Friday, September 30, 2011

Silent Stan Speaks

Arsenal's controlling owner, Stan Kroenke, gives a lengthy interview to the Telegraph, in which he explains that Arsène Wenger has his unequivocal support and promises to bring to the job both solid fiscal management and a healthy dose of American pragmatism:
“I haven’t said a lot, I don’t know that I need to. We have really good guys out there in London. Sure, people want to know what we are doing but we are not going to do anything differently than we have ever done. There is no owner with as many years or as many hours in sports as we do. I don’t think so.

"We have had a good amount of success. I have a lot of respect for all of the other owners. I’m not decrying their way. What I am saying is that if you look year after year at sustaining it, Arsenal have done a pretty good job. Arsène Wenger has been the real reason for that and I like our future.”

As the conversation eventually drifts away from Arsenal and back to his teams in America, Kroenke makes a point of introducing Mike Jones, a Rams legend for a match-saving tackle in the final seconds of the Super Bowl in 2000.

Kroenke recounts an incident that has gone down in American folklore as simply ‘The Tackle’ and is savouring the memory. He clearly also believes that Arsenal can experience moments of equivalent glory.

“It’s much more fun when you win,” he says, “and, you know what, it’s really fun when you win the whole thing.”
Gooners should be reassured. (H/T arseblog)

Black Swans and Baseball

Two nights ago saw what many are calling the greatest final day in the baseball season ever, seeing off the end-of-season collapses of the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves. The Economist (of all places) has a nice capsule summary of what transpired, and also provides an estimate of the near-impossibility of what transpired:
Let’s rehash. There was something on the order of an 0.5% chance the Red Sox would blow their nine-game lead over the Rays, and a 2% chance the Braves would lose their seven-and-a-half-game edge over the Cardinals. Then in tonight’s matchups, there was a 13% chance the Phillies would come back to beat Atlanta, a 5% chance the Orioles would come back to beat Boston, and an 0.3% chance the Rays would come back to beat New York. Multiply it all out, and the odds of witnessing what we just witnessed were worse than one in 500m.
Writing at the FT,  Jason Abbruzzese compares such numbers to the numbers that helped to create the global financial crisis:
The statistical revolution of the last 50 years has seriously impacted both the financial markets and professional sports. The Red Sox are among the teams that have attempted to most directly embrace this numbers revolution – often called Sabermetrics, which was written about by Michael Lewis in ‘Moneyball’ – in theatres now.

In finance, computer-based trading allowed the best and brightest to set their minds to figuring out just which algorithm can take advantage of increasingly complex financial instruments.

Looking back on each of these situations, we see that these numbers are often only as good as the people they’re built on and the people who built them. Statistics didn’t predict the fatal flaws in CDOs. Indeed, it was a formula that felled Wall Street.

Statistics did not predict the history-making crash of the Boston Red Sox – widely regarded before the season by statisticians and overweight sportswriters alike as the best team in baseball.

Nor could they. Statistics by their nature are backward-looking and can only give us an idea of what to expect.
But even though we know this to be the case, in the aftermath of witnessing an event that not long ago we would have dismissed as sheer fantasy, we reinterpret experience in a way that transforms the unexpected into a narrative of cause-and-effect that now makes any other outcome seem improbable from the vantage point offered by hindsight.  Again, Abbruzzese:
Down to their final out, Rays batter Dan Johnson, batting an anaemic .119 (that’s bad, cricket fans), with two strikes, launched a ball out of the park that tied a game that the Rays would go on to win.

The chances of that are small, to say the least, yet not a single person in Red Sox nation looks back at it with surprise. And that’s exactly how many of us look back at the financial crisis – it was inconceivable, but now none of us are surprised.
This dynamic is of course illustrates what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls a black swan:
What we call here a Black Swan (and capitalize it) is an event with the following three attributes. First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.

I stop and summarize the triplet: rarity, extreme impact, and retrospective (though not prospective) predictability. A small number of Black Swans explains almost everything in our world, from the success of ideas and religions, to the dynamics of historical events, to elements of our own personal lives.
Our misperceptions of the role of chance in advance of and in the aftermath of rare events helps to explain why we some often make poor decisions, in and out of sport.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Economist on Football Corruption in Brazil

The Economist has a detailed article about the troubles that plague the governance of football in Brazil.  Here is an excerpt:
Ricardo Teixeira, who is president of the local World Cup organising committee and a member of FIFA’s executive committee, has been chairman of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) since 1989. He is a protégé of João Havelange, who ran FIFA for almost a quarter-century until 1998. Mr Teixeira has been fighting accusations of graft for years. In 2001 investigations by Brazil’s Congress into corruption in football found irregularities in a deal arranged by Mr Teixeira under which Nike, an American sportswear firm, sponsored the national team. The congressional committee of inquiry passed on to the public prosecutor some 13 charges against him, including embezzlement, money laundering and tax evasion. All were subsequently dropped. (Nike says the contract was “fully legal in essence and spirit”.)

