Monday, September 30, 2013

A Proposal to Compensate College Athletes

Below is a proposal to allow college athletes to capitalize on their economic value via the model used under the Bayh-Dole legislation which shared intellectual property rights with faculty who do research in universities using federal funds. It is an argument I've alluded to on this blog before.

My proposal is so compelling that ... I couldn't get it published anywhere, ahem. So here it is!
What the NCAA can learn from Bayh-Dole

College sports are facing a crisis. A group of about two dozen current and former college athletes, led by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon have sued the National Collegiate Athletics Administration. The athletes argue that licensing revenues generated by the NCAA using the images and likenesses of specific players should be shared with those players. In the coming weeks a federal judge will decide whether to certify the case as a class action, which would then bring into the case many thousands of former and current college athletes.

If that were to occur, then the NCAA and universities could be responsible for paying billions of dollars to college athletes. In 2012, the top 5 college athletic conferences collectively received over $1 billion in television revenue for football and the March Madness spring post-season basketball tournament operates under a 14-year, $10.8 billion television agreement. March Madness alone generated more than a billion dollars in TV ad revenue, exceeding that of the National Football League, the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball. Johnny Manziel, the Texas A&M quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy last year, generated an estimated $37 million in publicity for his university last year.

With the magnitude of the financial stakes, it is only a matter of time before the dam breaks and the notion of the “scholar-athlete” who plays only for school pride and a scholarship becomes a thing of the past. Rather than wait for a court decision, a labor action by high profile athletes or other possible revolutionary changes, the NCAA and universities can get ahead of this issue by paying attention to the lessons of history very close to home.

In 1980 the US Congress passed what the Economist called in 2002 “possibly the most inspired piece of legislation to be enacted in America over the past half-century.” The Bayh-Dole Act changed property rights with respect to the discoveries made in universities as a result of federally funded research. Prior to 1980 the US government retained ownership of the intellectual property associated with discoveries which resulted from federal research and development. Very few of the patents owned by the federal government were being been commercialized, and policy makers sought a way to better capitalize on the billions of dollars in federal R&D taking place at universities.

Under the law, professors and other university researchers who create intellectual property gain a share in its rewards, thereby creating strong incentives both to discover and to commercialize. In the two decades following the passage of Bayh-Dole US universities increased their patents by 1,000% and added an estimated $40 billion annually to the economy. At the same time, the law ensured that technology transfer activities on campus would be closely monitored to ensure that the mission of universities was not compromised.

So what does Bayh-Dole tell us about college athletics? Several years ago, former Senator Birch Bayh explained why the Bayh-Dole Act works: “it aligns the interests of the taxpaying public, the federal government, research universities, their departments, inventors, and private sector developers transforming government supported research into useable products.”

The NCAA and universities should explore aligning the interests of scholarship athletes, university campuses, the NCAA and the sports public with the incredible revenue potential of college sports. Assigning to universities the intellectual property rights of athletes which play under their names while creating a revenue-sharing model with those athletes would meet this need. Just as occuered with respect to the faculty, such an approach would encourage the further generation of revenue from sports, creating a windfall for many college athletic programs, some of which are strapped for cash, and deliver deserved rewards to the scholarship athletes who play the games.

A revenue-sharing model has served college faculty who conduct research and their home universities very well over more than three-decades. Universities should get to work on adopting a similar model for its athletes, before change is forced upon them, perhaps abruptly.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Platini Confirms Political Influence in FIFA Qatar Vote

To some it will be a statement of the obvious, to others an admission that should ring alarm bells. Responding to the assertion of the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, that the Qatar 2022 World Cup was a "political" choice by European voters, the Uefa president, Michel Platini, has confirmed that "political and economic influences" were a factor.

The controversial selection of Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup in December 2010 has resulted in a bitter row over whether the tournament should be moved to winter to avoid the searing summer heat, a move expected to be agreed in principle by Fifa next month.

Blatter, who voted for the US to host the 2022 tournament but has since become an advocate of moving it to winter, said in an interview this week that there was "definitely direct political influence" on European executive committee members to vote for Qatar.

"European leaders recommended to its voting members to opt for Qatar, because of major economic interests in the country," he told the German weekly Die Zeit.

Following a meeting of all 54 Uefa member associations in Dubrovnik, at which they confirmed in principle their support for a winter World Cup in 2022, Platini confirmed Blatter's comments. "With the extraordinary influence Mr Blatter has," Platini said, "he has only all of a sudden realised there are political and economic influences when we decide who will host an Olympic Games and so forth? It's better late than never I guess."

