Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category.

A New Way To Film An Event

Wither the camera operator?  I thought this was interesting - super-high-resolution cameras in fixed positions that cover the whole field, with broadcast shot selected as a zoom/clipping window withing the larger picture.

Enjoy the NFL This Weekend, You May Not Have It For Long

I think Walter Olson is dead on with this:

Steve Chapman at the Chicago Tribune looks at the cultural and legal responses to the mounting evidence that professional football inflicts brain damage on many of its players. He quotes my view that if the litigation system carries over to football the legal principles it applies to other industries, the game isn’t likely to survive in its current form.  [sorry for quoting the whole thing Walter, I just couldn't figure out how to excerpt it]

There is a very good chance that the NFL could go the way of Johns Manville or Dow Corning.  Those companies still exist after being sued into bankruptcy, but that is only because they had other businesses to shift into.  The NFL just has football.  And after reading the concussion stories recently, plaintiff's lawyers are going to have a hell of a lot better scientific case than they had with breast implants.    I honestly think it will take an act of Congress to keep the NFL alive, giving them some sort of liability exemption similar to what ski resorts got years ago.

And don't think the NFL does not know this.  If you are wondering why they handed out insanely over-the-top penalties for bounty-gate in New Orleans, this is why.  They are working to establish a paper trail of extreme diligence on player safety issues for future litigation.

As an aside, I find it frustrating that there is not a better helmet solution.

As a second aside, there is a guy here in Phoenix who was showing off an accelerometer for football helmets, with some kind of maximum single g-force or cumulative g-force trigger that would cause a player to be pulled from a game, sort of like how a radiation badge works.  Good idea.  Look for these to be mandatory equipment in high schools in colleges.    Takes the absurd guess work out of concussion diagnosis today, particularly since this diagnosis is done by people (the player and their team) who have strong incentives to decide that there was no concussion.

As a third aside, there are those who argue helmets are the problem.  Just as people drive less safely with seat belts and air bags in cars, helmets lead to less care on the field.  I will say I played rugby for years (without a helmet of course) and never had one concussion, or any head hit anywhere close to a concussion.  In amateur rugby in the leagues I played in, reckless behavior that might lead to injuries was strongly frowned upon and punished by the group.  Teams that played this way quickly found themselves without a game.  There were plenty of ways to demonstrate toughness without trying to injure people.

"Abnormal" Events -- Droughts and Perfect Games

Most folks, and I would include myself in this, have terrible intuitions about probabilities and in particular the frequency and patterns of occurance in the tail ends of the normal distribution, what we might call "abnormal" events.  This strikes me as a particularly relevant topic as the severity of the current drought and high temperatures in the US is being used as absolute evidence of catastrophic global warming.

I am not going to get into the global warming bits in this post (though a longer post is coming).  Suffice it to say that if it is hard to accurately directly measure shifts in the mean of climate patterns given all the natural variability and noise in the weather system, it is virtually impossible to infer shifts in the mean from individual occurances of unusual events.  Events in the tails of the normal distribution are infrequent, but not impossible or even unexpected over enough samples.

What got me to thinking about this was the third perfect game pitched this year in the MLB.  Until this year, only 20 perfect games had been pitched in over 130 years of history, meaning that one is expected every 7 years or so  (we would actually expect them more frequently today given that there are more teams and more games, but even correcting for this we might have an expected value of one every 3-4 years).  Yet three perfect games happened, without any evidence or even any theoretical basis for arguing that the mean is somehow shifting.  In rigorous statistical parlance, sometimes shit happens.  Were baseball more of a political issue, I have no doubt that writers from Paul Krugman on down would be writing about how three perfect games this year is such an unlikely statistical fluke that it can't be natural, and must have been caused by [fill in behavior of which author disapproves].  If only the Republican Congress had passed the second stimulus, we wouldn't be faced with all these perfect games....

Postscript:  We like to think that perfect games are the ultimate measure of a great pitcher.  This is half right.  In fact, we should expect entirely average pitchers to get perfect games every so often.  A perfect game is when the pitcher faces 27 hitters and none of them get on base.  So let's take the average hitter facing the average pitcher.  The league average on base percentage this year is about .320 or 32%.  This means that for each average batter, there is a 68% chance for the average pitcher in any given at bat to keep the batter off the base.  All the average pitcher has to do is roll these dice correctly 27 times in a row.

The odds against that are .68^27 or about one in 33,000.  But this means that once in every 33,000 pitcher starts  (there are two pitcher starts per game played in the MLB), the average pitcher should get a perfect game.  Since there are about 4,860 regular season starts per year (30 teams x 162 games) then average pitcher should get a perfect game every 7 years or so.  Through history, there have been about 364,000 starts in the MLB, so this would point to about 11 perfect games by average pitchers.  About half the actual total.

Now, there is a powerful statistical argument for demonstrating that great pitchers should be over-weighted in perfect games stats:  the probabilities are VERY sensitive to small changes in on-base percentage.  Let's assume a really good pitcher has an on-base percentage against him that is 30 points less than the league average, and a bad pitcher has one 30 points worse.   The better pitcher would then expect a perfect game every 10,000 starts, while the worse pitcher would expect a perfect game every 113,000 starts.  I can't find the stats on individual pitchers, but my guess is the spread between best and worst pitchers on on-base percentage against has more than a 60 point spread, since the team batting average against stats (not individual but team averages, which should be less variable) have a 60 point spread from best to worst. [update:  a reader points to this, which says there is actually a 125-point spread from best to worst.  That is a different in expected perfect games from one in 2,000 for Jared Weaver to one in 300,000 for Derek Lowe.  Thanks Jonathan]

Update:  There have been 278 no-hitters in MLB history, or 12 times the number of perfect games.  The odds of getting through 27 batters based on a .320 on-base percentage is one in 33,000.  The odds of getting through the same batters based on a .255 batting average (which is hits but not other ways on base, exactly parallel with the definition of no-hitter) the odds are just one in 2,830.  The difference between these odds is a ratio of 11.7 to one, nearly perfectly explaining the ratio of no-hitters to perfect games on pure stochastics.

Olympic Whining

I have roughly the same reactions as Kevin Drum to all the Olympic whining (about tape-delaying events)

  1. NBC paid an absurd amount of money for the games.  Of course they are going to show the best stuff in prime time
  2. Lots of people have jobs where they can't watch all day.  They value the tape delay
  3. If you want to watch it, it's all streaming over the Internet.  Every damn match.  I have had fun sampling stuff I am not exposed to much, from team handball to skeet shooting to archery to cross country equestrian.  The kayaking was a favorite of mine, in particular (though the purpose built kayaking stadium seems a government boondoggle of epic proportions).  And all of it (with the exception of the sailing, can't figure out what the hell is going on) works great without commentaries, frequent commercials, or relentless human interest stories.

I have heard tell that NBC put spoilers in their evening news coverage.  This seems to be a mistake -- if you are going to tape delay, then as a network you need to be consistent with this policy.  But since I don't watch the network evening news, I am safe.

