Posts tagged ‘ncaa’

Unionizing NCAA Players: A Simple Question in a Free Society, But A Total Mess In Ours

This week, the NLRB agreed to allow the players on the Northwestern University football team to unionize.   This is one of those issues that is simple and straightforward in a free society and a total mess in our less-than-free society.  Here are a few thoughts:

  1. In a free society, this is a no-brainer.  The Northwestern players are welcome to create an association among themselves and call it anything they like, including "union".  That association is free to try to negotiate with the university for better terms  (they are also free to fail at this and make no progress).
  2. However, it is clear that we are not a free society because the players had to go to the government and ask permission to form this particular type of association.  The reason is that associations called "unions" have been granted special powers and privileges under the law not available to other associations.  There are also a large body of very particular rules for how such associations may conduct business and how other groups (in this case the University) can or cannot interact with it.  It is a very tricky legal and philosophical question whether this package of benefits and privileges should be accorded to a group of college football players
  3. In a free society, the fact that the players don't get paid cash and that their universities make millions off the football program would be irrelevant.  The players freely agreed to the deal (in most cases, playing in exchange for free tuition and perhaps a chance to land an NFL job) so there is nothing inherently unfair about it.
  4. However, in our society, we have all sorts of government interventions.  I consider many of these interventions to be counter-productive, even occasionally insane.  But if one is to navigate such a society (rather than, say, go off and live in Galt's Gulch), I think the principle of equal protection is critical.  Arbitrary government interventions in free exchange are FAR worse when applied unevenly.  From an equal protection standpoint, I think the players may have a good case.
    • The law generally does not allow profit-making businesses (and the NCAA and college footfall are certainly those) to accept unpaid labor.  Many folks who don't deal with the Fair Labor Standards Act every day will say: "players are paid, they get free tuition."  But this is not how the FLSA works.  It counts non-cash wages only in very specific circumstances that are enumerated in the law (e.g. lodging).  Think of it this way -- McDonald's could not legally just pay all its employees in french fries and claim to be compliant with the law.  Also, large numbers of Division 1 football and basketball players never graduate, which shows a fair amount of contempt by players for this supposedly valuable "free tuition" compensation.
    • On the other hand, most college athletics are not profit-making.  My son plays baseball at Amherst College -- it would be laughable to call this a profit center.  I am not sure there are but a handful of women's teams in any sport that generate profits for their school, and even on the men's side money-making is limited to a few score men's football and basketball teams.   But the few that do make money make a LOT.  University of Texas has its own TV network, as do most major conferences.
    • The law generally does not allow any group of enterprises to enter into agreements that restrict employment options.  Google et. al. are getting flamed right now, and likely face criminal anti-trust charges and lawsuits, for agreements to restrict hiring employees from each other's firms.  The NCAA cuts such deals all the time, both severely restricting moves between schools (transfer provisions in Division I are quite onerous) and preventing poaching at least of younger players by professional leagues like the NBA and NFL.   The notion that top players in the NCAA are playing for their education is a joke -- they are playing in college because that is what they have to do in order to eventually be allowed in a league where they can get paid for their skills.
    • Actually trying to pay players would be a real mess.  In a free society, one might just pay the ones who play the most profitable sports and contribute the most value.   But with Title IX, for example, that is impossible.  Paying only the most financially valuable players and teams would lead to 99% of the pay going to men, which would lead to Title IX gender discrimination suits before the first paycheck was even delivered.  And 99% of college athletes probably don't even want to be paid
    • Part of the pay problem is that the NCAA is so moronic in its rules.  Even if the university does not pay players, many outsider would if allowed.  Boosters love to pay football and basketball players under the table in cash and cars and such, and top athletes could easily get endorsement money or paid for autographs by third parties.  But NCAA rules are so strict that athletes can be in violation of the rules for accepting a free plane ticket from a friend to go to his mother's funeral.  When I interview students for Princeton admissions, I never buy them even a coffee in case they are a recruited athlete, because doing so would violate the rules.
    • Much of this is based on an outdated fetish for amateurism, that somehow money taints athletic achievement.  It is hilarious to see good progressive college presidents spout this kind of thing, because in fact this notion of amateurism was actually an aristocratic invention to keep the commoners out of sports (since commoners would not have the means to dedicate much of their life to training without a source of income).  The amateur ideal is actually an exclusionist aristocratic tool that has for some reason now been adopted as a progressive ideal.   Note that nowhere else in college do we require that students not earn money with their skills -- business majors can make money in business over the summer, artists can sell their art, musicians can be paid to perform.  When Brooke Shields was at Princeton, she appeared in the school amateur play despite making millions simultaneously as a professional actress.  Only athletes can't trade their skill for money in their free time.

