Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Unsolicited Advice for USOC After Nassar

The events today in a Michigan court room were remarkable, as sexual predator Larry Nassar was sentenced to up to an additional 175 years in prison. In the aftermath of the sentencing the US Olympic Committee, which has oversight responsibilities of USA Gymnastics under us law (the so-called Ted Stevens Act of 1978), released a letter to athletes.

In the letter USOC says the following:
The USOC has decided to launch an investigation by an independent third party to examine how an abuse of this proportion could have gone undetected for so long. We need to know when complaints were brought forward and to who. This investigation will include both USAG and the USOC, and we believe USAG will cooperate fully. We will make the results public.
Nobody asked me, but here is some independent advice to USOC.

1. How USOC handles this investigation is incredibly important, for making things better, for its reputation and for its legitimacy in the eyes of athletes.

USOC gets one shot at this and one shot only. The way forward is a minefield with lots of potential for missteps. Here are some recommendations based on my observations of many, many investigations by sports organizations.

2. The choice of "independent third party" is absolutely essential.

No details are provided, but it would seem obvious that absolutely no one from the Olympic "family" should be involved in the investigation. No one. Independent must mean independent. USOC should have no role in selecting the members of the investigative team. USOC should pay the full cost.

One suggestion is to follow the model of the Mitchell Report (full name: "Report to the Commissioner of Baseball of an Independent Investigation into the Illegal Use of Steroids and Other Performance Enhancing Substances by Players in Major League Baseball") which was called for and paid for by Major League Baseball.

George Mitchell recently explained how it came together in a way that was truly independent:
[MLB commissioner] Bud Selig deserves great credit for his courage. He was the only commissioner of a professional sport in the United States who had the courage to authorize a completely independent investigation. I made it clear to him in our first conversation that I would do this only if I had his commitment to my full and total independence. He unhesitatingly gave it, and he kept his promise. That's to his great credit.
It also worked because, well, George Mitchell is George Mitchell. (I had the pleasure of spending a day with him a few years ago when I was the "George Mitchell lecturer" at the University of Maine. He is the real deal.)

Who might USOC turn to? Some suggestions:

Condoleeza Rice is at the top of my list. She is a diplomat, knows sports and is above reproach. If not her, then someone of similar stature (of which there are very few). George Mitchell is on the list also.

Alternatively, USOC could turn to Congress for help, for instance by making an appeal to the two senators from Colorado (where USOC is headquartered), one a Republican and one a Democrat. Congress has ultimate oversight responsibilities for USOC and could empanel and support the work of an investigation (e.g., via hearings). The risk of course is that involving Congress could lead the issue to become politicized in today's hyper-partisan environment. Another risk is that Congress is just too dysfunctional to take it on .

Of course, Congressional action might preempt USOC anyway (in which case it would be in USOC's interests to just get out ahead). Senator Jean Shaheen (D-NH) has already suggested such, and the train may be leaving the station.

Either way, I'd recommend Condoleeza Rice, regardless who empanels the committee.

3. The investigation must be about more than who knew what, when.

Yest, that should be part of it, of course. But an equally important question is who didn't know what, when. If USAG or USOC officials did not know about the years of abuse, then why didn't they? What went wrong? Clearly, both organizations should have known a long time ago and stopped it.

A limitation to such an investigation is that absent a Congressional role, there will be no subpoena power or ability to compel evidence from witnesses. Mitchell had this problem in his steroid investigations, but his efforts were was helped along by a few athletes who were willing to speak and a parallel federal investigation.

If USOC has not already acted to secure official communications of (all) USAG and (relevant) USOC staff, such as emails, phone messages etc. then it is already too late. USOC needs to be acting as if a major investigation is already underway, and not wait until it is.

4. Finally, USOC should go ahead and decertify USAG. 

In its letter today USOC said:
We have strongly considered decertifying USAG as a National Governing Body. But USA Gymnastics includes clubs and athletes who had no hand in this and who need to be supported. We believe it would hurt more than help the athletes and their sport. But we will pursue decertification if USA Gymnastics does not fully embrace the necessary changes in their governance structure along with other mandated changes under review right now.
This is weak.

Given the scope of the abuse, USAG needs to be rebuilt from the ground up in the aftermath of an independent investigation. Decertification would mean, in effect, putting USAG into a form of receivership and managed by USOC. Yes, this would be challenging and take a lot of effort.  However, it could be done in a manner that limits impacts on athletes and the sport.

Crucially, it would be the right thing to do, and help to restore credibility in the sport and the institutions that govern it. It would send a signal that fixing things is ultimately more important than sport victories. If there is some disruption involved in making things right, then that is a price worth paying.

USOC can be sure that people like me -- well outside their "family," and people like Aly Raisman -- who has called for such an investigation as someone well inside the Olympic "family," will be paying close attention to how this independent investigation proceeds. There won't be a lot of generosity towards USOC if they botch this.