Best broadcast TV moment of the games:  The first commercial after Phelps lost the 200m butterfly by hundreths of a second in an uncharacteristic finishing mistake, we get the Morgan Freeman-narrated commercial about Michael Phelps winning by a hundreth of a second last Olympics and wondering how great it would be if it happened again.  Priceless.

 

Where Did the Mid-Range Jumper Go?

NY Times has a great interactive graphic of Miami and OKC shooting by location on the court (roll over the face pictures to get the actual graphics).

It provides some insight as to why the NBA game seems to be all threes or points in the paint -- the mid-range jump shot just does not have the same return on investment (ie points per shot).  Which begs the question, I suppose, as to why anyone shoots the mid-range jump shot at all  (look at Battier's and Hardin's maps - they are almost all threes and layups/dunks).  I suppose the answer likely takes the form of "you have to shoot mid-range to open up the other two zones", a sort of run to set up the pass in football strategy.  Don't know enough about basketball to say if this is true.

Update:  Also, the shot clock probably has a lot to do with it.  Given infinite time, teams would be able to get the shot they want, but in 24 seconds sometimes you just have to loft one up  as time runs out from wherever you are.

Here are the stats:  Close range -- 1.19 points per shot, 3-point -- 1.08 pps, mid-range --  0.80 pps

Stupid

Apparently an Arizona Catholic High School forfeited their state finals because the other team was playing *gasp* a girl at second base.  I am not really familiar with this sports league they are in -- it must be made up of smaller schools who choose not to join the AIA, which is the league most high schools (including ours) play in.

These are private schools in a private league, so I guess they can do whatever they want, but this just seems bizarre in the extreme.   I would guess that their players were irate.

My son plays in the smaller division of the AIA, and we run into teams that play girls from time to time in baseball and a bunch of schools that play girls on their soccer team (the rule generally is that girls can play on the boys team if there is no girls' equivalent of that sport at the school).  I have never before heard of another Catholic school having a problem with this, and given that this is Arizona, there are a lot of Catholic schools knocking about.

In fact, I always find it kind of cool to see girls out there.  I remember a few weeks ago we were playing a team who had a girl at third base who the boys thought was pretty attractive.  I laughed pretty hard when my son took a big chance to stretch a double into a triple.  I knew exactly what he was doing --he wanted to be on third base!

I suppose this will be a better object lesson for the Catholic boys than any gender-equality propaganda film.   Adopt Victorian attitudes about women, lose the chance to play for a state championship.

Phoenix Coyotes Sale

Well, it looks like the NHL may have a buyer for the Phoenix Coyotes.  I have not seen all the terms, but the problem in finding a buyer has been this:  based on comps from other recent sales (e.g. Atlanta) the price for sunbelt teams is something like $100 million max, but the NHL has promised its owners it would not sell it for less than $200 million.  The NHL has to find a sucker, and if billionaire buyers are not willing to be a sucker, then they have to find a third party sucker to just kick in $1oo million of present value to make the deal work.

Enter the city of Glendale.  It has tried very hard on multiple occasions to be that sucker, and only was stopped from doing so by efforts of the Goldwater Institute to enforce a state Constitutional injunction on corporate welfare.

Glendale has apparently found a new way to subsidize the transaction by promising to pay an above-market stadium management fee.  I have talked to some sports executives, including one very familiar with this stadium, and they have all said that in a free market, a third party might take the stadium management contract for free, because though it carries operational costs, it also yields offsetting revenues (like stadium rentals for concerts).

By paying an above-market rate for stadium management services, Glendale can provide a corporate subsidy but retain the fiction that this is a service contract rather than crony welfare.  Over the last two years, Glendale has paid the NHL $25 million a year in stadium management fees, a payment everyone understands to actually be a subsidy to keep the team in town.

I presume the new buyer has met the NHL's $200 million price tag.  But that is obvriously overpaying.  So Glendale is going to kick a bunch of money back to the buyer to make it work, in the form of $306 million in stadium management fees.  Via the Sporting News:

Longtime Glendale city councilor Phil Lieberman on Monday, in an interview with Sportsnet.ca, estimated that arena management fees paid by the city to Jamison under terms of the deal would total $306 million over the next 21 years, or an average of $14.6 million. A large chunk of that money, Lieberman says, is front-loaded, with Glendale on the hook for $92 million over the next five years. Nearby University of Phoenix Stadium, home to the Arizona Cardinals of the NFL, carries a $9.2-million management fee annually.

By the way, University of Phoenix Stadium is far larger and more expensive to operate, so one would expect the Coyotes arena management payment to be less than $9.2 million.   And the $9.2 million, since it comes from Glendale as well, likely has a subsidy built in.  But let's for a second assume something like $8 million a year is the high end for what a market rate for such a contract would be.  This would be $168 million over 21 years, implying $138 million minimum in subsidy built into the management contract.  There you go, there is the sucker payment to make up the difference between market value of the team and the NHL's price.

In fact, according to numbers at the WSJ, the city would have been better off leaving the stadium empty and just paying off the note  (and they certainly would have been better taking Jim Balsillie's offer to move the team but help them pay down their note).

The NHL has announced a tentative sale to a group headed by former San Jose Sharks executive Greg Jamison, under terms that would essentially institutionalize Glendale's commitments. Under the proposal that the NHL has laid out for city council members, the city would continue paying an arena-management fee that would average about $14.5 million a year.

On top of the city's average $12.6 million in debt service, that amounts to annual expenses of about $27.1 million—to be offset by anticipated Coyotes-related revenue of $14.2 million, according to projections by Glendale's city management department. That adds up to a projected annual loss for Glendale of $12.9 million.

Of course, Glendale wants to keep the team because it cut a crony deal with a few real estate developers to build a retail and condo complex around the stadium.  Of course, these ventures have also gone bankrupt.  So the city is trying to bail out and keep a bankrupt hockey team to sustain an already bankrupt retail developer.

The logic of course is that Glendale wants to attract retail businesses to Glendale from nearby Peoria and Phoenix.  But in the end, they are just messing up their own goal:

Some Glendale business owners may also oppose the deal, including David Kimmerle, owner of Sanderson Ford car dealership in Glendale. A longtime sponsor and fan of the Coyotes, Kimmerle felt betrayed when Glendale officials recently proposed raising the city's sale tax, in large part to support the cost of the team. The proposed increase would make a $30,000 car on Kimmerle's lot $330 more expensive than in the neighboring suburb of Peoria. "No one is going to pay a premium to shop in Glendale," Kimmerle said. "If it is choosing between the Coyotes or a business that is been in my family since 1955 and employs 500 people, I have to choose my business."

So, which would you bet on:  That retail buyers will choose a location based on prices and taxes, or based on its proximity to a hockey team?  Glendale is betting hundreds of millions of dollars its the latter.  Which is why they are idiots.

Oh, and those Goldwater folks.  Per the Sporting News article:

As for Goldwater Institution opposition to the deal, the league, Jamison and Glendale are aggressively striving to craft a sale that avoids Goldwater opposition and possible legal action.

And how are they doing this?

The NHL, city and Jamison are also not producing public documents on their deal so they can avoid records falling into Goldwater's hands.

Your transparent government at work.  Its not breaking the law if no one can prove it.

