Friday, February 19, 2010

Kiffin to USC: Cover Band? 

On CollegeFootball Talk/NBC Sports, Keith Arnold makes a funny observation:
If the goal of hiring a Carroll disciple was the goal, then the search party found what they wanted. But make no mistake, a Beatles cover band isn't the Beatles.
Maybe in college ball, at an upper tier college program like USC, it is. The Kiffin hire screams "let's keep-the-system-going" as Arnold's Beatles allusion highlights. If he can recruit and stay off probation (big ifs), he will be successful.

Performance outcomes in sports reflect a combination of player recruitment/attainment, systems ("technology"), and managerial customizing of these inputs -- adjustments (game-to-game, season-to-season, player-to-player). My working idea is that players always matter but the relative importance of the other two factors differs between college and pro with system being relatively more important for college programs. This is my explanation for why coaches making the college-pro switch often struggle regardless of the direction of the move. Many of them try to impose their managerial template from the other level.

Steven Spurrier's success at Florida hinged on a system. He recruited good players, coached them (especially QBs) up for his system, and won big. That recipe didn't work so well with the Redskins. Player abilities are too close. Other coaches are customizing their players/strategies too much. Bill Belichik's success in New England reflects a high degree of customization across players, games, and seasons, not merely some attachment to a particular offensive or defensive strategy. Of course, all of this is conjecture and a big simplification, but with some creativity, conjecture that could be put to a test.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

No Country for Old Men: The Bowden Saga 

Due to travels, I missed writing about the Bobby Bowden affair during the height of the storm. The dismay among FSU fans is strong. In an Orlando Sentinel blog poll, 42% thought it time for Bowden to go -- although a minority and not necessarily a good indicator of the precise number of such fans, it is still a fairly strong signal of the uneasiness with the situation.

The topic of age and coaching performance fits into the realm of an article by my former colleague, Tom Wisley and myself, on Is There a Managerial Life Cycle?. Using NFL data from 1920-2004, we found strong evidence of improvements with age and then a gradual decline in performance that mimics (with a 10 year lag) the decline seen in athletic performance as found by Ray Fair. Skip and his coauthor, Tom Goodwin, find similar effects in academic research. In Chapter 8 of From the Ballfield to the Boardroom, I find similar results look specifically at long-tenured coaches.

For NFL coaches, by their mid 60s, the gains of the earlier years are completely offset by the decline. Coaches who stay on beyond this point perform, as a group, very poorly relative to earlier years. Of course, these are averages -- any given individual coach may perform considerably better or worse than the averages. The effect may be less at the college level because of less demanding strategic abilities or greater because of the need to recruit players.

I applied these methods to the careers of the leading octogenarians in college coaching, Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden, while also taking account of their switch from independents to conference members. For Bowden, predicted performance began declining by age 62. By his early 70s, this decline put him below his predicted performance at the outset of his FSU years. Now the model predicts his performance to fall below 50 percent wins. For Paterno, the evidence is mixed. Using all Penn State years, there is no discernible age effect. Although, if the sample were truncated in 2004, there is a strong age effect detectable. Somehow, PSU has overcome the usual course of performance with an aging coach.

The turmoil created by the political economy of these kinds of situations is readily apparent in the current Bowden saga. How do you unload a legendary coach? You either appear as hearltess winning-only fools, played up by the media, or you let your program slide, maybe irreparably into mediocrity. Jerry Jones barely survived his first couple of years in Dallas after firing legendary Tom Landry.

In the era without mandatory age requirements, such a situation was bound to crop up. Maybe, mandatory age retirements were an institutionalized means of avoiding such prickly situations. Such forced retirements are a blunt tool, lumping workers with diverse skills together, but they avoid the unseemly task of asking someone who has been a productive worker but is in obvious productivity decline to step aside. (Edward Lazear offered an alternative to this kind of productivity based answer for mandatory retirements back in a 1979 article).

With mandatory retirements now largely obsolete and illegal, another mechanism to deal with the likely productivity decline is to set up contracts well in advance where a retirement age is agreed upon. If FSU had in Bowden's mid-60s agreed that he would retire by 75, and they could have avoided this "prisoner's dilemma" that they now face and that was inevitable if Bowden's performance declined but he wanted to stay on anyway.

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Winless Washington Seeks $150 Million 

Husky stadium is old and renovation is in the cards. But $300 million is a load of money to spend, especially for a winless, directionless program. So the UW is asking for $150m in "tourist tax" funding from the state. Perhaps the basketball team's first outright Pac 10 Championship casts a warm glow over the proposal?