What they do next really matters. We are all watching.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Regulatory Re-Writing via Arbitration? Chand at CAS

Last week the Court of Arbitration for Sport provided an update on its arbitration proceedings in Chand vs. CAS (here in PDF). This is the case that involves the IAAF testosterone regulations governing eligibility of female athletes. I won't go into the (substantial) backstory here, but if you are interested see my recent paper on "sex testing."

In this post I argue that CAS should not allow IAAF to re-write its regulations through this arbitration case.

This is an odd arbitration. Several years ago CAS had suspended the IAAF regulations with a request for IAAF to return with evidence in support of them (if this seems backwards, it is). IAAF commissioned research, presumably to support their regulations, which were published last year (Barmon and Garnier 2017).

The IAAF data do not support the IAAF regulations. Everyone seems to agree with this, as IAAF has asked CAS to present new regulations as part of the Chand proceedings. CAS agreed to this request and in response IAAF submitted to CAS "draft revised regulations that would only apply to female track events over distances of between 400 metres and one mile."

This is an unusual arbital decision. IAAF is engaged in regulation re-writing as part of a CAS proceeding.

Even more odd, the evidence from IAAF in Bermon and Garnier (2017) shows that as the 100m distance -- that Chand specializes in -- high testosterone women are slower than low testosterone women, shown in the figure below.

As a matter of the CAS arbitration in this case, that should be the end. Even if one were to privilege testosterone as a proper object of regulation of female athletes (which to be clear - I do not), the IAAF data does not support such regulation in the case of Chand. End of story. Case closed. Send IAAF back to the regulatory drawing board.

But for whatever reason (and I'm not sure, but I'd guess the reason's initials are CS), CAS is allowing IAAF to re-write its testosterone regulations via the Chand case. You've heard of "activist judges"? Well, these are "activist arbitrators" working on behalf of those in IAAF who have expressed a desire to ban certain women from sport.

But here as well the IAAF data of Bermon and Garnier (2017) don't support the proposed regulations of testosterone in women at distances of 400m to one mile. Consider the figure below:

These IAAF data (pink bar) indicate that over distances of 400m, 800m and 1500m high testosterone women are on average 1.1% faster than their low testosterone counterparts. Unfair, IAAF might scream.

But look at the data for men at 400m and 1500m (blue bar). These data indicate that high testosterone men are on average 1.1% faster than their low testosterone counterparts. Surely if high T in women in selected events where performance differs is to be regulated, then high T in men in selected events where performance differs is also to be regulated?

If IAAF responds that the T standard applies only to women but not men based on performance data, then this is the very hallmark of sex discrimination. This only scratches the surfaced of flawed T regulation (see my paper for more nails into this intellectual coffin).

T regulation is simple in theory. But when theory meets the real world, T regulation fails comprehensively, taking IAAF's own data at face value. Dig a little deeper the IAAF study falls apart (e.g., it includes dopers).

Bottom line: CAS should not be engaged in regulatory re-writing via the Chand case. Chand should be permanently reinstated immediately. IAAF T regulations should remain voided. If IAAF wants to keep trying to regulate women's bodies, then they should start again.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Caveat Lector: How Kathy Carter Wins the US Soccer Presidential Election

I'm not an insider. Far from it. I have nowhere near the insight and knowledge of long-time observers like @duresport or @pkedit (and of course there are others). I'm just a professor with a blog. I used to work at 538 for Nate Silver so I do have a license to speculate irresponsibly about elections.

So with that caveat lector out of the way, here are some scenarios for how the US Soccer presidential election might play out, with my expectations for how things will occur.

This post will make the most sense if you have a bit of background in the election and its candidates (here is a good place to start). There are at present eight candidates who I'll divide into three categories (and each has impressive resumes, I just list their primary present occupation below):

Status Quo Candidates
  • Kathy Carter, president of Soccer United Marketing
  • Carlos Cordeiro, USSF vice president 
Reform Candidates
  • Kyle Martino, TV analyst
  • Eric Wynalda, TV analyst
  • Steve Gans, attorney
  • Hope Solo, professional player
  • Michael Winograd, lawyer 
  • Paul Caligiuri, coach
Conventional wisdom (i.e., what you'll see in the MSM and on Twitter) holds that the "others" don't really have a great shot at winning, but could have an impact. This seems right to me.

The electoral process and math are somewhat complex and opaque (described a bit here and formally here in PDF). In a nutshell, the goal of the election is for a candidate to secure half of the vote, defined as "a majority of the weighted vote of eligible votes cast in that round of balloting." This may be important in a close election, as it means that abstentions reduce the number needed to attain a majority. (Oddly, abstentions are not recorded votes, but non-votes: "members who wish to abstain from voting should refrain from voting and not press any number on their electronic keypad vendor.")