I am not sure where this is all going, but as a minimum I think the NCAA is going to be forced to allow athletes to earn outside income and accept outside benefits without losing their eligibility.

Back in 2011 I wrote an article in Forbes on this topic

Time: Sheltering America from Bad News Since 2009

Via Zero Hedge, Time's covers around the world this week.  Spot the outlier

20130916_time

 

I am actually sympathetic to the case that the NCAA should allow student athletes to make money as athletes (just as student business majors are allowed to make money in business and student musicians are allowed to make money in music).

But seriously?  Probably the highest profile, most contentious international diplomatic crisis of the last five years and Time chose not to put it on the cover this week?  There are only two explanations, and neither are good.  1)  Time felt that a story about American mis-steps might hurt sales.  or 2)  Time is protecting their guy in the White House.  The athlete cover story does not have an expiration date, so is the kind of story a magazine holds for a slow week.  It is hard to describe last week as a "slow week."

I Used to Respect Michael Crow. Never Mind. The NCAA Hypocrisy Never Ends

Arizona State University (ASU) has always had a certain niche in the college world, a niche best evidenced by their making both the top 10 party school and top 10 hottest women lists in the same year.  President Michael Crow has done a fair amount to, if not reverse this image, at least add some academic cred to the university.  ASU has been creeping up the USN&WR rankings, has a very serious and respected honors college (Barrett) and hosts the Origins conference each year, one of the most fun public education events I have attended.

But Michael Crow is now upset that another Phoenix area school has been given Division I status in sports, a for-profit college named Grand Canyon University.  This could really hurt both ASU's athletic recruiting in the area as well as dilute its revenues.  But in the supremely hypocritical world college athletics, he can't say that.  Instead, he says (Via Tyler Cowen)

The conference's 12 presidents signed and delivered a letter dated July 10 urging the NCAA's Executive Committee to "engage in further, careful consideration" about allowing for-profit universities to become Division I members at the committee's August meeting. In the meantime, Pac-12 presidents decided at a league meeting last month not to schedule future contests against Grand Canyon while the issue is under consideration.

"A university using intercollegiate athletics to drive up its stock value -- that's not what we're about," Arizona State president Michael Crow said in a phone interview over the weekend. "... If someone asked me, should we play the Pepsi-Cola Company in basketball? The answer is no. We shouldn't be playing for-profit corporations."...

"Our presidents have a pretty clear view that athletics works for the broader benefit of the university," said Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott. "There's a discomfort with the idea that the sole accountability around athletics would be to a company that might use athletics as a marketing tool to drive stock price. There's a sense that changes the dynamics and accountability around athletics."

It is freaking hilarious to get lectured on accountability around athletics by the NCAA.  This is an organization that has been making billions off unpaid workers for years, workers who think so much of the value of the compensation they do receive (a free education) that most of the best of them never complete it.  I wrote more about the NCAA and athletes here.  In short, though, all these schools use the athletic program to raise capital (in the form of donations), likely far more so than a private school's sports team would raise its stock value.  Unless you grew up near the school, what do you know about well-known schools like Penn State, Ohio State, University of Miami, LSU, Alabama and even Notre Dame other than their athletics program?

Michael Crow reveals himself as just another incumbent that does not want competition.