“Panorama”, a BBC television programme, has accused Mr Teixeira and Mr Havelange of taking bribes in the 1990s related to marketing rights for games. Earlier this year Lord (David) Triesman, the man who launched England’s failed bid to host the World Cup in 2018, said that Mr Teixeira had asked for money in return for his vote.

In an interview in Piauí, a Brazilian monthly, Mr Teixeira denied the BBC’s claims. He said the English were “pissed off because they lost” and that he would have his revenge on the BBC: as long as he is at the CBF and FIFA, “they won’t get past the door.” He boasted that in 2014 he would do “the most slippery, unthinkable, Machiavellian things [such as] denying press credentials, barring access, changing game schedules.” The sports minister, Orlando Silva, had to promise that all journalists would be fairly treated and allowed to do their work.

A FIFA investigation cleared Mr Teixeira of Lord Triesman’s allegations. Mr Havelange has not responded to the BBC’s allegations. But the International Olympic Committee, of which Mr Havelange is a member and which has stricter ethical standards than FIFA, is investigating them. This week a Brazilian prosecutor declared that he will order police to look into whether Mr Teixeira was guilty of money laundering and tax crimes.
What is most interesting is not the sordid allegations of corruption recounted in the article, but rather, that The Economist is covering it in some depth. Not good news for FIFA, which is used to flying under the radar.

Monday, September 26, 2011

You Don't Say

NCAA President Mark Emmert says what is on everyone's mind:
“People today have greater doubt, greater concern about what we stand for and why we do what we do,” Emmert said to a packed room of athletic directors and faculty athletics representatives, who have all gathered here for their annual meetings. “And that is a huge problem for us.”

“The specter of the past couple weeks of conference realignment has not been a healthy thing,” said Emmert, speaking forcefully and without notes. The prevailing belief among the public and the press, he said, is that college sports stands only for money."

But is it Legal?

The NYT provides an introductory overview to Sheik Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan's investments in Man City and their implications for parity in European football:
Now, though, Manchester City’s players take the field in pale blue jerseys that suggest possibility as expansive as the sky itself. Or the fossil fuels beneath it. In 2008, the club was bought for $330 million by Sheik Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan, a member of the royal family of the emirate of Abu Dhabi who has fueled his team with an oil and talent pipeline.

Sheik Mansour has spent hundreds of millions of dollars for the rights to a raft of top international players and sunk hundreds of millions more into paying their salaries. Ambition has gushed from that $1.5 billion layout, as evidenced by the team’s first appearance in the European Champions League, the world’s most prestigious club tournament. Manchester City faces Bayern Munich on Tuesday, its second match in the tournament, in which it seeks to challenge other giants like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea and Manchester United for supremacy of all of Europe.
Stefan Szymanski, perhaps the dean of soccer economists, suggests that efforts to limit investments in football may run up against legal obstacles:
Any attempt to nullify the sponsorship deal may fail in court, said Stefan Szymanski, a British economist and co-author of the book “Soccernomics.”

“How do you determine what is the fair value of a corporate sponsorship? In essence, it’s arbitrary,” said Szymanski, who teaches at the University of Michigan. “It comes down to what people are willing to pay.”

The financial fair-play rules may also face a legal challenge for arbitrarily restricting what is considered allowable income on team balance sheets, Szymanski said. “If a wealthy owner wants to put his own money into his own business, how is that not money devoted to football?” he said. “When I go to a game, I take my money and buy a ticket and it becomes football income. When it transfers from the bank account of an Arab sheik, why isn’t that the same thing?”
In theory -- where anything is possible -- FIFA's Financial Fair Play regulations are supposed to help level the playing field with respect to club finances. In practice, things might be a bit different.

Prospects for FIFA Reform at Transparency International

I have a guest post up at Transparency International's Space for Transparency blog.  In it I discuss the prospects for holding FIFA accountable.  Here is how I begin:
In 1983, upon learning that that the 1986 World Cup was assured to be awarded by FIFA to Mexico even before the process had been completed, Henry Kissinger is reported to have said, “The politics of FIFA, they make me nostalgic for the Middle East.”  The decades-long on-again off-again concern about corruption and a lack of transparency in FIFA is on again, and this time, it looks like it will remain a prominent issue that requires some sort of resolution.

That FIFA has governance problems is now generally recognized, even by Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s president, who has promised to present a reform agenda in late October.  In a recent report, Transparency International has helpfully provided FIFA with a blueprint for many useful reforms.  However, because FIFA lies outside the reach of virtually any means of accountability, we should not expect meaningful reform until strong mechanisms of accountability are in place.  This post explains what such mechanisms might look like.
You can read the rest here. Comments welcomed!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Lex Sportiva versus Lex Imperium: Part 1, Background

On Wednesday September 28 the Court of Arbitration for Sport will hold a hearing to arbitrate a dispute between FC Sion, a Swiss football club, and UEFA, the international association that governs European football.  Meantime, in a separate venue UEFA president Michel Platini has been called to testify before a Swiss court on the matter.  The outcome of this dispute, has potentially profound implications for the governance of international football and sport more broadly.  This post provides some general background and a subsequent post will discuss the particulars of the dispute between FC Sion and UEFA.