In the event that no candidate secures a majority, there is a 10 minute break and the vote is re-run. After this happens three times with no majority (if delegates decide to do so in advance) the lowest vote-getter will be removed from the listing, and can still be voted for as a write-in. Candidates may also decide to voluntarily drop out. I don't think they get to that contingency.

If all that makes sense, well, you are doing better than me. Let's now look at how things might play out in the election.

Round 1

I'm not convinced that there will still be 8 candidates still running when the voting starts. Candidates might yet choose to drop out ahead of the vote. But let's assume that there are all 8.

MLS interests (for lack of a better term) will have more than 20% of the overall vote and perhaps, speculatively, as much as 35%. Conventional wisdom, which I won't get into here, holds that MLS interests favor the status quo candidates. 

It is perfectly conceivable that one of the status quo candidates (Carter or Cordeiro) wins outright in a first ballot, but probably unlikely if both are in the mix. Watch out if one drops out ahead of the vote -- a sure sign that they have the votes for a 1st round victory. 

But let's say both stay in and give the two of them 25% of the vote up front, based solely on the votes held by MLS interests.

That leaves 3/4 of the vote, which we can split 3 ways equally in the absence of further information to the contrary: 1/3 to Status Quo, 1/3 to Reformers and 1/3 to the others. That would give a first round result of:
  • Carter/Cordeiro - 50%
  • Wynalda/Martino - 25%
  • Field - 25%
I have more confidence (gut feeling, or maybe indigestion, whatever) in the 50% for the Status Quo than the breakout of the other 50%. Some of the vote for Others might also be tactical in the sense of seeing the lay of the land in Round 1 and encouraging a Round 2 (losta game theory dynamics here for sure). But even if each of these guesstimates of mine is off by +/-10% I don't think it changes the calculus (political and electoral) that follows.

Horsetrading Post-Round 1

I'd guess that most if not all of the Others leave the race at this point. They made their points, had their impact and see things are getting real. I'd further speculate that most of this support then goes to the Reformers- why would you vote for a dark horse if you wanted the Status Quo?

The most important question now is whether Carter or Cordeiro drops out in favor of the other. Cordeiro is already USSF VP, and electing Carter locks in the Status Quo candidates in the top two positions. What happens if Cordeiro gets voted in and the Board has to install a new VP during the next year? Politically, that VP might need to be the losing Reformer - Wynalda or Martino. Its a risk for the Status Quo to open Cordeiro's seat. 

On the other hand, Carter has drawn a lot of criticism due to her role at SUM, among other things. From a purely political tactics perspective, her dropping out in favor of Cordeiro would surprisingly eliminate these negatives and maybe push him over the top. Soccer politics isn't really known for its cleverness, so I am going to say that greed wins and Cordeiro drops out in favor of Carter.

Either way, if Carter or Cordeiro drop out, this would necessitate a similar deal between Martino and Wynalda, with very much a similar calculus to be made. Wynalda has run the higher profile campaign, but also has higher negatives than does Martino. I'd guess that this decision would be based on who gets the most votes in the first round. But I don't know if both or either would set aside ego for the other. Regardless, if the Status Quo center on a candidate the Refomers will have to as well.

Round 2

So let's say Round Two starts out with one of Carter and Cordeiro versus one of Wynalda or Martino, with the possibility of a straggler Other still hanging around. I don't think it matters which of the Status Quo candidates or Reformers are on the ballot at this point. The lingering uncertainty will be whether the Status Quo candidate can get over 50%. I think it'll be close, but ultimately the Status Quo will win.

As long as I'm making all this up, I can be even more precise. There will be a significant protest vote in the form of non-votes (which is actually why a remaining Other might be important). The resulting smaller number of delegates who vote will allow Kathy Carter to win the presidency with more than 50% of the vote but less than 50% of those eligible.
  • Carter - 47.34% of eligible votes
  • Martino - 43.86%
  • Other - 3.61%
  • Non-votes - 5.19% 
There you have it. Two decimal places. I hope it adds up to 100%.

Irony Alert

For reformers, a Carter/Cordeiro regime would not be all bad news, as it would all but guarantee a far more significant reform agenda would get pushed through USSF in the years to come. The reality is that this election is only the start of change coming to USSF. Buckle up.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Introduction to Sports Governance: Spring 2018 Syllabus

My spring syllabus for Introduction to Sports Governance (ETHN 3104) at the University of Colorado is now available here as a PDF.

This spring we have another impressive list of guest speakers lined up: Hope Solo, Vitaly and Yulia Stepanov, Kara Goucher, Casey Malone, Mara Abbott, Jim Trotter, Solomon Wilcots, Ceal Barry, Jay Smith, Phil DiStefano, Rick George, Jor Jupille, Mike Macintyre, Tad Boyle, JR Payne, Valerie Simons and several possible surprise guests.