In regards to Grand Canyon specifically, though, it would certainly appear that Crow, who's been spearheading the effort, is driven in part by protecting his own turf. Arizona State has long been the only Division I university in the Phoenix market. And in the bigger picture, it seems a bit self-righteous that the same group of presidents that in 2011 signed a $3 billion contract with ESPN and FOX -- and which last year launched a profitable television network of their own -- would play the "non-profit" card in calling out someone else's motives.

"It's different in the following sense," Crow said of the comparison. "Whatever income we generate from a television network goes to support the swimming team, the rowing team at Cal. We support thousands of athletes and their scholarships, their room-and-board, as part of the intercollegiate spirit of athletics. ... In the case of a for-profit corporation, those profits go to the shareholders."

His last point is a distinction without a difference.  First, I am not sure it is true -- Grand Canyon also has other athletic programs that cost money but don't bring in revenue. They also have a women's swim team, for example.  But who cares anyway?  Why is a student interested in swimming more worthy of receiving football largess than an investor?  Maybe Crow is worried that the people of Arizona that fund so much of his operations (and bloated overpaid administrative staff) might suddenly start wondering why they don't get a return for their investment as do GCU shareholders.

Postscript:  Phil Knight at Oregon and Boone Pickens at Oklahoma State (to name just 2 examples) get an incredible amount of influence in the university due to the money they give to their football programs and the importance of the football programs to those schools.  Boone Pickens says he has given half a billion dollars to OSU, half of which went to the football program.  But it is clear he would not have given a dime if he had not been concerned with the football team's fortunes and the problem of his university's football team losing to other rich guy's teams.  Is this really somehow better and cleaner than being beholden to equity markets?

The link in the original article is broken, so here is a better link to an article and video of how "non-profits" are spending their athletic money, on things like this palatial locker room for the Alabama football team that would make Nero's gladiators blush.

Congrats to Amherst Baseball

My son's team the Lord Jeffs (simultaneously the worst and most awesome team name in college sports) made the NCAA baseball playoffs this year.  Don't have a team to root for?  Why not choose the one named after an early advocate of biological warfare against Native Americans?

8th Annual NCAA Bracket Challenge

NOTE:  We had some sort of massive fail with the WordPress scheduler where this post failed to post at the scheduled time.  For some reason, if it misses the scheduled minute it is supposed to post, it fails (it does not just post a minute late).  So this is 3 days late and we likely won't have many folks join, but its free and a nice bracket site and you are welcome to join between now and tomorrow.

Back by popular demand is the annual Coyote Blog NCAA Bracket Challenge. Last year we had nearly 140 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/CoyoteBlog2013 and sign up, then enter your bracket. This year, you may enter two different brackets if you wish.

Scoring is as follows:

Round 1 correct picks: 1 points
Round 2: 2
Round 3: 4
Round 4: 8
Round 5: 16
Round 6: 32

We have upped later round scoring to try to keep things more competitive at the end. 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 at the link.

Bracket entry appears to be open. Online bracket entry closes Thursday, March 21st 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.

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.

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.

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.

Spacechem

Spent the weekend playing Spacechem while watching the NCAA basketball tournament.  Though nominally about tearing apart and building molecules, its really a simulation of assembly line design, since you molecular engineering happens mechanically (ie carry atom over here, bond it in reactor, move it over there, etc).  There is a kind of built in re-playability, as most of the puzzles are not that hard to solve in some fashion, but can be very hard to solve efficiently.  For example, the level "No Ordinary Headache" will allow the player up to three reactors, but a one reactor solution is possible.  Took me forever to finally get it. This one is not mine but is not too different from my solution.

To that end, the game provides a distribution curve of other player's solutions based on three stats (number of process cylces required, number of reactors required, number of components required).  Even if you get the puzzle right, you may see you solution was way less efficient than other folks, driving one to try again.  I like this dynamic - it is sort of like duplicate bridge, where one is not judged by just winning the hand, but by how well one scored with the hand vs. other players playing the same hand.

Here is another positive review at South Bend Seven.  And just search "spacechem" in youtube to find zillions of videos of various game solutions, it will give you a feel for the game.