In the Huskies' favor -- at least from the perspective of getting legislation passed -- they are proposing an extension of a tax that is set to expire in 2014, and that most locals don't pay. The tax is on rental cars and hotel rooms, and is directed towards paying off the public debt incurred in building Seattle's pro baseball and football stadiums.

But the loss of the Sonics to Oklahoma over the issue of funding for a new Arena suggests that Washington voters have had their fill of financing sports palaces, at least for a while. With the state of Washington facing a $6 billion deficit, appetite for this tax-financed expenditure must surely be limited, especially among that chunk of the state that call themselves Cougars.

An economic impact analysis of Husky Sports is here. UW's pitch for the subsidy is here. The university notes that "Most of the public funding we are requesting would come from taxes paid by tourists visiting King County, so very little of the burden would fall on Washington state residents. Also, we believe some taxpayer investment in Husky Stadium is important for helping it continue to serve as an asset for the general public, not just the UW." But as the impact study notes, 74% of attendance at Husky sporting events is local. Hence, this is a simple cost-shifting move of the traditional pork-barrel variety. As a Husky myself, this is really kind of shameful.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Bowl "Location" & Congestion 

Skip's college bowl post brought to mind my wife's puzzlement over why big college bowls are so spread out after New Year's Day. Maybe her question expresses more her discontent with my extended watching than with the bowl ratings, but I laid a little econ theory and bowl history on her nonetheless. In short, "location" theory and a "tragedy of the commons" problem go along way toward an explanation.

At one time, the big four bowls (Rose, Sugar, Orange, and Cotton) held the marquee NYD spots. This semi-collusive, oligopoly structure involved only small competitive forces such as the Sugar's experimentations with NY Eve and different NYD time slots. In 1981, the Fiesta bowl busted up the stability, switching to NYD. Basic "location theory" predicts the Fiesta's decision -- if the NYD bowls sit right in the middle of a big pool of consumers, then move right up next to them (the Burger King - McDonald's outcome).

Eventually, the Citrus Bowl (now Capital One) figured out this logic, then others followed. The prime real estate became congested -- the "commons" problem" -- leading the most prominent bowls (except the Rose) to explore post-NYD dates. As in many "commons" situations, the final result can look perverse. Now, the old prime real estate on the day that many football fans devoted (or devoted) to watching bowl games has turned into the outlet mall. With the exception of the Rose Bowl, all four of the other games involved at least one team with at least four losses. In the old days, I watched football from 11 AM to 10 PM on NYD. This year, I probably saw 30 minutes, opting to attend a basketball game instead. I watched quite a bit of the Fiesta Bowl because and quite a bit of Championship game, but my overall number of hours watching is considerably less than when NYD reigned supreme.

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Bowl game attendance 

USAToday reports that bowl attendance was down just 1% this season, with TV ratings about the same (ESPN) or better (Fox, up 7%). A little home cookin', such as UNC vs. West Virginia in Charlotte, Florida State in Orlando, and Cal in San Francisco, probably helped. The data for the individual games are listed at MSNBC. Poring over those numbers and reflecting on the largely empty upper deck in games such as the Gator Bowl makes me wonder just how these numbers are constructed.


Friday, January 09, 2009

Notes on the End of Bowl Season 

The Finale: Its been a messy way to name a champion, but no team deserves it more than Florida. The BCS Championship produced a very good game last night between two fine teams, with the result in doubt until Florida's final touchdown. The game was marred by king-of-the-hill smash and smack antics from both sides (I also give the edge to Florida on this score card, although the penalties probably invert that impression in typical ACC-ref fashion), and the exposure of Tim Tebow as a saint of the ugly variety. Nothing to see there, move along ladies and gentlemen.

Constrained Bloviation: In "Rules for next year's BCS critics", Steve Lopresti makes the case that if you don't like the BCS system, that's fine, but unless you have a workable solution, well, stfu. An excellent and entertaining exposure of the hypocrisy, not of the BCS, but of the critics, from coaches to congressmen to us all.

The Numbers: The AJC reports cost and revenue figures for the Peach Chick-fil-A Bowl, one of the most successful of the non-BCS bowl games. The figures are taken from forms filed with the IRS. These are one year old, from an economy long gone, but still provide useful food for thought (and student papers).