Platini sardonically added: "It's new, apparently. It was said that Europeans voted for Qatar but Qatar got 14 votes. We're only eight. If you subtract eight from 14 you get six left over."
The issue of how Qatar got 14 votes has been widely discussed. Here is how one Australian newspaper characterized the vote back in 2010:
UEFA boss Michel Platini reportedly gave his vote to Qatar on the request of his French President Nicolas Sarkozy after France signed a favourable oil deal with the tiny Middle Eastern nation.

When asked why so many of the ExCo had voted for Qatar, Mr [Peter] Hargitay [FIFA insider and consultant to Australia's failed bid] replied "You go figure it out. What do you think motivates people, 14 of them, to vote for a country the population of Zurich, to vote for a country that is the size of Fiji, to vote for a country where the infrastructure to play host to millions of fans still has to be created?"
You can see an overview of the so-called Qatargate issue here.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Fox Sports Reported to Oppose FIFA World Cup Schedule Change

In my paper on holding FIFA accountable (here in PDF) I discussed six different mechanisms of accountability, drawing on the academic literature on governance. One of those was market accountability:
Market accountability refers to influence that is exercised by investors or consumers through market mechanisms.
According to Bloomberg, Fox Sports is not happy with FIFA proposed move of the 2022 World Cup to a winter date:
Fox Sports, which agreed to pay a record fee for U.S. broadcast rights to soccer’s World Cup, told the sport’s governing body it opposes plans to reschedule the 2022 event in Qatar, two people familiar with the matter said.

James Murdoch, the son of 21st Century Fox Inc. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, and other network executives told FIFA that moving the competition by several months from its usual June start to the winter would clash with National Football League games, according to one person familiar with the matter. The people requested anonymity because the talks were private.

FIFA’s executive board is meeting next month to discuss a proposal by the Zurich-based organization’s president,Sepp Blatter, to reschedule the tournament because of the high temperatures in Qatar. Fox in 2011 agreed to pay $425 million for the two-tournament, 2018-22 package, more than four times what current rights holder ESPN paid for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and next year’s tournament in Brazil.

“FIFA has informed us that they are considering and voting on moving the 2022 World Cup,” Fox said in an e-mailed statement. “Fox Sports bought the World Cup rights with the understanding they would be in the summer as they have been since the 1930s.”
Sponsors and others with a financial stake in FIFA have not in the past shown too much concern about FIFA governance. The 2022 Qatar World Cup decision is different in that it has a clear relationship to television revenues, and Fox is heavily invested in making money off of the tournament.

In football governance, as elsewhere, money talks. Fox Sports has the potential for significant influence on FIFA upcoming decision making. Stay tuned.

The Business of the NFL

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Proposed Reforms from Mark Pieth's 2011 Report Unimplemented by FIFA

Below you can find the recommendations made by Mark Pieth in 2011 in his report Governing FIFA which I have identified as having not been adopted by FIFA in its reform process. These recommendations comprise part of the reform evaluation which I recent discussed at Play the Game back in June and to which FIFA responded to here.

After preparing the report for FIFA, Professor Pieth got into a bit of hot water when he was subsequently appointed to chair the FIFA Independent Governance Committee and it was learned that his institute had accepted from FIFA an undisclosed $128,000 plus a $5,000 daily fee to prepare the report.

Overall, I identified 15 statements in the form of recommendations in the 2011 Pieth report. Of those 15, FIFA failed to even partially implement 13. Those 13 are listed below, to aid in discussion and (ideally) debate. Questions worth thinking about include: Which ones are most important? Which ones are secondary? Which may be off the mark? Comments welcomed either here or via email.

I've blogged on the unimplemented recommendations from the Transparency International report Safe Hands: Building Transparency and Integrity at FIFA and shortly I will also list those recommendations unimplemented found in the first report of the FIFA IGC.