Recent decades have seen a growing body of policies, rules, jurisprudence and institutions related to sport, which has been characterized by Lorenzo Casini of the University of Rome as follows (PDF):
Sports law . . . is made of norms enacted not only by States, but also by central sporting institutions (such as IOC, IFs and WADA) and by national sporting bodies (such as National Olympic Committees and National Anti‐Doping Organizations); furthermore, sport norms directly address and regulate individuals, such as athletes.
An important part of these governance mechanism is what has come to be called lex sportiva, or what Casini calls, "transnational law produced by sporting institutions" and what others have called "international sports law."

For instance, European football is governed by UEFA, the Union des Associations Européennes de Football or the Union of European Football Associations.  As an association of associations (currently with 53 members), UEFA is one of six such organizations that are members of FIFA (called "confederations" --  FIFA thus might be thought of as an association of associations of associations).  Like FIFA, UEFA is incorporated in Switzerland under the provisions of Swiss law.

As an association, membership in UEFA is determined by the guidelines set for the the UEFA statutes, an administrative document that outlines the policies and procedures of the organization (available here in PDF). One of the requirements that UEFA places upon its membership is acceptance of UEFA policies and decisions (Article 59):
Each Member Association shall include in its statutes a provision whereby it, its leagues, clubs, players and officials agree to respect at all times the Statutes, regulations and decisions of UEFA, and to recognise the jurisdiction of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne (Switzerland), as provided in the present Statutes.
UEFA explains that when a dispute arises within a national context under the association's statutes the conflict is to be resolved through a process of arbitration rather than under national laws (Article 60):
Associations shall include in their statutes a provision under which disputes of national dimension arising from or related to the application of their statutes or regulations shall, subject to their national legislation, be referred in the last instance to an independent and impartial court of arbitration, to the exclusion of any ordinary court.
Similarly, at the international level, UEFA requires that any dispute be handled through arbitration under the provisions of the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which was created in 1981 by the International Olympic Committee to serve as an "arbitral jurisdiction devoted to resolving disputes directly or indirectly related to sport."  

UEFA has delegated to the CAS exclusive jurisdiction for appeals to its decisions (Article 62):
Any decision taken by a UEFA organ may be disputed exclusively before the CAS in its capacity as an appeals arbitration body, to the exclusion of any ordinary court or any other court of arbitration.
Excluded from CAS jurisdiction are disputes involving the Laws of the Game (which are the province of the International Football Association Board), minor disciplinary actions of players or issues of a national nature that have been arbitrated at a national level.

UEFA also explains (Article 64):
These Statutes shall be governed in all respects by Swiss law.
 And this is where all of the trouble begins.

Part II will discuss the dispute between FC Sion and UEFA and its implications for lex sportiva.

Sport: Mirror or Fantasy?

Writing at The Atlantic Eleanor Barkhorn eloquently describes the conflicting reasons that we love sport:
Last summer, Armando Galarraga, a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, threw an almost perfect game. It was the top of the ninth inning in a June match-up against the Cleveland Indians, and he'd sent 26 batters back to the dugout. He needed just one more out before he could claim one of baseball's most coveted achievements. When batter 27 came to the plate, however, he hit the ball and ran to first base, where the umpire declared him safe. Galarraga's perfect game was over.

 After seeing the replay, though, the umpire realized he'd made a mistake: Batter 27 should have been out, and Galarraga's game should have been perfect. But it was too late. The call had already been made. The umpire wept as he realized that his human error had cost Galarraga a place in the record books. This game is a bit of litmus test for how people understand sports. To some, the umpire's mistake was betrayal to sports fans—a moment of grave injustice in a game that's supposed to be inherently fair. Derek Thompson wrote here at The Atlantic:
Sports combines human drama with something life flat-out does not and cannot have: finality. Life is complicated, open-ended. Sports has winners. That's why we watch, and why we care.
To others, the episode was not a freak exception to the greatness of sports. In fact, it was a beautiful example of exactly what makes games worth watching. Joe Posnanski wrote (and the New York Times' Ross Douthat quoted approvingly):
When my young daughters ask, "Why didn't he get mad and scream about how he was robbed," I think I will tell them this: I don't know for sure, but I think it's because Armando Galarraga understands something that is very hard to understand, something we all struggle with, something I hope you learn as you grow older: In the end, nobody's perfect. We just do the best we can.
These two responses illustrate two very different theories on why people are drawn to sports. One says we watch because they provide an escape from the harsh realities of the world. The other says we watch because sports reflect those harsh realities, and help prepare us for them in our own lives. It comes down to this: Do we watch sports to see the world as we want it to be, or as it truly is?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Journalists and Academics Moving Beyond the Scandal Beat

Articles in The New Yorker and Columbia Journalism Review suggest that the narrative around college sports is changing from one that emphasizes scandal in the sense on NCAA rules violations to one focus on more fundamental questions of governance by the NCAA itself.  Academics can help this transition.