College Baseball Recruiting, Part 2

Back in August, when I wrote the first section of this guide, I was sitting in Long Island at a baseball recruiting camp.  Now that my son has completed the process, I want to share the rest of our experience for others who, like myself, have an athletic kid but no idea how the college sports recruiting process works.

Some reminders.  First, this is baseball-specific -- other sports work differently, I presume.  Second, this is the experience of a kid with good baseball skills but not good enough to have been scouted by a Division I baseball power like Texas or Arizona State.  Third, my son was not looking for scholarship money.  He was looking to play baseball in college, and to parlay his baseball talent into admission in a top academic school.  We were looking at division III (DIII from now on) schools like Williams, Amherst, Haverford, Pomona and a few DI Ivies.  Finally, our experience is heavily colored by the fact that he plays for one of the smallest high schools in the state, so getting attention and recruiting advice was much harder than if he had played for a baseball powerhouse.

Here were some of the lessons from our first episode:

  • The DIII baseball recruiting process does not really even begin until the summer between Junior and Senior year.  My son landed a good spot without a single coach even knowing he existed as of June 1 before his Senior year of high school.  As late as January of his senior year he was still getting emails from coaches asking him if he might be interested in their school.
  • In baseball, coaches mostly ignore high school stats and records unless it is a school with which they are very familiar.  They use their eyes to pick talent - ie from video or watching kids play at recruiting camps  (more on the video and camps in our first episode)
  • As we will see in a minute, only about three things my son did in recruiting really mattered -- see the first episode for more detail on what we did
    • He proactively contacted coaches to tell them he was interested
    • He sent coaches a 5-10 minute video of himself pitching and hitting.  We made it from game film but I think most of the videos are just taken in a cage (you can see a bunch of these on YouTube, or email me and I will give you a link to ours)
    • He went to several camps, which fell into two categories:  School camps, at schools he was really interested in; and multi-school camps run by third parties.  Of the latter, I am convinced the Headfirst Honor Roll camps are the best if you are interested in DIII or DI "smart schools" (e.g. Ivies, Duke, UVA, Stanford).

OK, so we left off with my son at a two-day baseball camp.  My son sent out emails afterwards to the coaches that were at the camp and from schools in which he was interested.  Basically he said "nice to have met you, still really interested in your school; now that you have seen me, I'd like to know what you think."  He had a few good conversations with coaches at the camp, but after that we really did not hear much until after Labor Day.  In retrospect, this delay is probably because the coaches have lots of camps and they want to synthesize their prospect list after all the camps before talking in earnest with players.

We really did not know what to expect.  Would coaches call, and if they did, what were the next steps?  It was only later that we learned what outcome we should be hoping to hear:  Basically, each coach is given some spots by the admissions office (the average seems to be 5 for the baseball guys).  If your kid can make that list, then two good things happen:  a) it means the coach wants the kid on the team. And b) it generally means the kid will get a good shove to help him through the admissions process, not an inconsequential thing at a school like Princeton or Amherst.

Here is what happened next.  This was just our experience, but since it was repeated at five or six schools, almost identically, its a good bet this is a fairly standard process at colleges with high admission requirements:

  • The coach asks my son to send his transcript and SAT scores early to the Admissions office.
  • The Admissions office vets these, and gives the coach a reading -- for us, that reading was generally "if you put this kid on your short list, coach, he very likely will get in."
  • The coach then passed this message to my kid, saying there are no guarantees (etc. etc.) but all the kids with this same read from the admissions office who have been on his list have gotten in in the past.

BUT, there is a bit of a catch.  The coach will say that he can only put my kid on his list if we will commit to applying early decision.  Early decision (ED) means that one applies in November and hears in December (so well earlier than the April 1 regular admit date), but it is a binding commitment to attend if admitted.  This means that one can only apply to one school early decision.  Coaches aren't dumb.  They can't afford to waste the few recruiting spots they have on kids who aren't going to come.  So there is a quid pro quo - the coach will commit to the kid and help him through admissions, but the kid has to commit to the program.

But we only learned this later.  When coaches started calling, we weren't sure what to expect.   A couple called early to say that my son would not be on their list.  I have to give kudos to Coach Bradley from Princeton -- he called and told my son he wouldn't make the list.  It was not the news we wanted to hear, but he was up front and honest with us so we did not waste our time.  He was also the one who really explained all the stuff I wrote above, so we were more knowledgeable when other coaches called.

Soon, however, we were getting floods of interested contacts.  Many were from the coaches he had proactively contacted.  Some were from schools we never had heard of, and some were from very good schools but in parts of the country that weren't in his college search area (e.g. Kenyon, Grinnell, Carlton in the midwest).  Many of these coaches asked for him to come to campus (on our own dime, they were not paying) for a visit, including an overnight stay with someone on the team.  Eventually my son scheduled visits at Wesleyan, Bowdoin, Vassar, and Haverford.  He chose these in some cases for the school and in some cases because he really liked the coach.  All four of these offered him a spot on the short list for admissions if he was willing to go ED.

It was at this point that we hit the highlight of the whole process.  Like many parents, I just want to see my kid gain life skills.   My son will never be a good sales person.  He is really, really hesitant to cold call adults to ask them for something.  This process was good for him in that sense, because he began to see the fruits of having proactively cold-called these coaches earlier in the process.  But I still had to poke and prod him to do it.

However, with these other visits set up, my son was apparently thinking "these would all be good schools, but they are not in the top tier of my aspirations."  He was thinking about skipping ED, and trusting his grades and resume to the regular admissions process so he could still take a shot at his top choices (places like Princeton and Stanford).

He decided that the ideal choice for him would be Amherst - he loved the school, it was top-notch academically, had a great baseball tradition and an engaging coach.  That was the school he would be willing to go ED for.  He had met the Amherst coach on a school visit and at camp and Coach Hamm had been very nice.  But in the Fall,we had not heard anything from him.  (I have to insert a story here -- way back in March my son was on the Amherst campus and dropped by without an appointment at Coach Hamm's office.  At that point, Hamm did not know who my son was -- for all he knew he might have been the strikeout leader in T-ball.  But he spent a whole hour with Nic showing him around the facility and later at practice.)

This is where the breakthrough came.  Without my prodding or even involvement, my son contacted Coach Hamm one more time, to say he had not heard from Amherst but he was still really interested and he would be touring other nearby colleges in a week or so and would still love to meet with him.

We will never know exactly what happened.  Perhaps the coach was late in kicking off his recruiting.  Perhaps another kid on his list dropped out.  Perhaps he just wanted to sit back and see which kids were the hungriest.  Whatever the case, Coach Hamm wrote back immediately and said he would love to meet my son on campus  (he actually changed around a trip to be there).  The process described above played out (grades to the Admissions office, offer to be on the "list", ED application) and long story short, Nic will be at Amherst next year.

As I mentioned earlier, there was no money offered for baseball (nor could there be in leagues like the Ivies or the NESCAC which ban athletic scholarships).  Amherst has a great financial aid program, and there are great possibilities for scholarships, grants, and tuition discounts -- but these are offered to all admits, not just to athletes.