The Numbers, part II: Western Washington's Division II program was successfully rebuilding, and made it to a bowl game this season.*** Sadly, the program is no more. My guess is that there will be a small wave of these as cash-strapped schools deal with the recession.

***Have the critics taken a swing at these lower level bowls?. How many Division II Bowl games are there anyway?


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Race and coaching 

At Slate, Richard Thompson Ford presents a mostly balanced inquiry into race and coaching in college football. But towards the end, Ford serves up the "red meat":
Even if it's not proof of racial discrimination, the disparity between the percentage of black athletes and of black coaches is relevant, at least symbolically. A sport that's dominated by white coaches and black athletes—white overseers giving orders to young black bucks who do the physical work—can bear an uncomfortable resemblance to a plantation. (And, fair or not, this resemblance is just a tiny bit greater when the overseers give their orders with Southern accents and the school is located in the former Confederacy—sorry, Auburn.) Add to that what many consider to be the exploitation of so-called "student athletes," most of whom won't make the pros and don't receive a decent education because they need to spend most of their time practicing or playing ball. To the critics, we have an overwhelmingly white university administration and booster base that are happy to benefit from these black kids' efforts in their athletic primes but won't support even the best of them as coaches later in their careers. To be sure, none of this proves that Turner Gill was turned down by Auburn because of his race. But it does suggest that college football is in need of reform that goes much deeper than getting rid of the Bowl Championship Series.
I have a couple of quick observations to make. First, the proportions are way out of whack here. Given the disparity -- 5% black coaches, predominantly black players -- something important is going on, and it is worth making an attempt to understand it.

The basic claim of Ford and others is that "soft discrimination," stemming from the onerous task of pumping rich white boosters for money, is unique to college football, and that black coaches have the wrong skin color to do this effectively. That is, boosters are bigoted. The proportions of black coaches in major college basketball (28.5%) and in the NFL (pushing 25%), where fund-raising is not in the job description, are viewed as evidence in favor of this claim. But if boosters are the problem, and boosters are unique to major college football, then the proportion of black coaches should be significantly higher in sports such as track and field and in Division II and III football. If the proportion of black coaches in these sports were on the order of 25%, that would be strong evidence in favor of the booster bigotry hypothesis.

I also have some contrarian points to make. First, Auburn's hiring of Chizik might be stupid, but in hiring a white guy they didn't do anything different than Clemson, Syracuse, and Tennessee in not hiring Turner Gill. Auburn is getting a bit of a bum rap on the race issue (Brian has already chimed in on the stupid angle). Second, Gill's record at Buffalo can be compared with Brady Hoke's (a white guy) at Ball State. Both coaches turned around losing programs. Gill's 8-5 Buffalo team upset Hoke's 12-1 Ball State squad in the MAC Championship game, but the better year overall clearly belonged to Ball State. So one might ask, for what jobs was Brady Hoke considered? I don't know the list, but in the end he took the job at San Diego State, which is not remotely close to the stature of the Auburn job. Turner Gill may indeed be destined to be a big time major college football coach. But it will help his cause to have more than one winning season on his record when he takes the next step.

Finally, consider the failure rate among black coaches in college. With a head coach count on the order of 5 or 6, the passing of Croom at Mississippi State, Prince at Kansas State, and Willingham at Washington has to give an AD pause. If Gill wins the MAC next year and ends up at a Big Ten school, Auburn will take another round of whipping in the media. But it just makes sense to me that Gill, or any other coach, put more on his resume before stepping into the recruiting and on-the-field wars of major college football. The process of integration in college football coaches has begun, but it will take a good while longer to play out.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Bowl Schwag 

The NCAA permits up to $350 in gifts from their schools and $500 from bowl management.

Typically the school gives them shoes and athletic gear, but bowl gifts can be off the charts -- video recorders, game gear, jewelry. At the BCS bowls, players will be able to pick from a menu of Sony electronics during a visit to a gift suite.

Besides the Oakley Split Thumps MP3 sunglasses from the Gator Bowl, [Clemson's] players this year will receive a Bulova watch, Jostens ring, two pieces of Mercury luggage and a fitted cap.
More relevant to some of you is the accounting of the revenue distribution for the bowl games from the ACC to its member teams. Worth a look.

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Monday, December 08, 2008

Southern Football 

I apologize for this posting - it is really a comment on the earlier post by Brian about the Wall Street Journal article explaining the rise to dominance of southern (read SEC) football. The comment was going to be truncated because it was too long, so I decided to make it a blog.