  • FIFA could further upgrade its existing financial governance, in particular by: developing a catalogue of potentially critical payments, and by deciding whether direct controls are warranted or whether indirect controls could be sufficient; 
  • . . . intensifying its specific anti-corruption controls within existing COSO. 
  • FIFA should upgrade its compliance system to meet the requirements of a state of the art corporate anti-corruption compliance programme (including a review of the Code of Ethics, the risk analysis, the detailed rules on contributions etc. and the hiring of third parties, education and training as well as notification channels). Particular emphasis needs to be placed on the credible implementation of the programme. Member Associations and Confederations should be encouraged to adopt comparable standards. 
  • On an organisational level, FIFA should consider electing independent members into the ExCo. 
  • A Compensation and Benefits Committee should decide over benefits of officials of FIFA bodies and senior staff. 
  • Candidates should announce their wish to stand sufficiently ahead of the election. 
  • FIFA should examine a system of campaign financing which provides officially announced candidates with sufficient backing (a certain number of Member Associations) with FIFA funding, ruling out further private campaign contributions. 
  • FIFA should consider limiting terms of office of its officials. 
  • FIFA should consider introducing regular due diligence checks by the Ethics Committee on elected Members of its bodies. A regulation should specify cases of incompatibility with the FIFA function. The regulation should also define the procedure, and clarify under which circumstances an official would be temporarily suspended from his function. 
  • Decisions on hosting and on commercialising would greatly benefit, beyond a review of the actual procedures, of an overall abstract strategy, defined by relevant Committees and ratified by Congress. 
  • An institution of the size and significance of FIFA needs a state of the art conflict of interest regulation, indicating cases of conflict and specifying the procedures (up to a possible recusal). While a conflict of interest regulation is a general requirement, it will be particularly useful to prevent abuses and adverse publicity in FIFA’s relations to Members. 
  • Additional preventive measures ensuring transparency and accountability in its relations with Members should be taken in the area of financial contributions for the development of football in countries and regions
  • Members should be taken in the area of financial contributions for the development of football in countries and regions. An overall strategy should be adopted for the multitude of historically grown funds. They should be governed in a comparable manner, and expenditure as well as uses audited on the standard of the Goal Programme and FAP.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

What The Sports Gene Gets Wrong

As readers here know, I really like The Sports Gene by David Epstein, formerly of Sports Illustrated and now at Pro Publica. The book overall is excellent and has already motivated several posts -- here and here. In this post I pick a nit with respect to the book's treatment of testosterone and athletic performance with respect to determining who is judged eligible to compete in women's athletics, a complicated issue that deserved to be treated more comprehensively.

Back in spring 2012, students in my graduate seminar on Science and Society were tasked with coming up with a policy for determining who would be allowed to participate in the women's events in the then-upcoming 2012 Olympics in London. The case that we were looking closely at was of course that of Caster Semenya of South Africa, a female athlete whose treatment by the sporting community was embarrassing and undignified.

At that time the International Olympics Committee adopted a policy (following the lead of the International Association of Athletics Federations or IAAF) which used testosterone levels in and usage by the body as the criterion for determining eligibility for participating in women's events.The policy called for a panel of experts to make judgments in contested cases on the following (the policy is here in PDF):
The Expert Panel shall examine all available information and establish (i) whether the investigated athlete’s androgen level, measured by reference to testosterone  levels in serum, is within the male range, and if so, (ii) whether such hyperandrogenism is functional or not.
The Sports Gene notes this policy as well as a similar policy adopted by the NCAA and notes that "testosterone has been deemed the source of the male athletic advantage." Epstein observes that testosterone may not be all there is to the advantage, as women who are unable to process testosterone -- call androgen insensitive -- are actually over-represented in sports, "vastly" so according to Epstein.
It is here where I pick my nit. Unlike the in depth and nuanced exploration of reasons behind Jamaican sprinting success found in The Sports Gene, the role of testosterone in female athletic success -- which is just as complex, contested and nuanced is given short shrift.

Epstien sums up the science on this issue as follows:
No scientist can claim to know the precise impact of testosterone on any individual athlete. But a 2012 study that spent three months following female athletes from a range of sports--including track and field and swimming--showed that the elite-level competitors had testosterone levels that consistently remained more than twice as high as those of nonelites. And there are powerful anecdotes as well.
Fair enough, as far as it goes. But it doesn't go far enough.