I hope this is helpful to some folks who are just starting this process -- I know it would have been a huge help to us to understand in advance.

Postscript:  One of the hardest things in the world is to get a good honest reading on your son's talent, particularly if he does not play for a top high school team.  People have told my son that he should not have gone DIII, he could be playing DI or he should be in front of pro scouts.  You have to take all this stuff with a grain of salt.  Sure, you don't want to cut off an opportunity, but on the flip side, sort of like the fox and the cheese, you don't want to lose a good thing chasing the illusion of something better (we know folks this happened to in other sports).

I don't know how to solve this, maybe people have experiences they can put in the comments.  For us, being from a small school, several summers playing club ball in a wood bat leagues with the big school kids finally convinced us our son could play at a high level (I say convinced us as parents, our son does not lack confidence so he always knew).

PS#2:  Fun Amherst facts

More Glendale Follies

I almost hate beating on the silly folks who run the City of Glendale even further, but they keep screwing up.

One of the reasons I think that city officials like those in Glendale like to dabble in real estate and sports stadiums is what I call the "bigshot effect."  They don't have any capital of their own, and they don't have the skills such that anyone else would (voluntarily) trust them to invest other people's money, but with a poll of tax money they get to play Donald Trump and act like they are big wheels.  The Glendale city council did this for years, and when their incompetence inevitably led to things starting to fall apart, they have simply thrown more money at it to try to protect their personal prestige.

But unfortunately, incompetence generally is an infinite reservoir, and apparently the City has screwed up again.  Years ago, when the City promised the rich people who owned the AZ Cardinals a new half billion dollar stadium, they put a contract to that effect on paper.  Granted, this was a sorry giveaway, spending hundreds of millions of dollars for a stadium that would be used by the Cardinals for 30 hours a year, by the Fiesta Bowl for 3 hours a year, and by the NFL for a Superbowl for 3 hours every 6-7 years.  But, never-the-less, the City made a contractual agreement.

And then, in its rush to be real estate bigshots, the city turned about 3700 parking spaces promised contractually to the Cardinals over to a developer to create an outlet mall (of the sort that has been quietly going bankrupt all over the country over the last few years).  Incredibly, the city did this without any plan for how to replace the parking it owed the Cardinals.  To this day, it has no plan.

Apparently, there were also some shenanigans with $25 million that had been escrowed to build a parking garage.

The demand letter also blames the parking problem on the city's dealings with Steve Ellman, Westgate's former developer and a one-time co-owner of the Phoenix Coyotes. The letter states that Ellman's relationship with the city has been "characterized by a lack of transparency."

The letter raises questions about a January 2011 arrangement in which the city and Ellman equally split a $25million escrow fund that had been earmarked to build a parking garage in Westgate, the team said.

Ellman put that money in escrow in 2008 after failing to keep a promise to the city to provide a set amount of permanent parking in Westgate.

By early 2011, half of that money went back to Ellman's lenders as part of a deal to try to keep the Coyotes in Glendale, while the city received the other $12.5 million in the account.

What a mess.  This is what happens when politicians try to be bigshots with our money.

 

 

The City of Glendale is Pathetic

For years now I have lampooned the crazy money Glendale, AZ has thrown at the Phoenix ice hockey team in a desperate attempt to trade taxpayer money for prestige.  Let me bring you up to date:

Years ago a town of about 250,000 people committed about $200 million in taxpayer money to build a stadium for a professional ice hockey team, to attract it away from Scottsdale or downtown Phoenix to what is frankly the ass-end of the metropolitan area  (I have no problems with the west side of town, but from a geographic, demographic, and economic logic standpoint this was roughly equivalent to moving the LA Lakers to Riverside or San Bernardino).

For some weird reason, moving an ice hockey team to the desert with no base of hockey fans and locating it a good 45 minutes from the wealthier parts of town caused the team to go bankrupt.  Lots of people were willing to pay good money to haul the team back to Canada where there are, you know, ice hockey fans, but few wanted to pay good money to keep it on the west side of Phoenix.

So enter the NHL, which took the team over.  The NHL commissioner promised the other owners that it would not lose money on the deal, so it set the price of the team not at the market price (which appears to be around $100 million based on the Atlanta sale) but based on its costs, which were about $200 million.   It has agreed to try to keep the team in Glendale, but only if the city covers its operating losses of $25 million each year, which incredibly, the city has done for two years (note this is $100 a year for every man, woman, and child in the city to subsidize a hockey team).

The team may be worth $200 million in Canada, but it is only worth $100 million in Glendale (at most) so it does not sell.  The city agreed to make up the $100 million difference  with a bond issue (and throw another $90+ million in to boot), which almost closed the deal with one buyer until the Goldwater Institute pointed out that this kind of subsidy was illegal under the AZ constitution.  And so the situation sits.  The asking price is still $200 million, which no one will pay if they have to keep the team in Glendale.  And the city keeps forking over $25 million a year to the NHL to keep the team running.

OK, so that is the background.  Here is the new news.

The league, which purchased the Phoenix Coyotes at a bankruptcy court auction in 2009, has been managing the team and city-owned arena until an owner willing to keep the team in Glendale can be found. The city paid $25 million to the NHL during the 2010-11 season and pledged another $25 million for the current season, which is expected to come due in May.

To fulfill that pledge, the city put $20 million in escrow and still needs to come up with $5 million.

The hefty payouts have nearly drained the city's reserves, leading to a recent drop in the city's bond rating.

And the city is looking at a deficit next fiscal year that one councilwoman has estimated could reach $30 million. A possible sales-tax hike, furloughs and program cuts are on the table to close the spending gap....

During Tuesday's budget talks, [Glendale Mayor] Scruggs asked council members to join her in signing a letter to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to "release us from that $20 million in escrow and let us pay over time."

None of the councilmembers responded to her request. Councilman Manny Martinez later told The Republic he would "have to think about it in light of what is going on."

Scruggs said if the city can get back the $20 million from escrow and pay the NHL an initial $5 million, "our problems and everything our employees are fearful of would pretty much go away."

Translation:  Dear NHL, we are idiots and committed a bunch of money to a stupid purpose that we can't really afford.  Would you pretty please let us out of our commitment?  Hilarious and pathetic.  The chickens are coming home to roost by the millions.

Even funnier, the Glendale mayor is trying to blame the NHL for bad faith

The mayor said she and four others councilmembers pledged the second payout last May because city staff and NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said a deal with a team owner was nearly complete and that "we should never have to pay that $25 million."

Scruggs said the city was told the money was just a place holder so that the NHL wouldn't move the team out of Glendale.

"Given the stress that our budget is under, there should be a payment plan developed," Scruggs said. "They have no right to that money. They held us hostage for a year."

She said the NHL never intended to do business with Chicago businessman Matt Hulsizer, who wanted to buy the team but walked away from the negotiation table in frustration just weeks after the council pledged the second payment to the NHL....

Scruggs said the NHL last spring "misled us and they can't do this to our city."

In fact, the NHL was totally serious about the Hulsizer deal.  That deal fell through not because the NHL screwed up, but because Glendale did.  The deal fell through because Glendale had committed to a subsidy of the deal which may not have been Constitutional, and even if it had proved legal, became impossible when Glendale's bond ratings started tanking and they realized they could not move the paper.  Glendale officials have been amateurish and dishonest through this entire process.