The NCAA and Worker Exploitation

I took my blog post from earlier this week and expanded it to a full-blown column on the NCAA and its efforts to never, ever let its athletes make a dime from their skills.  An excerpt:

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 local gentry 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.

Princeton Loses in Final Seconds :=(

Princeton continues its designated role in the universe of scaring the crap out of high NCAA tournament seeds, but fell just short when Kentucky took the lead with 2 seconds left.   I engaged in emotional diversification by picking against them in my brackets, so I would have both joy and pain either way.

The Last Frontier in Worker Exploitation

Name a multi-billion dollar industry where all the competitors in the industry have formed a single cartel.  This cartel performs many functions, but one of its highest profile functions is to aggressively punish any member who pays its employees more than a cartel-enforced maximum.

Believe it or not, there is such an industry in the US... college sports.  The cartel is the NCAA, and whenever the NCAA makes the news, it usually is with an enforcement action punishing a school for allowing any of its athletes to make more than the agreed maximum salary, which is generally defined as free tuition.  As folks are learning at Ohio State, even trading your autograph for a free tattoo is not too small a transaction to attract ruthless NCAA retaliation.

This ESPN page (via Phil Miller) shows 2010 athletic revenue by school.  Take the top school on the list, the University of Texas.  In 2010 its athletic program brought in over $143 million in revenues.  It paid its workers (athletes) who helped generate this revenue $8.4 million (in the form of tuition), or 5.9% of revenues.  Its hard to decide whether this is high or low, though this percentage of labor for a service business seems low.  Looking for an analog, we can turn to the NFL, which is currently negotiating a revenue split with players.  The issue is still under negotiation, but for years players have been guaranteed over 50% of total revenues.

Even the Olympics finally gave up its stupid distinction of amateur status, allowing the best athletes to compete whether or not someone has ever paid them for anything.  This only makes sense - we don't have amateur engineers who work for free before they give up their amateur status for the professional ranks.  I can still continue to earn my degree at college in programming while being paid by outside companies to do programming.   I can still participate in the school glee club if I make money in a bar singing at nights.  I can still be student council president if I make money in the summers at a policy think tank.  Of all the activities on campus, the only one I cannot pursue if someone is willing to pay me for the same skill is athletics.

Only the NCAA holds out with this dumb amateur distinction, and the purpose is obvious -- it provides cover for what otherwise would be rightly treated as worker exploitation.  And they get away with it because most of the members of this cartel are actually state governments, who are really good at exempting themselves from the same standards the rest of us have to follow.

Sixth Annual NCAA Bracket Challenge (Sticky, New Posts Below)

Note: This post sticky through 3/17.  Look below for newest posts.

Back by popular demand is the annual Coyote Blog NCAA Bracket Challenge.  Last year we had over 140 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 17th at 12:00pm 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.

Exploiting the Laborers

I hate blog posts that begin this way, but I will do it anyway:  Imagine that Wal-mart, Target and a hundred other major retailers all got together and agreed to an industry plan to hold down workers's wages.  Anyone involved with even rudimentary economics training would know that there would be enormous incentives for individual retailers to "cheat", ie offer wages above the agreed to levels to try to get a particular advantage hiring the best employees.  So imagine that the cartel actually forms an enforcement body, that goes around the country levying fines and punishments against any individual participant who breaks ranks and tries to share some of the largess with their workers.

Now imagine the NY Times rooting the enforcement body on, cheering it when it adopts a new get-tough stance on organizations that pay its workers too much.  Hard to imagine, but that is exactly the case in this article, where the Times writes about the NCAA's new efforts to get tough on what it calls "recruiting violations" but in any other industry would be called "trying to pay the workers more than the cartel allows."