Writing for The New Yorker, Reeves Wiedeman riffs off of the Taylor Branch article in the Atlantic which appeared last week:
It becomes harder each day, if not impossible, to maintain the lie that the sport is an innocent beacon of amateurism where those players not lucky enough to one day be paid as professional football players will at least be able to take home their degrees in Physical Education and General Studies. There’s plenty of money involved; the question is whether it’s ending up in deserving hands. College football is not dying—multi-billion dollar industries do not disappear overnight—but the system behind it is showing signs of faltering. Whether anyone can and will step in to deliver the knockout blow remains to be seen.
The Columbia Journalism Review turns a critical eye to journalism and its role in reinforcing the "scandal beat" -- investigative journalism that uncovers NCAA rules violations -- at the expense of the broader issues of governance.
The cumulative reportage of a relatively small group of sports journalists on what might be called the Scandal Beat constitutes a compelling case for the unenforceability of the NCAA’s bylaws. In the process of building that case, these reporters have delivered an impressive perp walk of bogeymen: scurrilous agents, meddling boosters, selfish teenage athletes, badly behaved coaches. In many ways it has been a wildly successful display of watchdog journalism, and it helped establish the idea that sports is something that can and should be subjected to the same journalistic scrutiny as other institutions in our society—and that the sports desk could be more than just the “Toy Department,” as it had been derisively tagged by newsroom colleagues.

But the success of this work also belies a deeper problem with the coverage of college sports. The Scandal Beat exists as a kind of closed loop: a report of rules violations, an investigation, sanctions, dismissals, vows to do better, and then on to the next case of corruption where the cycle is repeated. The reporting, intentionally or not, promotes the idea that the corruption that plagues the NCAA is the problem, rather than merely a symptom of a system that is fundamentally broken. The Scandal Beat, with its drama and spectacular falls from grace, is much less adept at managing the next step: a robust discussion, prominently and persistently conducted, of why these scandals keep happening and what can be done to prevent them.
The CJR explains that the "scandal beat" emerged as the NCAA became big business starting in the 1980s and reporters were still infused with a sense of post-Watergate zeal. the CJR explains that the nature of reporting itself has helped to reinforce a narrow focus on rules violations:
Rick Telander, the Chicago Sun-Times sports columnist whose 1989 book, The Hundred Yard Lie, argued that big-time college football should remove its threadbare veil of amateurism, puts a finer point on the discrepancy, calling the rules violations the “crumbs of the problem.” He says: “The big muffin is right in front of us every day. We know it and accept it, so that’s where all the craziness starts. We accept the Big Lie, so we are dazzled and amazed by the little lies. I have found that completely self-defeating and really it hasn’t changed.”

In this way, the Scandal Beat sets its own trap. It produces important stories that fit into a celebrated tradition of muckraking and watchdog reporting. They are the kinds of stories that win prizes and generate traffic. Most of the reporters who do them have been reared in an industry whose professional code demands “objectivity,” a sort of bloodless presentation of the facts that, at its worst, can reduce an obvious injustice to a he said, she said cop-out. The result is straightforward coverage of the NCAA and its rules—and the inevitable violations of those rules—rather than coverage that challenges the validity of the rules themselves, and the system that upholds them.
To this analysis I would have to add the relative paucity of academic studies that look at the governance of sport in general and the NCAA in particular.  In a 1999 paper Rodney K. Smith, a law professor at the University of Memphis and member of the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee, explained that academics often have a look down their noses at the study of sport:
Academics, who understand the need to study major phenomena that affect our culture in great depth, often shun the exploration of deeper ethical and moral issues related to sport. For example, once during lunch with a group of my faculty colleagues, a fellow faculty member asked me what I thought about "the game" that weekend. I responded that I did not watch the game.  Almost aghast, he wondered out loud, "how can you teach sports law and not watch the game."  As academics, like our journalistic counterparts, we are too often caught up in the anecdotal moment of "the game," and rarely pause to reflect thoroughly on the very ramifications of the sport in our society.  This is even more true when, as educational institutions, we have made an academic home for intercollegiate athletics.
Were more academics to focus on issues of governance, and bring it more into the mainstream of scholarship -- as they do in studying most every institution throughout society -- reporters would have another topic to report on. There are of course scholars who have focused attention on sport governance, and produced excellent research and analyses (as there are also journalists who have done so), even on the NCAA (e.g., see Smith above). But within academia the subject is really a niche topic, and, its safe to say, not a prestige area of research.

There is a great opportunity for journalism and academia to evolve in how they address sport.  As the CJR concludes, it is time to realize that,
. . . the most important story in college sports is no longer a sports story at all. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

What is the NCAA?