By the way, several years ago, Jim Balsillie offered a deal worth over $200 million for the team, PLUS he offered to pay off something like $150 million of Glendale's stadium debt.  Glendale opposed the deal, because they would have been left with an empty stadium and tens of millions in debt (given the crash in RIM's fortunes, the offer is unlikely to be renewed).

Glendale is likely going to wish they had taken the first offer.  There is a very good chance that Glendale will lose the team without any sort of payment on their debt and after paying $25 million a year to the NHL.  Glendale will end up with hundreds of millions in debt, an empty stadium, a junk-level bond rating and a busted budget.

There is a saying in the investment world - your first loss is your best loss.  Glendale is about to learn this very expensive lesson.

Bracket Slaughter

Wow, did I ever stink it up with my brackets over the weekend.  Worst I have ever done, and it had nothing to do with missing the two 15-2 upsets (everybody missed those).  The only good news is that I am ahead of my son Nic.  My traditional bias against all schools Ohio definitely hurt me.

Anyway, congrats to those who were far more prescient:

Leaderboard after 48 games - See full standings
Bracket Rank Points
Henry Chinaski 1 88
Mick Langan 2 80
Todd Ramsey 3 80
Todd Ramsey 4 80
Kevin Spires 5 80
Bracket Rank Points
Dan D. 6 79
Martin Linhart #2 7 74
Jimbeaux Evans #2 8 73
Scott Strattner 9 73
President Obama 10 72

I am not sure who does it, but we have a reader who faithfully enters the President's bracket into the pool each year, and I must say that Barack does seem to know his college hoops.

UPDATE:  Special congrats to Mike Langan, who due to the vagaries of the CoyoteBlog traditional scoring system is in second, but his bracket based on number of correct picks is actually in the top 50 of 88,000+ brackets at PickHoops.com.

Last Chance to Submit a Bracket

Seventh Annual NCAA Bracket Challenge

Note: This post sticky through 3/15.  Look below for newest posts.

Back by popular demand is the annual Coyote Blog NCAA Bracket Challenge.  We typically have about 150 entries.  Yes, I know that many of you are bracketed out, but for those of you who are self-employed and don’t have an office pool to join or who just can’t get enough of turning in brackets, this pool is offered as my public service.

Everyone is welcome, so send the link to friends as well.  There is no charge to join in and I have chosen a service with the absolutely least intrusive log-in (name, email, password only) and no spam.  The only thing I ask is that, since my kids are participating, try to keep the team names and board chat fairly clean.

To join, go to http://www.pickhoops.com/CoyoteBlog and sign up, then enter your bracket.  This year, you may enter two different brackets if you wish.

Scoring is as follows (its the same scoring we have always used)

Round 1 correct picks:  1 points
Round 2:  2
Round 3:  4
Round 4:  6
Round 5:  8
Round 6:  10

Special March Madness scoring bonus: If you correctly pick the underdog in any round (ie, the team with the higher number seed) to win, then you receive bonus points for that correct pick equal to the difference in the two team’s seeds.  So don’t be afraid to go for the long-shots!   The detailed rules are here.

Bracket entry appears to be open.  Online bracket entry closes Thursday, March 15th at 12:18pm EDT.  Be sure to get your brackets in early.  Anyone can play — the more the better.  Each participant will be allows to submit up to two brackets.

Chickens Roosting in Glendale

Via the WSJ

Glendale, Ariz., is selling about $136 million in debt in the municipal-bond market this week, just days after Moody's Investors Service cut its bond rating because of the desert city's obligations to cover losses on a National Hockey League franchise.

In exchange for the NHL's promise to manage team operations and keep the team in Glendale until a new owner is found, the city agreed to compensate the league, the city's executive communications director, Julie Frisoni, said.

The Coyotes filed for bankruptcy protection in 2009, and that spring, the NHL became the owner of the team. In exchange for keeping the team, the city signed an agreement to absorb up to $25 million of the team's losses in both 2011 and 2012, in anticipation of finding a new owner, Moody's analysts said.

Glendale is slowly sinking itself in a mountain of debt to pursue its insane strategy to subsidize every billionaire sports owner in Arizona.  The town of 225,000 people is spending $25,000,000 to fund the operating losses of a freaking hockey team -- that's nearly $500 a year for every 4-person family in the city.  Nuts.  And this is just their operating subsidy, it does not include debt service on the $300 million stadium it built for the team.

The problem is that the team is worth less than $100 million in Arizona (based on recent sales comps of other NHL franchises in warm cities like Atlanta) but might be worth $300-$400 million if moved to Canada (Jim Balsillie made an offer in this range, including an offer to pay down $150 million or so of the city's debt, before RIM stock started to crash).  The NHL, which owns the team now, has promised owners that they will not take a penny less than $200 million for the team, and that they will not suffer any operating losses.

So, because they simply cannot admit they were wrong to subsidize the team the first time around, to keep the team in Glendale the city must either fund $25 million a year in team operating losses or it must pony up $100 million or so to bridge the team's $100 million value in Arizona and the league's $200 million price tag (something they tried and failed to do last year when the Goldwater Institute pointed out that such a subsidy was unconstitutional in AZ.

I repeat, what a big freaking mess.  How do you avoid it?  The only way is the Wargames strategy, ie the only winning move is not to lay the sports team subsidy game in the first place.

This Guy Has Some Skills

College Baseball Recruiting (part 1)

Update:  This is part 1.  Part 2 is here.

I sit here near Brookhaven on Long Island hiding in my hotel room as I don't want to make my son any more nervous in performing the skill evaluations at the baseball showcase camp he is attending.  Two hundred nervous kids and four hundred nervous parents is something I can avoid  (though for parental hyperactive competitive frenzy, nothing in my life has yet topped an elementary school chess tournament in Seattle).  Later today the format shifts to playing games and I will go over and watch that.

As I sit here, I might as well share with you some of the lessons we have learned in trying to land a spot playing college baseball.  I am not sure you should even listen to me, as I knew nothing about this 5 months ago and we still don't know if our son will be successful, though we are gaining confidence.

First, if your kid is a total stud, he may be scouted in high school, either on his school team or on summer and fall teams built for that purpose.  If so, great.   But just because your kid has never been seen by a college scout, or goes to a school that is not a traditional baseball powerhouse, he is not somehow doomed.  Our son certainly has never seen a scout and goes to a school that almost never produces college baseball players.  Worse, he plays varsity soccer and basketball so he can't even join a fall scouting team.  This probably rules him out for high-powered division 1 programs like ASU or Texas.  But there are a ton of schools out there who are likely not going to get even one scouted player.

My son is looking at small liberal arts colleges that tend to play division III (Williams, Amherst, Vassar, Pomona) and a few smart-school division I teams (e.g. Princeton).   He has a different equation than the top division 1 athletes.  They are hoping their skills will get them a scholarship and acceptance at a school that can offer them exposure to the pros.  My son is hoping his skills will put him over the top at a very selective school that is brutally hard to get accepted at, even with good grades.  And of course, he just loves to play baseball.