For locals, we will have some evening events associated with the class open to the public, so stay tuned.

We are reading three books:
  • The Edge (by me)
  • The Sports Gene (David Epstein)
  • Cheated (Jay Smith and Mary Willingham)
Lots of other readings - academic, journalism, official reports, etc. We are also watching several films, including Icarus, Venus Vs. and Let them Wear Towels.

It will be a great class - the best ISG so far. I am really excited for the semester. 

Comments welcomed!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Making Sense of USSF Electoral Math

OK, I'm diving into the challenge of trying to understand that incredibly arcane mathematics of the upcoming US Soccer Federation presidential election. As a reminder and disclaimer, I am the co-President of the Board of Directors of FC Boulder, a member of the Colorado Soccer Association, which in turn is a member of USSF. This analysis however is done in my professional capacity as a professor who studies arcane things like US Olympic NGB elections.

The below analysis is preliminary and I welcome corrections or clarifying information. I'll update this post as new information becomes available. Some details on the election process can be found in the Office Election Abstract (here in PDF) prepared by US Soccer. This post by Anthony DiCicco is also a useful resource. Paul Kennedy has some similar data from the 2017 USSF AGM here.

Those eligible to vote in the upcoming USSF election are called "delegates" as members of the USSF "National Council" as defined by the 2017-2018 USSF Bylaws. In 2016 USSF identified 534 delegates eligible to vote, as indicated in the memo reproduced below. These numbers will no doubt be slightly different for 2018, but they give us a basis to explore weightings.

US federal law (Ted Stephens Amateur Athletics Act 1978) under which USSF operates as an Olympic sport governing body requires that athletes have at least 20% of voting authority. To fulfill this requirement USSF employs weights to the votes of its delegates. Not every individual delegate's vote is equal to another's - a shocker, I know.

There are five categories of delegates, listed below with their allocated 2016 delegates, each represents a person:
  • Youth Council (291)
  • Adult Council (191)
  • Professional Council (14)
  • Athletes (4)
  • Other (34)
These totaled 534 delegates. 

Because athletes have only 4/534 of the delegates (0.75%) USSF in 2016 implemented a weighting system that gives 20% of the vote to the athlete delegates as follows (USSF uses two decimal places so I will also). Each number below represents a vote:
  • Youth Council (291 - 25.64%)
  • Adult Council (291 - 25.64%)
  • Professional Council (291 - 25.64%)
  • Athletes (228 -20.09%)
  • Other (34 - 3.00%)
After the 2016 weighting, there were 1135 possible votes. The three councils each get 25.64% of the vote and are tasked under USSF Bylaws with determining how each allocates the votes of their delegates. 

For the Professional Council's 25.64% share, the vote weighting inside the Pro Council is interesting:
  • MLS 9 - 64.29%
  • NWSL 3 - 21.43%
  • NASL 1 - 7.14%
  • USLPRO 1 - 7.14%
The MLS and its minor league USL together get 71.43% of the 14 votes that it uses to determine the overall Professional Council vote. This means that MLS/USL is responsible for 18.31% of the overall presidential vote (that is 71.43% of 25.64%). The NWSL (the professional woman's league) gets 5.49% of the overall presidential vote (a bias pointed out by Anthony DiCicco among others).

We can do some rough math as to how many other votes are possibly controlled by MLS. 

  • Among the "Other" votes (which include USSF Board members, past presidents, life members etc.) MLS clearly has 3/34 and could easily have half or more of the total, or between 0.26% and >1.5% of the overall presidential vote.
  • Each of the 4 Athlete delegates is responsible for about 5% of the overall presidential vote. There are 8 of 20 members of the USSF Athlete Council who played in the MLS pyramid. While it is not clear how the council allocates its votes or who (or how many) the delegates will be (or who they might vote for), it is reasonable to assume that half or more of the delegates (maybe as much as 15% of the overall presidential vote) will come from former players in the MLS pyramid. It is not difficult to imagine an interest among some in supporting MLS priorities.
So without even considering the Youth or Adult Councils we can estimate that MLS interests control 18.31% + 1.5% + 15% or about 35% of the overall vote (on the lower end this is about 29%).

If so, this would mean that MLS may only need 24% of delegates among Youth and Adult Councils to secure a 50% majority for its preferred candidate. Put another way, 75% of the Youth and Adult Councils could vote against MLS interests and still lose the election. That is just math.

Some initial conclusions:
  • The USSF election procedure is ridiculously and unnecessarily complicated;
  • There is a huge bias against women;
  • There is a huge bias in favor of MLS;
  • Some of the potential problems in the arcane process could be mitigated with open (not secret) ballots. Let's see who everyone votes for;
  • I'll be surprised if MLS does not get their preferred candidate.
Comments welcomed!