Writing the majority opinion for the 1984 Supreme Court case of NCAA vs. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma, Justice John Paul Stevens defined the NCAA:
The NCAA is an association of schools which compete against each other to attract television revenues, not to mention fans and athletes.
The graph at the top of this post shows NCAA television revenue (data from the NCAA here).  The data doesn't exactly match up with the NCAA annual totals because I have distributed the broadcasting contract revenue equally across the years for each agreement.  However, the totals across each contract should reconcile.

The annual average growth in television revenue since 1982 is 14.1%. As an association that attracts revenue, the NCAA appears to be doing just fine.

Will Congress Step Into College Football Realignment?

My guess is "Yes." 

Yesterday's NYT reported that at least one member of Congress is looking into it:
In a telephone interview early Sunday morning, a congressman from a state with a university that could be harmed by realignment said that the issue raised concerns over taxes, antitrust law and, potentially, Title IX.

While no one has formally approached Congress yet, the congressman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the situation was “spinning out of control.”

“I think the situation is rising to a level where getting Congress engaged may be unavoidable,” he said. He added: “Congress has the nexus to engage. These are tax-exempt organizations now making billions off of unpaid athletes. When it’s a regional league, it seems to make sense. When you’re taking schools practically from coast to coast and putting them in big-profit revenue leagues, we may be at a point where the N.C.A.A. has lost its ability to create a fair system for all to play in.”
I can't remember the lat time I saw a member of Congress quoted on a condition of anonymity.

At The Arizona Republic Bob Young lays out where he thinks all this might be headed -- four super conference and a national playoff:
The four conferences will have two divisions and a conference championship game. After those are played a BCS Tournament Selection Committee will seed the four winners along with two at-large teams.

The two at-large teams may be selected from among non-BCS teams, independents such as Notre Dame and Brigham Young or BCS conference teams which did not qualify for a conference championship game - all based on power rankings, human polls or a combination as we have now.

Division champs that are beaten in the conference championship game are excluded because, in essence, they've had their playoff shot and lost.

So let's say Alabama is undefeated and Florida has one loss - to division opponent Alabama.

The tournament committee might pick Florida as an at-large.

This would give non-BCS teams such as Boise State a shot if they're ranked high enough, keep Notre Dame in the mix but also allow the best teams into a playoff if they're in a killer division.

After seeding, the two at-large teams would play the two lowest-seeded conference winners in the Cotton Bowl and Fiesta Bowl.

The two highest-seeded winners get a bye into the semifinal games to be played in the Sugar and Orange.
And the national championship is played in the Rose Bowl.

The bowls would rotate assignments just as they do now so they all get national-championship games.
While he is likely wrong on the details, I think that the idea of a national playoff is inevitable as is a reconfiguration of conferences.  With only 48 teams in 4 "superconferences" a lot of schools will be left out.  This plus the amount of money involved essentially guarantees that Congress will step in.  How can they resist?

The Dis-United Kingdom of Football

The NYT has an interesting story on debate in the UK over the fielding of a UK soccer team for the 2012 Olympics.  Organizing such a team is problematic because there is no such team -- in international football the UK plays as England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.  Here is an excerpt:
While the International Olympic committee recognizes Britain as a combined team in all sports, FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, recognizes England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as separate teams. And there lies the heart of the controversy.

Soccer officials from the three smaller nations fear that merging a team for the Olympics could pave the way for FIFA to follow suit, forcing Britain’s teams to combine into one entry for soccer tournaments like the World Cup and the European Championships. There is a worry, too, that the nations would lose their individual seats on the committee that determines international soccer’s bylaws.

FIFA has given public assurances that it will still allow all four nations to compete separately apart from the Olympics, but its pledge has failed to convince everyone.

It is sometimes hard for outsiders to comprehend how deeply tribal Britain is, and how resistant to the idea that there is a unifying notion of Britishness. Wales and Northern Ireland have separate legislative assemblies. And Scotland has its own parliament, now controlled by the Scottish National Party, whose ultimate goal is national independence.

The rivalry between Scotland and England in particular runs so deep that when England competes in the World Cup, many Scots employ a position of “anyone but England,” actively rooting for England’s opponents, whoever they are.

The soccer associations appear to have no legal right to prevent their players from participating in the Olympics, and have said they will not retaliate against those who do. But they are openly discouraging them.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Mens sana in corpore sano

Writing in the Atlantic, Taylor Branch (interviewed above) has a hard hitting and informative essay on the history of college athletics in the United States, titled The Shame of College Sports.  Here is an excerpt:
For all the outrage, the real scandal is not that students are getting illegally paid or recruited, it’s that two of the noble principles on which the NCAA justifies its existence—“amateurism” and the “student-athlete”—are cynical hoaxes, legalistic confections propagated by the universities so they can exploit the skills and fame of young athletes. The tragedy at the heart of college sports is not that some college athletes are getting paid, but that more of them are not.
Branch, rightly in my view, compares the evolution of the amateur ideal in the Olympics to college athletics, foreshadowing change coming to the NCAA:
In November 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed the bipartisan Amateur Sports Act. Amateurism in the Olympics soon dissolved—and the world did not end. Athletes, granted a 20 percent voting stake on every Olympic sport’s governing body, tipped balances in the United States and then inexorably around the world. First in marathon races, then in tennis tournaments, players soon were allowed to accept prize money and keep their Olympic eligibility. Athletes profited from sponsorships and endorsements. The International Olympic Committee expunged the word amateur from its charter in 1986. Olympic officials, who had once disdained the NCAA for offering scholarships in exchange for athletic performance, came to welcome millionaire athletes from every quarter, while the NCAA still refused to let the pro Olympian Michael Phelps swim for his college team at Michigan.