NCAA recruiting is a morass of sometimes non-intuitive rules.  And the rules are different for different size schools (e.g. div III vs. div I).  But the most important thing I can tell you is that your kid has to take the initiative to get in front of the schools.   You cannot rely on your coach or school or anyone else.   You can begin earlier, but we started around the middle of his Junior year:

2nd Semester Junior Year

Through much of his junior year, I video'd Nic's games, and then he spliced together a 5 minute highlight video.  We put that on YouTube, and sent coaches a letter and a copy of the video.

Most schools have an online prospect form they want you to fill out, and you need to do that.  You also need your kid to register with the NCAA clearing house -- it takes a few bucks and they want transcripts and test scores.

During spring break, when we visited schools, in addition to the admissions office tour, we tried also to either schedule a visit with or drop by the baseball coach.  Some said hi for 5 minutes, some gave him nearly an hour, but its important to show them you are interested.   In all of this, it is very important to have your son take the lead.  Yes, I know teenage boys and mine is no different than yours, so you may have to poke and prod in the background, but they need to make the contact.  In fact, whenever we meet a coach, I introduce myself, and then I leave my son alone with him.

If you take any message away, I would say this, and I have heard this from many people now:  The #1 mistake your kid can make is not being proactive enough in contacting coaches.  The #1 mistake you as a parent can make is being too involved with the coach -- they want to see what your kid will be like, at college, out from under your parental umbrella.  They do not want to deal with your hopes and fears and anxieties as the overbearing sports parent.

Summer between Junior and Senior year

By NCAA or conference rules, at least atthe div III schools we visited, the coaches cannot give your son a tryout at school.  We thought we might obtain something like this when we visited, but it is against the rules.  So you need to find a forum to play in front of the coach.  The best is if that school has a showcase camp.  A lot of schools do -- check their athletics web site.  The other great choice are camps held by third parties that have coaches from many schools attending.  Nic wrote the coaches at the schools he was interested in and asked them, by email, which camps they were attending so he could get in front of them.  If they don't answer, try emailing the assistant coaches (many times the head coach has delegated most of the summer scouting to the assistants).

There are a lot of camps nowadays, because certain groups have found they can be money makers.  In fact, I would say baseball camp folks fall into two categories -- there are ones run by baseball guys who really care about the kids and the game, but who can't organize their way out of a paper bag.  And there are the commercial ones, that may run well, but tend to have way too many boys for the number of coaches and don't seem to care much about the boys.  The exception I found was a group called  Headfirst, which runs a series of Honor Roll Camps, so named, I think, because they have coaches from a lot of "smart" schools.  These guys really care about the boys and run a fabulous camp.  If the schools you are interested attend these camps, I would highly recommend them.  Sign up early, they always sell out.

Here is how this camp runs, as an example.  In the first morning, the boys will do a number of skills workouts for the coaches (who are all on the field in folding chairs taking notes).  Outfielders will field four balls and make a few long throws to the plate.  Infielders will do the same from shortstop.  Catchers will be timed popping up and making the throw to second.  Everyone gets timed in the 60-yard dash.  Everyone gets to hit 9 balls in batting practice in front of all the coaches.  The rest of the two days the boys are organized into teams and play games, which are as much about pitcher evaluations as anything else. At this camp, all of the games are coached by the college coaches who are there recruiting. The coaches rotate so they see everyone.

These are weird events.  I have a ton of respect for all the kids.  Imagine hitting in a batting cage with one hundred coaches in folding chairs writing in notebooks all around the sides of the cage.  Or pitching when there is a net right behind the catcher, and right behind that are 50 guys taking notes, ten of whom are holding radar guns.

The kids get nervous, but one thing we have learned is that coaches are looking at something different than laymen might expect. What the kids may consider to be a screw-up may actually be a success.   You and I are impressed by the guy who lines a couple into the gap, vs. the guy who grounds out to the pitcher.   But the coaches are not even looking where the ball goes -- they are locked on the batter and his swing.  That is why they do the hitting showcase in the cage now instead of on the field like they used to -- the coaches just want to see the kid's form.  Ditto the other stuff.   In the last camp, my son put himself down as an outfielder rather than pitcher (though he plays both in high school) because he felt like his hitting was his best path to college.  But in one of the early drills they put a radar gun on him, saw he threw 88mph, and asked him to pitch.  And then the second day the head coach wanted to see him pitch again.

By the way, before each camp, My son looked at the list of coaches attending the camp and sent them emails, and called a favored few, to tell them that he would be at the camp, that he is really interested in their school, and could they please look out for him.  At the camp, the kids really need to take the lead in walking up to coaches (who are all wearing their school's gear) and introducing themselves.   No, your kid is not different from mine -- it is hard to get them to do this.  To their credit, the Headfirst camps actually work with the kids to encourage them in this. The camp leaders are constantly walking up to kids and saying "have you introduced yourself to a coach yet?"

The Fall of Senior Year

The rules vary by sport, but apparently the kids cannot be called at their home by baseball coaches until July 1 (again, this is in div III, rules may vary by sport).  This reinforces the need for kids to be proactive.  Most coaches will wait until the summer camps are over and develop their short list of kids to call and recruit.  That is all Div III schools can do.  Div I schools can bring a few kids in for a university-paid campus visit.  If you get one of those (they only have a few to give out) that is the best sign of all that the coach is truly interested and not just blowing smoke to be nice.

We expect this to be our fall challenge -- how do you figure out if the school is really interested?  In the common application era, it is absolutely critical to tell a college you are really interested and not just hitting the send button to the 29th school.  The best way to do this is by applying early admission, but you only get one of these.  We are hoping to match the school we pick for early admit with Nic's interests as well as baseball coaches' interest.  We'll see how it goes.

Mind of the Coach

The following could be completely wrong.  It is put together not by someone who has experience with baseball or who has been a coach and player, but as someone acting as sort of a baseball anthropologist trying to figure out what is going on.  The following applies mainly to smaller schools not in the top 20 or 30 national programs -- they have a completely different situation.

  • The camps seem intimidating, because there are so many good kids playing.  Coaches seem like these Olympian figures deciding everyone's fate based on inscrutable criteria.  But never forget this -- coaches are just as desperate as you are.  As much as your son is desperately trying to land a spot, coaches are desperately trying to get good players.  Remember, someone probably needs your son.  And smaller school coaches have to sit back and wait for ASU and Texas to skim the cream before they can even get started with the task.
  • They have to make decisions on very little data, or what you and I would consider little data.  Over and over again I hear that unless you are in a school or league with which they are familiar, your kid's ERA or batting average and stats means almost nothing to them.  They will make most of their evaluation from looking at him for what seems a really brief time.  If your son is being encouraged to rework his swing, but he is worried that his stats will drop for a while as he makes the changes, remember that his form, not his stats, will likely get him a spot at a school
  • Most schools allow the baseball coach to send a list of kids -3,5, maybe 7 names - to the admission office for special consideration.  Most of these kids will get in.  Being on that list at a school like Princeton or Amherst that have 8% admit rates is therefore a huge boost.   But, having a limited number of spots, the coach is not going to put a kid's name on that list unless he is pretty sure that kid is going to come.  Getting five studs through admissions is useless if they all are headed to Duke or Stanford instead.  My son has picked a few schools and has really worked to make sure the coach understands he is likely to accept an admission.
  • This is just a guess based on how organizations work, but my sense is that coaches have a certain "budget" as to how much they can ask the admissions office to bend their standards for their recruits.   This means that for selective schools, it still helps a LOT for your kid to have good academics and test scores.   The Headfirst camp we are at now actually asks for grades and scores in advance, and puts those on the cheat sheet every coach gets.   I can guarantee you that before a guy from Harvard falls in love with your kid's swing, he looks down at those academics to see if he can afford to.
  • Most medium and small school coaches have no idea on June 1 who they will be recruiting for the next class.  So if it is June 1 and your son is a rising senior, it is not at all too late.
To be continued, part 2 is here.