NCAA division I sports are made up of a 100+ mostly public institutions that make a fortune off of their athletic programs, particularly men's football and basketball.  Large institutions like the University of Texas or Ohio State reap tens of millions each year in ticket sales, TV deals, merchandising sales, and Bowl/tournament winnings.  One of the reasons this is so profitable is that they basically pay the key workers who generate this income close to zero.  Sure, they give them a scholarship, but what is the marginal cost to, say, the University of Texas for providing a few hundred free educations on top of their 40,000 paid customers?  This is roughly equivalent to McDonald's paying its employees nothing more than a couple of happy meals each day.

While many of these university's athletes will make nothing after college playing sports, the ones involved in these "violations" are typically athletes who are offered millions, even tens of millions of dollars the moment they leave college.  In effect, these colleges are getting tens of millions of dollars of labor virtually for free, and so the incentives to cheat on their cartel deal are huge, which is why the cartel enforcers have to be so aggressive in stopping under-the-table payments to the grossly underpaid workers.

It is an ugly process, and one wonders why so many folks support it when they would be appalled at such practices in any other industry.

Markets in Everything, March Madness Edition

Sorry to steal the phrase from Marginal Revolution, but it seems appropriate for this story -- Surgery as an excuse to be laid up in bed watching TV

Come to find out that untold numbers of American males at this very moment are propped up in front of their television sets at home, bags of ice strategically placed in their respective crotches.

Cleveland urologist Dr. Stephen Jones has noted a 50 percent increase in recent years in vasectomies performed a day or two [before] the start of the NCAA men's tournament.

That's a lot of slicing and dicing.

You can imagine the dialogue, first between the dude and his woman:

"Honey, doc says I gotta take it easy for a couple of days. I'll be back to normal after the weekend."

Or this one with the boss:

"Sorry, I'll be out Thursday and Friday. Surgical procedure. Nothing big. No, I'll be laid up and it probably will be better if I start up fresh on Monday, OK?

Not sure I have the cojones to try that.

Fifth Annual NCAA Bracket Pool

Note: This post sticky through 3/18.  Look below for newest posts.

Back by popular demand is the annual Coyote Blog NCAA Bracket Challenge.  Last year we had nearly 140 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:

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 18th at 12:20pm 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.

Walter Olson on the FTC vs. Bloggers

Olson has a series of posts on the new FTC rules.  They are here and here.

The scariest part for me is not just the rules, but the frank admission that they will be enforced unequally as the FTC says it will apply discretion as to who to prosecute for picayune violations and who they won't.  As I often say to folks, even if you trust this administration   (e.g. "your guys") to not abuse this power, what about the next administration (ie "the other guys")?

Olson has a priceless picture a medical blogger snapped at a recent trade show showing that there is reason to fear that rules aimed at ridiculously small conflicts of interest will be enforced even when they are dumb:

FreebieDocsDontEat1

Anyone who has been involved in NCAA recruiting can tell you the absurd results that flow from defining even tiny freebies as violations.  For example, when I interview high school students for Princeton, I have to be careful not to buy them lunch or coffee on the off-chance they turn out to be athletes where such a purchase could trigger a recruiting violation.

The Picks Are In

We had 144 brackets entered (thanks everyone!) and this is the distribution of picks.   Interestingly, the most popular first round upset pick (excluding 9-8 games) was #10 Maryland over #7 California, with 61% calling the upset.  And the majority were right, as Maryland won today over Cal.   Overall the picks show an incredible lack of respect for the Pac-10 and the Big-12, with teams like Cal, Washington, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Kansas getting a lot of votes to fall in early to mid round upsets.  North Carolina garnered the most picks to win it all, followed by Louisville and Pitt.

Third Annual NCAA Tournament Bracket Challenge

Note: This post sticky through 3/20.  Look below for newest posts.

We had a blast with it last year, so back by popular demand is the annual Coyote Blog
NCAA Bracket Challenge
.  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.   

Last year we had close to 100 entries, and we expect more this year.
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/Coyote and sign up, then enter your bracket.  This year, you may enter two different brackets if you wish.

Scoring is as follows:

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 20th at 12:20pm EDT.  Be sure to get your brackets in
early.  Anyone can play -- the more the better.