This sweeping shift left the Olympic reputation intact, and perhaps improved. Only hardened romantics mourned the amateur code. “Hey, come on,” said Anne Audain, a track-and-field star who once held the world record for the 5,000 meters. “It’s like losing your virginity. You’re a little misty for awhile, but then you realize, Wow, there’s a whole new world out there!

Without logic or practicality or fairness to support amateurism, the NCAA’s final retreat is to sentiment. The Knight Commission endorsed its heartfelt cry that to pay college athletes would be “an unacceptable surrender to despair.” Many of the people I spoke with while reporting this article felt the same way. “I don’t want to pay college players,” said Wade Smith, a tough criminal lawyer and former star running back at North Carolina. “I just don’t want to do it. We’d lose something precious.”

“Scholarship athletes are already paid,” declared the Knight Commission members, “in the most meaningful way poss-ible: with a free education.” This evasion by prominent educators severed my last reluctant, emotional tie with imposed amateurism. I found it worse than self-serving. It echoes masters who once claimed that heavenly salvation would outweigh earthly injustice to slaves. In the era when our college sports first arose, colonial powers were turning the whole world upside down to define their own interests as all-inclusive and benevolent. Just so, the NCAA calls it heinous exploitation to pay college athletes a fair portion of what they earn.
As it turns out, my own views are not so far off from those expressed by Branch.

More Trouble at FIFA

Another day, another suite of allegations surrounding FIFA officials.  Here is a round-up:

The Bangkok Post reports:
Fifa has asked Thai official Worawi Makudi to explain allegations that money from development grants were spent building facilities on land that he owned, football's governing body confirmed Wednesday.

Fifa said in a statement it had requested an explanation from Worawi, a member of the organisation's executive committee and one of the most influential men in Asian football.

The statement said Worawi could face a possible ethics investigation if there is any evidence to support claims against the official.

Allegations in Thailand have said the country's national football centre was built with money from Fifa's GOAL development programme on land owned by Worawi, who also owns land around the centre.

"We can confirm that Fifa is currently seeking clarification with Mr Makudi on the issue of the Fifa Goal projects in Thailand. Fifa has sent a letter to Mr Makudi and is following up on this matter," a Fifa statement said.
On the subject of FIFA's Ethics Committee, Australian journalist Jesse Fink reports that Les Murry, an Australian journalist and member of the FIFA Ethics Committee, may have his own ethical issues:
[T]his week Murray told a porky on Australian television. And on no less than the ABC's Four Corners, Australia's equivalent of BBC's Panorama or PBS's Frontline.
He was asked, in his capacity as editorial supervisor of sport at SBS, whether there was a "preferred editorial policy" to support Australia's failed World Cup bid. He said there was not.

"SBS [was a] supporter of the bid, but that never was allowed to interfere with editorial independence or editorial process," he told reporter Quentin McDermott.

"No, we had never declared any kind of editorial policy to support the bid." Yet as Four Corners' sister programme 7.30 proved in July, there was.

I know, because as a former SBS freelancer and top-rating columnist for its football website The World Game, I received an email from Murray as far back as June 2008 that outlined a "preferred editorial policy".
The email read: "It is not a good look if we, SBS, the most powerful voice in football appear to talk down the bid or declare it stillborn.

"Given that the bid has great support in Australia, including enthusiastic support by all governments, my preferred editorial policy would be to support it."

The Four Corners interview was filmed before the 7.30 story. Murray would not be interviewed by 7.30 and prior to the programme being aired reportedly had lawyers send a letter to the ABC stating he was ready to institute legal proceedings.

So the question needs to be asked and asked loudly from the rooftops: Does a member of the FIFA ethics committee stating to camera something that has been proven to be false constitute a breach of ethics?

How is such behaviour becoming of an official whose job it is to sit in judgment of the ethics of others?
See more from Fink here.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Skill of the 2010/2011 PFPO Champions League Prediction

Last year the CIES Football Observatory (which also calls itself the Professional Football Players Observatory or PFPO, which is supported by FIFA) issued a prediction for the knockout round of the UEFA Champions League.  The PFPO touted its effort prior to the final as follows:
The PFPO has recently innovated to predict outcomes of the major football competitions. The scenario envisaged for the current UEFA Champions League has proven to be quite accurate. From the final 16 onwards, we have correctly foreseen the outcome of 11 matches out of 14 (download the pdf). If Barcelona wins the trophy, we will reach the threshold of 80% correct predictions. However, the gap between the Catalan team and Manchester United is negligible. All will depend on their form on the day, injuries and, of course, chance!