A Large Part of Sports Team Profits (And Valuations) Come From Public Subsidies

I have argued many times that publicly-funded stadiums are a huge part of sports profits and team valuations.  For example, here in Glendale AZ, the town's stadium subsidies represent over a third of the value of the Cardinals and almost 200% of the value of the Coyotes.

As some of you may know, the NBA is heading into a protracted labor negotiation, with both parties acknowledging that the economics of the game have turned against owners.  Henry Abbot at ESPN argues that a large part of that economic change has been increasing taxpayer reluctance to subsidize sweetheart stadium deals for teams

Public money for stadiums has become scarce, and I have to believe that's part of the owners' pleas for financial relief from players. Huge moneymaking buildings for free or cheap have been no small part of what makes owning a team a no-brainer. Now teams in need of stadiums -- like the Kings and whatever team may one day relocate to Seattle -- face tough economics. Getting either deal done requires some kind of miracle. And in that context, if you ever fantasized about a world where taxpayers didn't contribute so much to buildings -- even if it meant players earned a little less -- well, your time is now.

To his latter point, I hope he is right.

Glendale Keeps Throwing Money After Sports

I have no idea why this town of 250,000 people is so fired up to hand money over to sports enterprises.  This time, its a Superbowl bid:

Glendale is throwing its support behind a regional bid to bring Super Bowl XLIX to the city in 2015.

In return for the prestige of hosting the National Football League game at University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale must guarantee services such as public safety and sanitation for free and exempt game-day tickets from sales tax for the NFL.

When Glendale hosted its first Super Bowl in 2008, it saw $1.2 million boost in sales-tax revenue. But a city-commissioned study showed it cost the city $2.6 million in services.

The City Council on a 5-2 vote Tuesday approved the resolution. Councilwomen Joyce Clark and Norma Alvarez dissented.

Councilman Phil Lieberman asked for Glendale's cost to host the Super Bowl in 2015, but Deputy City Manager Cathy Gorham said she didn't want to speculate because "things change on a regular basis." The needs in 2015 may be much different from 2008, she said.

These guys are beyond parody. We lost money last time so lets do it again, and by the way lets be sure not to estimate our costs before we make this decision.  Here is a bit more:

Clark said the NFL's demands grow more "invasive" every year.

Clark ticked off requirements such as use of the stadium for nearly two months, final cleaning of the stadium and equipment as needed for free. The NFL doesn't pay state or local levies such as payroll, sales, use and occupancy taxes.

Clark cited two former host cities, Arlington, Texas and Miami Gardens, Fla., which did not shoulder the costs of a Super Bowl. In both those cities, the states stepped in and reimbursed them, Clark said. She said that communities that hosted the NFL game didn't see "big spikes" in their tax revenues.

"The city of Glendale should not be expected to pay the Super Bowl's costs without recompense when it benefits the entire region," she said. "We are at a disadvantage because the NFL is hosting in our city."

Alvarez, an ardent opponent of using taxpayer money for professional sports, said the city was in no position to be spending money for the Super Bowl with the economic crisis. She said she couldn't face her constituents if she supported the resolution when there are unmet community needs and employees are still taking unpaid days off.

Note the only alternative suggested - the alternative is not "let's not do this, it makes no sense" but "let's make sure we stick the costs on a larger group of taxpayers.

More articles on Glendale and sports subsidies here.

Believe it or Not, Steroids Have an Actual Medical Use

The other day I was listening to a national sports-talk radio show and they were discussing an prominent athelete's recent injury.  They were expressing concern that the doctor who was treating the athlete (succesfully, it seemed) had treated other non-ahtlete patients with HGH and steroids.

Well, duh.  This is what has driven me crazy about the whole steroid craze.  Steroids were not invented to as sports performance enhancing drugs.  They were invented because they had a variety of medical uses, including aiding recovery from certain injuries.   Is the sports world really better off if we deny, say, Tiger Woods the injury-recovery tools that any non-athlete would have access to?

I will add here, just to tick people off and highlight yet another area where I am grossly out of step from the rest of America, that I have no particular problem with PED's in sports.  It's fine if governing bodies for whatever reason want to ban them, but its not a straight forward case to me.  These drugs have dangers, but getting our panties in a knot about people's informed choices on these dangers seems hypocritical to me as we routinely attend sports that have been demonstrated to cause, for example, major brain damage in athletes (e.g. football, hockey, boxing).

I suppose I get the comparability issue (people like records from 1900 to be comparable to those today) but to some extent this is outright hypocrisy as well.  Don't modern training techniques, like altitude sleeping chambers, equally make a mockery of comparability?  Baseball cries the most about steroids messing up the record books, then it does stuff like lower the pitching mound to help hitters and add the DH.

On the plus side, isn't there value to seeing our athletes play longer?  Wouldn't it be nice (if you are not a Red Sox fan) to see Derek Jeter play a little longer?  To see Tiger Woods return quicker from injuries?

And don't even get me started on the government's campaign to throw steroid users like Barry Bonds in jail.  As I said earlier, I don't have a particular problem if private governing bodies choose, for competitive or marketing reasons, to ban PED's and enforce that ban within their community.  But throwing Barry Bonds in jail for choice he made with his own body?

Another Lesson In Why We Shouldn't Subsidize Sports Teams

The city of Glendale, Arizona (a 250,000 population suburb of Phoenix) continues to pour money into its NHL Hockey Team.  The city has already spent $200 million on a stadium and is trying to find a legal way to hand $100 million to a private individual to buy the team and keep it in Glendale.  But that is not even the end of it:

The Phoenix Coyotes are expected to stay in Glendale at least one more season, with or without a permanent owner, if the City Council pledges another $25 million to the National Hockey League.

The cash would go to offset team and arena losses.....

The pledge is the second financial promise in as many years.

Glendale this week paid $25 million it pledged the league a year ago in hopes of keeping the Coyotes in town until a permanent owner was found.

The city paid this year's $25 million from a utilities-repair account.

It's unclear whether that same fund would be used again and when the city would have to pay.

The NHL says the team and arena lost $37 million last season.