Mindless Rules Enforcement

So where do government bureaucrats go to learn how to push the frontiers of mindless rules enforcement?   Well, there are certain enclaves of the private sector who are pretty good at strict enforcement of silly rules -- The RIAA comes to mind.  But where do leading brain-dead bureaucracies, like say, school boards, learn to push the frontiers of pettiness?  Perhaps the NCAA can help out:

Just hours after Oklahoma football recruit Herman Mitchell was shot to
death Friday in Houston, Adam Fineberg started raising money for
Mitchell's family.

But after raising $4,500, enough to cover almost half the cost of
Mitchell's funeral, Fineberg stopped. An OU compliance officer told him
his actions would constitute an NCAA rules violation against the
Sooners.

Now, Mitchell's mother likely will never receive that money.

That money is considered illegal financial assistance under NCAA
rules because Mitchell's brother is a sophomore fullback at Westfield
High School in Spring, Texas, and because Fineberg is an OU fan who
attends Sooner football games and solicited donations through an OU fan
Web site. [. . .]

OU spokesman Kenny Mossman said the an official with the
university's compliance office contacted Fineberg on Monday asking to
him halt his fundraising efforts until the OU received a rules
interpretation from the NCAA. That interpretation came Tuesday.

"This is not a permissible expense for OU or someone who could be
construed as an OU supporter," said Mossman, an associate athletic
director for communications. "We're not trying to be the bad guys, but
we have to play by their rules."

Because it's still a recruiting violation, even if the recruit is dead.  The NCAA said the college could apply for a waiver.  They shouldn't even have to -- the NCAA's reaction should have been to issue a waiver without even being asked.  This should have taken a conference call among the key decision-makers about 8 seconds to decide.

Update:  I may have been wrong by putting the NCAA over school boards, as a Colorado Springs school board has banned playing tag.  So I guess smear the queer is out (we actually called it Kill the Man with the Ball, but I am told that Smear the Queer is the more common and even less politically correct name).

Where is Cinderella?

Incredibly, out of 32 initial NCAA championship games, there were only two real upsets (I don't count 9 beating 8 as a real upset).  Maybe my memory is faulty, but that seems like a really low number by historical standards.   Conventional wisdom would hold that we should probably see more rather than less upsets, as early flight to the NBA of the top players has tended to level the playing field out.

Let the Madness Begin

We had 91 brackets submitted this year for our NCAA bracket challenge, which is great!  Let the fun begin.

PS:  Based on past history, my current rank (in a 91-way tie for first) is probably the last time I will be front.

Annual NCAA Bracket Challenge

Note: This post sticky through 3/16.  Look below for newest posts.

We had a blast with it last year, so back by popular demand is the annual Coyote Blog
NCAA Bracket Challenge
.  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. 

Last year we had over fifty entries, and we expect more this year.  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/Coyote and sign up, then enter your bracket.

Scoring is as follows:

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!

Bracket entry appears to be open.  Online bracket entry closes Thursday, March 15th at 11:30am EDT.  Be sure to get your brackets in early.

Update: I have managed a lot of bracket pools over the years, with a lot of tools.  I would not hesitate to recommend Pickhoops.com.  Least intrusive, cheap, good tools, easy to use.

Congratulations to Gene Wright!

Congratulations to Gene Wright, who won the first annual Coyote Blog NCAA bracket contest.  Gene only had one of the final four picked (UCLA) but did so well in the opening rounds he had the contest locked up even before last weekend.  Second place was Michael Gunter and third was Bob Houk.  Interestingly, no one out of 34 contestants had Florida in the finals or winning it all.  By the way, yours truly limped in at 24th, though my son helped uphold the family honor at 10th.  If you were not in the pool, you can still click here and enter email "coyote -at- coyoteblog -dot- com" and password "coyote" to see all the results.

By the way, I highly recommend the www.pickhoops.com site for your brackets.  It costs $9 to set up, but it has no ads, the registration is MUCH less intrusive for your players than free sites like Yahoo, they have great analysis options, and they are much faster at posting results.