In a critique of the IAAF and IOC policies published in 2012, Karkazis and colleagues (here in PDF) made a case against using testosterone as a criterion for determining eligibility for participating in women's sports events:
The new policies rest on the notion that the difference in athletic performance between males and females is “predominantly due to higher levels of androgenic hormones in males resulting in increased strength and muscle development” (IAAF 2011c, 1). Both policies rely in particular on testosterone levels as the mark of unfair advantage. Although it may be surprising, given that this is a popular belief and is stated as fact in both IAAF and IOC statements (IAAF 2011d; IOC 2011), the link between athleticism and androgens in general or testosterone in particular has not been proven. Despite the many assumptions about the relationship between testosterone and athletic advantage, there is no evidence showing that successful athletes have higher testosterone levels than less successful athletes.
Say what?
In sum, there is a great deal of mythology about the physical effects of testosterone and other androgens (Fausto-Sterling 1985; Jordan-Young 2010). Likewise, mental effects of androgens are often implied to give an additional boost to athletes, but placebo-controlled studies of testosterone show that increasing testosterone (above minimum functional levels) has no effects on mood, cognitive performance, libido, or aggression (Bhasin et al. 1996; Bhasin et al. 2001; Kvorning et al. 2006). Optimal levels of testosterone is one of many factors that is necessary for athletes to achieve their own “personal best,” but comparing testosterone levels across individuals is not of any apparent scientific value.
Karkazis et al. may indeed be on to something that the role of endogenous testosterone is vastly overstated. Perhaps instead the suggestive research by Christopher J. Cook and colleagues (replied on by Epstein) could be more correct in identifying endogenous testosterone as a key determinant of elite female athletic success. Clearly there are uncertainties and disagreements in the basic scientific understandings. As The Sports Gene well explains, such complexities are much the norm with respect to human athletic achievement.

Science issues aside, the IAAF and IOC policies may indeed represent a pragmatic compromise that is both legitimate and fair. Certainly the Karkazis et al. recommendation to used national legal definitions of what it means to be female is pragmatically untenable. Karkazis et al. do make a compelling case that the expert advisory process which developed the guidelines fell short in important respects, including its composition, procedures and scope.

As with the case of Jamaican sprinting success and east African long-distance success, the issue of sex differences and advantage in athletic competition is complicated -- more complicated than its treatment in The Sports Gene. Of course, this is but one nit in what is overall an excellent book, and one that will be required reading in my upcoming spring 2014 course.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Flaws in a Case for Doping

Malcolm Gladwell has made an argument for doping in sport. Riffing (again) off of David Epstien's The Sports Gene, Gladwell argues that doping in sport actually serves to level the playing field, by helping people to overcome natural limitations. This post explains why Gladwell's argument falls apart.

At The New Yorker Gladwell writes:
The ability to consistently hit a baseball thrown at speeds approaching a hundred miles an hour, with a baffling array of spins and curves, requires the kind of eyesight commonly found in only a tiny fraction of the general population.

Eyesight can be improved—in some cases dramatically—through laser surgery or implantable lenses. Should a promising young baseball player cursed with normal vision be allowed to get that kind of corrective surgery? In this instance, Major League Baseball says yes. Major League Baseball also permits pitchers to replace the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow of their throwing arm with a tendon taken from a cadaver or elsewhere in the athlete’s body. Tendon-replacement surgery is similar to laser surgery: it turns the athlete into an improved version of his natural self.

But when it comes to drugs Major League Baseball—like most sports—draws the line. An athlete cannot use a drug to become an improved version of his natural self, even if the drug is used in doses that are not harmful, and is something that—like testosterone—is no more than a copy of a naturally occurring hormone, available by prescription to anyone, virtually anywhere in the world.
The underlying logic here is as follows:
It is a vision of sports in which the object of competition is to use science, intelligence, and sheer will to conquer natural difference... this kind of achievement [may simply be] worthier than the gold medals of a man with the dumb luck to be born with a random genetic mutation.
In the real world, the use of science, intelligence, and sheer will to conquer natural difference is commonplace in sports. Think of Lionel Messi's hormone-aided growth treatments as a youth in the Barcelona youth academy. Think of Oscar Pistorius and his blades. Think of Tiger Woods and his lasered eyes and surgically repaired knees.

Performance enhancement through science, technology and expertise is fundamental to sport. But so too is the drawing of lines. Human growth hormone for a kid with growth hormone disorder is deemed acceptable but human growth hormone for a professional cyclist is not. Such decisions reflect both broad social values and the values of the sports community. They are of course arbitrary in important respects, and thus routinely contested, constantly re-negotiated and often, inconsistently applied across specific contexts. Sport governance is of course like governance more generally.

Gladwell apparently does not like the drawing of lines in the context of doping. However, lines must be drawn. I could certainly enhance my performance in the 10,000m by riding a bicycle, but that would against the rules. Doping rules are an extension of the rules which govern competition, and have been developed at the constitutive level. 