Our prediction model confers a relative strength to clubs on the basis of four criteria: the experience accumulated by players in Champions League matches, their quality in terms of participation in recent international matches, weighted according to the level of the national team represented, the teams’ squad stability, and the results obtained in the group stage of this year’s Champions League competition. The club with the richest squad has an index of 100. All other values have been adjusted according to it.
Was the PFPO as good prediction?  Well, on the one hand correctly picking the winners of 11 of 14 games up to the final seems pretty good.  But as (the few) readers here know, evaluating a prediction based solely on relative accuracy can be misleading.  It is important to ask if the prediction had skill. meaning an improvement on a naive baseline expectation.

In this case, one such naive baseline might be the UEFA club coefficients, calculated during each season and used to seed teams in the Champions and Europa League draws.  They are publicly available and thus readily used as a naive baseline.

How would a prediction of last season's knock-out stages of the Champions League have looked using the UEFA team coefficients for 2010/2011 at the start of the knock-out stage?

The higher ranked team according to the UEFA team coefficients at the start of the knock-out stage would have correctly predicted 13 out of 14 games prior to the final (missing out on Inter).  This means that the PFPO methodology did not perform as well as the naive methodology -- that is, it showed no skill compared to a naive baseline expectation.  A small consolation for the PFPO is that it predicted Barcelona to win the Champions League where as the UEFA coefficients gave it narrowly to Manchester United.

I'll re-run this exercise later in the season when we get to the round of 16.  Stay tuned.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Football Federation Australia on Failed World Cup Bid

Football Federation Australia has released its final report to the Australian government detailing how it spent Au$42 million of public money on the failed bid to host the World Cup (available here in PDF).  Here is how the cost of Australia's bid compares to several others (Au$):
Qatar $100M
Australia $42M
US $14M
Korea $11M
Japan $10M
The FFA report provides a window into the sordid process involved in securing a World Cup.  For instance, the report explains in dry fashion that one of its major expenditures was to engage the services of the European Consultancy Network and Abold GmBH, as follows:
ECN is an international consulting firm which provides public relations and advisory services. The Chairman of ECN is Peter Hargitay, who was formerly employed as a special advisor to the FIFA President. ECN was engaged to provide advocacy services in support of the Bid. ECN was appointed based on their experience with FIFA, AFC and other relevant FIFA stakeholders.

ECN's primary role was to provide advice on the Bid's strategic campaign to the FFA Chairman and CEO and to advocate in support of FFA's Bid. This included actively engaging with key decision-makers and facilitating introductions and access to members of the FIFA Executive Committee for FFA...
Abold GmbH is a German company which provides design, marketing and communications and advisory services. Andreas Abold is CEO of Abold GmbH and has significant experience in FIFA World Cup bidding processes. Abold was engaged to provide services in connection with the Bid Book, Inspection Tour and Final Presentation. Abold was also contracted to provide advocacy services in support of the Bid. Details of these engagements are provided below at section 2.10.

It was agreed that Abold would also sub-contract Mr Fedor Radmann to deliver advocacy services. Mr Radmann had provided similar services in support of South Africa's bid to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup and Germany's bid to host the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Mr Radmann's role, in collaboration with ECN, was to provide advice on the Bid's strategic campaign to the FFA Chairman and CEO and to advocate in support of FFA's Bid. This included engaging with key decision-makers and facilitating introductions and access to members of the FIFA Executive Committee for FFA.
Sounds just fine, right? Well maybe until you learn about ECN and Abold.  Here is what The Age reported last year:
Both Mr Radmann and Mr Hargitay have colourful histories. Mr Radmann, who has worked as an aide to Mr  Beckenbauer, has been implicated in:

■ A scheme in 2000 to allegedly offer financial inducements to key FIFA Exco officials to get them to back Germany's bid to host the 2006 World Cup.
■ Conflict of interest scandals in 2003 that forced him to stand down from Germany's World Cup organising committee.

It is understood Australian bid officials sought to minimise any publicity about Mr Radmann's involvement in the bid.

Mr Hargitay's past includes being twice acquitted for cocaine trafficking in the 1990s and an alleged link to a securities fraud in Hungary, according to US court documents from 1997.

Mr Hargitay also boasts about daily meetings in South Africa with Asian Football Confederation boss and Exco member Mohammad bin Hammam.

Documents detail Mr Hargitay's role arranging meetings between overseas football officials and Mr Lowy and Australian politicians. Former prime minister Kevin Rudd met Mr Warner in Trinidad and Tobago last November.

Asked about the FFA's engagement of Mr Hargitay and Mr Radmann, Mr Buckley said Australia's bid  required "the input and expertise of international consultants with specific experience in the area of bidding for major football events".
See also the SMH.  Andrew Jennings, as usual on such matter, has much more here.

