of MLS players allows for a interesting analysis of league-wide compensation (data here in PDF).  The figure above shows the distribution of "2012 Guaranteed Compensation" for MLS players, with the lowest paid players on the left and the highest on the right (there are 549 players in the dataset). You can click on the figures in this post for a better view.

You can see that it is a rather skewed distribution. The graph below shows the salaries of those players who make less than $1 million (which is almost all of them), and it is still skewed.
The average salary in the MLS is $164,000 but the median is only $80,000. The lowest compensated player is $33,625 and the highest (Thierry Henry) is at $5,600,000. There are 328 players who make $100,000 or less.

The graph below shows the distribution of compensation against the league total, which is almost exactly $90 million. It shows that 50% of the league's compensation goes to 492 players and the other 50% of compensation goes to 47 players.
You are probably wondering how the MLS stacks up in terms of its Gini coefficient, a measure of income  (in)equality. That is shown in the graph below (from this excellent online calculator). It shows that the MLS has a level of inequality that might be comparable to Haiti or Bolivia, and much higher level of inequality than found in men's professional tennis. It would be interesting to compare across sports, countries and leagues, but that would necessitate a big data collection effort.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Shelter from the Storm

What a difference a year makes ... or not.

Here is Sepp Blatter at the 2011 FIFA Congress:
I am the captain, we will weather the storm together
Here is Blatter at the 2012 FIFA Congress:
"We are back in the harbor…and are heading to calm, clearer waters"
Debate question of the day: Has FIFA's reform effort succeeded? Or has it provided cover for inaction?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Lasana Liburd: "the Caribbean's Answer to Bob Woodward"

I have come to learn that not many people pay much attention to sports governance. Among those who do are a set of investigative reporters who do their profession proud. Among them is Lasana Liburd (pictured above, interviewing Mario Goijman) who writes on football (soccer) from Trinidad at

Writing at ESPNStar, Jesse Fink highlights Liburd's efforts in exposing corruption in CONCACAF, the federation which oversees Central and North American Soccer, as well as the Caribbean.  Here is an excerpt:
Oh, to be Jack Warner.

Must be wonderful being fawned over by underlings, fanned by tropical breezes, knowing that in Trinidad, his island home, he's practically a king.

Who dares take on Teflon Jack? Who would be so foolish?

Well, there is one man.

The Minister of Works and Infrastructure of the Caribbean nation of Trinidad & Tobago, a former FIFA executive committee member, stand-in deputy prime minister and president of CONCACAF, has been linked to all sorts of sagas over the years, each of them chronicled by the Caribbean's answer to Bob Woodward, Lasana Liburd, an online newspaper journalist and publisher in Trinidad.
I have followed Liburd's reporting closely, and it is consistently meticulous, patient and revealing, often going where others fear to go.

Fink's praise is well earned:
[F]ans should be just as appreciative of the work of Liburd. He's a true ornament to the profession of journalism.

Committed. Resourceful. Fearless.

We all owe him our greatest respect and thanks for doing more than FIFA ever has in the name of "fair play".
Count me among those fans. Lasana, keep up the good work!

You can follow Liburd at @lasanaliburd and