Gladwell's general approach to doping only makes sense if anything goes -- once you accept that lines must be drawn between what is acceptable performance enhancement and what is not, then the debate becomes one over where that line should be drawn, and that is how things presently work. The case for drawing lines in a different place is often made, but it is not the argument made by Gladwell.

A less charitable interpretation of Gladwell's call for doping to level the playing field is that he is still smarting from Epstein's solid critique of the 10,000-hour path to expertise popularized by Gladwell in his book Outliers. Perhaps Gladwell is now admitting that exceptional talent does exist, but that it should be neutered so that what really matters is effort, and the 10,000 hours. 

Either way, Gladwell's case for doping falls apart. Sports are governed by rules, and rules governing performance enhancement are necessary and important.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Who Are the Best Athletes in the NFL?

This is another post motivated by David Epstein's excellent new book, The Sports Gene. This post summarizes a recent study of athletic performance of players in the NFL draft. There are countless ways to measure what it meas to be a "good athlete" and this post looks at a study which used data that NFL teams seem to thing is useful to have to evaluate players in the NFL draft.

Deep in the book Epstein refers in a footnote to a 2011 paper which evaluated football players in the NFL draft according to 9 different tasks (3 are part of the 36.6-m sprint, and 2 are not listed here, bench press, as it is not applied to all players):
  • 36.6-m Sprint. The 36.6-m sprint is a test of acceleration and maximum speed. From a 3-point stance, a player runs 36.6 m as fast as he can. Split times are also recorded at 9.1 and 18.3 m. Thus, the 36.6-m sprint test provides 3 separate outcome measures. The 9.1- and 18.3-m split times are measures of acceleration, whereas 36.6-m sprint time is a measure of maximal, or near--maximal, speed. It has previously been suggested that near-maximal speed is achieved by 18.4 m in college American football players (4). Thus, the first 18.3 m of the 36.6-m sprint can be viewed as an acceleration phase, whereas the second half can be viewed as a maximal speed phase.
  • Vertical Jump. The vertical jump is a measure of vertical jump ability. Jump height is measured using a device (e.g., Vertec) whereby players jump for maximal height from a standing 2-footed position in a countermovement manner with arm swing. At the peak of the jump, the player reaches as high as possible with a single hand to move horizontal vanes of the Vertec. Vertical jump height is calculated by subtracting the player’s standing-reach height from the height of the highest vane moved.
  • Standing Broad Jump. The standing broad jump is a test of horizontal jump ability. Horizontal jump distance is measured. From a standing 2-footed position, with countermovement and arm swing, the player jumps forward for maximal distance. Jump distance is measured as the distance from the start line to the nearest body part landing point (this is typically the point of heel contact).
  • 18.3-m Shuttle. The 18.3-m shuttle is a test of change of- direction ability (1). From the starting position, a player runs 4.6 m in 1 direction, quickly changes direction and runs 9.1 m in the opposite direction, and then changes direction again and runs a final 4.6 m in the opposite direction (i.e., the direction in which he initially ran). The test is run in both directions (i.e., left and right) for maximal speed, and the average of the 2 tests is recorded as the score.
  • Three-Cone Drill. The player runs around 3 cones placed in the shape of an ‘‘L,’’ with 4.6 m between each cone. From a 3-point stance, the player runs a predetermined route as quickly as possible. This test is also a measure of change of- direction ability (7).
The paper presented data for 14 difference NFL positions. I ranked each position using a points scheme, with 14 points going to the best performing position and 1 to the worst. I then summed the points across the 7 tasks to arrive at an overall score.

Here are the results:
Total Points Average points per task Overall ranking
Corner Back 96 13.7 1.3
Wide receiver 86 12.3 2.7
Free Safety 79 11.3 3.7
Strong safety 79 11.3 3.7
Running Back 71 10.1 4.9
Outside Linebacker 64 9.1 5.9
Inside Linebacker 50 7.1 7.9
Tight end 45 6.4 8.6
Fullback 40 5.7 9.3
Defensive End 36 5.1 9.9
Quarterback 35 5.0 10.0
Defensive Tackle 20 2.9 12.1
Offensive Tackle 15 2.1 12.9
Offensive Guard 7 1.0 14.0

Corner backs are the best athletes, offensive linemen are the worst. To my surprise, quarterbacks rank just above the linemen, and are among the worst athletes. Enjoy!