The Age also details how the FFA spent $50,000 on pearl necklaces and cufflinks for the FIFA Executive Committee and their wives. Despite this, Peter Hagirtay told Australian media that the bid failed because they "played it clean":

After helping Australia put its bid together, Hagirtay became a special advisor to Mohamed bin Hammam to assist his campaign for FIFA president.  That didn't work out so well either.

The FFA says it wants to "draw a line" under the failed bid and move on.  With ABC News Four Corners showing an investigation -- titled "Own Goal" -- into the bid process next Monday, I suspect that "drawing a line" under the experience may be a bit more difficult.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Swiss Rambler Sees Much to Like in Man U's Finances

The Swiss Rambler -- a truely outstanding blog on the finance of football -- takes a close look at Man U's finances and finds a lot to like even in the context of the Glazer's LBO, and foreshadows their eventual departure:
At the right price, United are an exceedingly attractive investment proposition, as they are a veritable cash machine. Even though the profits are currently largely siphoned off by the enormous interest payments, the financials look great at an operating level.
The healthy financial situation probably helps to explain why green and yellow scarfs don't seem too prominent these days.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

FIFA's Dirty Laudry

Mohamed bin Hammam writes a letter to Petrus Damaseb, the Deputy Chairman of the FIFA Ethics committee.  Here is an excerpt:
Nobody in this world will believe that Valcke and Blatter are qualified to fight any sort of corruption. If they are serious about fighting corruption, they should have the courage to volunteer themselves as first subjects of such investigations on the allegations raised against them since years until today...

Your Honor, remember that you yourself were a President of a Member Association in 2002. You voted for Blatter against Mr. Hayatou the candidate of your confederation and Blatter was widely accused of winning that election by buying votes. In fact, books have been written about his corruption. What will be your position if his opponent had won the election, and started a similar witch-hunt questioning and pressurising you with threat of sanctions if you do not admit that you were bribed for voting Blatter.

Your Honor, if your conscience is on vacation, it is time to recall it because enough is really enough!! You should stop Valcke – Blatter damaging people’s reputation and lives. Those people have children and families. Just think what kind of crime you are committing.

A FIFA Insider Speaks Out

The NYT reports on a new book by Chung Mong-joon, a former FIFA Vice-President:
In “FIFA, More Political than Football,” a 3,000-word passage in a memoir published by Chung Mong-joon, the former FIFA vice president breaks that inner code of silence.

Chung, a billionaire shipping magnate, part of the Hyundai family and a senior member of the South Korean National Assembly, makes it very clear that he would sooner run for president in his homeland than for any FIFA office.

His book, released Tuesday in South Korea, refers to Blatter as “an articulate and intelligent man, but more like an impetuous child than a gentleman.”

More than that, Chung writes: “The executive committee is meant to provide checks and balances when its president goes beyond his authority and mandate. Blatter is trying to take away the power of the executive committee and thereby neutralize any efforts to check his power.”

He adds: “A lot of dictators on this planet have used similar methods.”
The NYT  repeats this fine quote from Henry Kissinger:
But long ago, while leading an American bid to stage the 1986 World Cup, Kissinger, the secretary of state under Richard M. Nixon and Gerald Ford, was reported to have said: “The politics of FIFA, they make me nostalgic for the Middle East.”
Chung expresses regret that he dd not press harder while a part of FIFA:
He now regrets that he did not do more, fearing that other members regarded him as being too persistent in questioning their leader.

“I am currently an honorary vice president of FIFA,” Chung concludes. “I am quite disappointed that FIFA is not run in a transparent and fair manner. I look back to see whether I had done my part.”
Meantime, the European Club Association, perhaps trying to lead by example, has focused its attention on improving its own governance:
Also addressing the issue of Governance was Ivo Belet, Member of the European Parliament. In his speech to the General Assembly, he highlighted the EU's demands that sporting governing structures meet the highest standards of 21st century democracy as they would in any other sector. The European Parliament is expected to adopt a report on the future of Sports by the end of 2011, which will, among other things, look into the issue of governance.

ECA Chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge summed up the club's position on Governance by stating: "We believe that now is the time for proper reforms to the governance structures of international football. These reforms should ensure that all stakeholders including clubs occupy a position within the decision-making bodies which reflects their contribution to the game. Ultimately, these changes will reduce conflict allowing for the sustainable and long-term development of the game at all levels."
FIFA's future will be interesting to watch.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sport Culture and American Pragmatism

In discuss his hopes for the upcoming season, University of Colorado head football coach Jon Embree well expresses the philosophy of American pragmatism that I wrote about a few weeks back:
"I just want to get one more point. I don't care if [the score] is 3-2. We have to create that culture. All that other stuff, style points and all that, it doesn't matter. I hope I can sit here and be called the worst 5-0 team in the country. I'd rather be that than the best 0-5 team any day."