Just to give you a sense of scale, $25 million a year is larger than the city's fire department budget.  It is over $100 for every man, woman, and child in the city, each of the last two years.  Residents of the town are subsidizing a money-losing team mainly enjoyed, to the extent it has fans, by people outside of the city of Glendale.  It is a $25 million city annual expenditure that mainly helps three or four bars and restaurants next to the facility.  Just paying off those obviously politically connected retail owners a few hundred thousand each would be cheaper.

I Can Die a Happy Blogger Now. George Will Quoted Me in a Column

Those of you who are regular readers are probably tired of hearing me rant about the proposed Glendale, Arizona subsidy of the Phoenix Coyote's team (here, here, here), a subsidy that runs afoul both of our state Constitution and of common sense.  This week, George Will enters the fray, and actually quotes me at the bottom of his column.  Most of the column should be familiar to those following the story here, but of course being George Will it is so much pithier than I could tell the story.  I liked this bit:

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman agrees with McCain that the world is out of joint when people can second-guess the political class: “It fascinates me that whoever is running the Goldwater Institute can substitute their judgment for that of the Glendale City Council.” He will learn not to provoke Olsen, who says, “It happens to fascinate me greatly that the commissioner thinks a handful of politicians can substitute their judgment for the rule of law.”

NCAA Bracketology Winner

Our winner was Scott Strattner, congratulations!  It was a weird year, obviously.  Scott won despite getting only one team right out of the final four, though that was pretty much par for the course this year.  Here is the top 10:

Leaderboard after 63 games - See full standings
Bracket Rank Points
strattner2 1 120
Chris Smith 2 115
Kevin Spires #2 3 107
Paul Dubuc 4 92
Chuck Jones #2 5 92
Bracket Rank Points
Grant Smith #2 6 91
strattner1 7 90
Jimbeaux Evans #2 8 89
Mark Horn / Barack Obama 9 88
Alex Sylvester 10 88

I managed to come in 61st, or exactly in the middle.  That's actually pretty good since I only got 6 of the sweet-16 right.  I lost, though, to every other member of my family.

The NCAA Labor Cartel

Gary Becker via Ilya Somin:

The toughest competition for basketball and football players occurs at the Division I level. These sports have both large attendances at games-sometimes, more than 100,000 persons attend college football games– and widespread television coverage.... Absent the rules enforced by the NCAA, the competition for players would stiffen, especially for the big stars...

To avoid that outcome, the NCAA sharply limits the number of athletic scholarships, and even more importantly, limits the size of the scholarships that schools can offer the best players....

It is impossible for an outsider to look at these rules without concluding that their main aim is to make the NCAA an effective cartel that severely constrains competition among schools for players. The NCAA defends these rules by claiming that their main purpose is to prevent exploitation of student-athletes, to provide a more equitable system of recruitment that enables many colleges to maintain football and basketball programs and actively search for athletes, and to insure that the athletes become students as well as athletes.

Unfortunately for the NCAA, the facts are blatantly inconsistent with these defenses....

I expressed many of the same thoughts in this article at Forbes.  In addition to making the same points as Becker, I slammed on the whole concept of the "amateur athlete" as an outdated holdover from the British aristocracy and their disdain for commerce:

University presidents with lucrative athletic programs will do about anything to distract attention from just how much money their Universities are making off of essentially unpaid labor.  Their favorite mantra is to claim they are holding up an ideal of “amateurism.”

The whole amateur ideal is just a tired holdover from the British aristocracy, the blue-blooded notion that a true “gentleman” did not actually work for a living but sponged off the locals while perfecting his golf or polo game.  These ideas permeated British universities like Oxford and Cambridge, which in turn served as the model for many US colleges.  Even the Olympics, though,  finally gave up the stupid distinction of amateur status years ago, allowing the best athletes to compete whether or not someone has ever paid them for anything.

In fact, were we to try to impose this same notion of “amateurism” in any other part of society, or even any other corner of university life, it would be considered absurd.  Do we make an amateur distinction with engineers?  Economists?  Poets?

When Brooke Shields was at Princeton, she still was able to perform in the “amateur” school shows despite the fact she had already been paid as an actress.   Engineering students are still allowed to study engineering at a university even if a private party pays them for their labor over the summer.  Students don’t get kicked out of the school glee club just because they make money at night singing in a bar.  The student council president isn’t going to be suspended by her school if she makes money over the summer at a policy think tank.

In fact, of all the activities on campus, the only one a student cannot pursue while simultaneously getting paid is athletics.  I am sure that it is just coincidence that athletics happens to be, by orders of magnitude, far more lucrative to universities than all the other student activities combined.

Sports and Government

The importance of government largess to sports, including publicly-funded stadiums, has been a frequent topic on this blog.  Recently, the CEO of the Fiesta Bowl John Junker was fired for a number of alleged violations related to campaign contributions and favors for politicians.  This story is virtually inevitable.

The Fiesta Bowl benefits enormously from being one of the four BCS bowl games.  In fact, the difference economically between being one of the four BCS bowl games and being one of the numerous other bowls is roughly the difference between the United States and, say, Peru.   To give one a sense, the prize money for winning a BCS bowl is about $18 million.  The prize money for all other bowl games varies from $325,000 to, at most, $4.25 million.

But the Fiesta Bowl would almost certainly not be one of the four BCS bowls were it not for the city of Glendale building a half billion dollar stadium to be shared by our NFL franchise and the Fiesta Bowl.  It would almost be shocking if a few tens of thousands of dollars were not directed to politicians given the stakes on the table.  And it should be no surprise that politicians in Glendale received many of the payments.

Postscript:  Junker's attorney's comments are telling.  This was all about doing what it takes to make the Fiesta Bowl a big player.   And I can tell you, from all the grief I have gotten for defending a Constitutional principle at the expense of holding on to a sports franchise, there is a strong public lobby for the ends justifying the means when sports are involved.  Anyway, here is the quote:

While Junker declined SI.com's request to be interviewed for this story, his lawyer, Stephen M. Dichter, could not resist issuing an e-mailed reminder that it was his client "who took the Fiesta Bowl from a postseason game created so [that] Frank Kush's ASU Sun Devils would have a game in which they could be showcased while they and the rest of the WAC were completely ignored by the national media to its present position as one of the four pillars of the Bowl Championship Series."

NCAA Bracket Challenge Update

Here is the top 10 in the bracket challenge after the first week.  Sadly, both of my brackets are in the bottom half.  Apparently, it is statistically impossible for me to do better than 15th place  (thank God for technology so that hope is dashed and I can no longer fool myself about my future chances).  Even worse, my son made the top 10.  More results here.

Bracket Rank Points Correct
Games
Upset
Risk %
Possible
Games
Kevin Spires #2 1 98 31 26.6 43
strattner2 2 82 35 27.8 48
Chuck Jones #2 3 80 35 15.4 46
Ron Coker 4 75 35 20.3 48
Paul Dubuc 5 73 37 15.8 46
Mark Horn / Barack Obama 6 71 39 5.4 51
Chris Smith 7 70 32 30.9 45
Kevin Spires 8 68 34 17.6 42
Grant Smith #2 9 68 31 46.3 41
Nic Meyer 10 67 33 23.7 41

It is good to see the President take time out of his busy schedule to submit a bracket in our competition.