I think there is something to the argument made in the WSJ article, but the case is way overstated.

First, the focus in the article is on the success of the SEC over the last decade or so. Southern football extends outside the SEC and successful programs on the national stage, other than Alabama, also extend back in time. There is no doubt that Alabama is arguably the most prominent to have long sustained success. However, outside the SEC, Clemson was pretty good, both North and South Carolina (when it was in the ACC and after moving to the SEC) have had success, and Miami and Florida State have pretty rich traditions of success on the national stage. And, as commentators on the WSJ website note, Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma are traditionally considered southern schools and they also have traditions of success dating back decades. SMU also was quite a powerhouse until it got the death penalty for violating the cartel rules Brian mentioned in "Indiana through the looking glass".

Toward the end, the article turns to the cultural significance of college football in the south. Not to put too fine a point on it, but until the late 1960s/ early 1970s, when the Saints, Falcons, and Dolphins came into existence, there were no professional football teams in the south outside of Texas. The St. Louis Cardinals were the most "southern" of the professional franchises. Consequently, football fans in the south became avid college fans even if they had never attended the schools. Combine that with the fact that most southern states had only one or two "big time" programs and it makes sense that fans would rally around the University of Alabama, or the University of Georgia, etc. as the focus of their football allegiance. That translates into an incredible degree of financial support from boosters so that official coach salaries are often relatively small portions of their compensation. Contrast that with the state I grew up in, New York. There were three professional football teams and, to my knowledge, only one division one university team, certainly only one of any note, Syracuse University, a private institution. (For the record, I grew up a fan of the Johnny Unitas-led Baltimore Colts despite living 50 miles from Buffalo.) I suspect the typical New Yorker had, and continues to have, far more interest in one of the state's three pro football teams than in any collegiate team in the state. It is unlikely that any of New York state's public universities has enough booster support to offer a coach a million dollars on top of his university salary. I don't have the figures, but I am confident no college or university coach at a New York state college or university makes more than the governor. (Jim Boeheim, men's basketball coach at Syracuse, is the one coach likely to be that well compensated.)

If the article is correct, the changes that have wrought the SEC dominance are the seeds of SEC decline. More population and greater wealth will foster the development of more schools with aspirations to be "big time". As that happens, it will be more difficult for the schools to get the best recruits and they will no longer have overwhelming superiority in talent. Indeed, I have already heard discussions linking the decline of Miami and Florida State to the competition for recruits from two newly successful programs, at USF and UCF.

The bottom line to me is that the SEC is riding a wave of success fueled in some small part by the economic growth and demographic changes of the past few decades, but this likely will wane and in a few years we'll be seeing articles titled "What Has Happened to SEC Football?"

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

ESPN vs. FOX Over BCS TV Rights 

What factors led cable giant ESPN to outbid FOX for the television rights to the post-season BCS games? In a word, they have different revenue streams; two-part pricing if you will. Richard Sandomir investigates:
ESPN cannot ignore the deep recession’s impact on advertising. But its subscriber revenue gives it an extraordinary cushion. ESPN charges cable and satellite operators an average of $3.65 a month per subscriber, the most in television, according to SNL Kagan, a research organization. Multiply that by 98 million subscribers, over 12 months a year, and ESPN’s financial armor adds up to $4.3 billion.

...Despite ESPN’s billions in subscriber fees, Skipper said that each deal must stand on its own. “It isn’t sitting in a pile in a drawer where I can reach in and use it,” he said.
Perhaps this is a sign of the "post-consumer economy." ;) If sports media is weaned off advertising revenue in the long run, would that not be a very good thing for those who enjoy the games?

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Coaching buyouts 

Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer received a contract extension last summer and is out of his job before all of the leaves have turned. Cost to Tennessee: $6 million.

Clemson's Tommy Bowden got an extension last December after flirting with Arkansas and was out of his job before Halloween. Cost to Clemson: $3.5 million.

Auburn's Tommy Tuberville agreed to an extension last November after his name was mentioned with the Texas A&M and Arkansas openings. Cost to Auburn, if it makes a change: $6 million.

Cases can be made for or against removing these coaches. When losing persists to the point that it divides a fan base - or even worse, making them apathetic - universities are obligated to consider pulling the plug.

What's staggering is how quickly they're pulling the plug after the group hug.

... Athletics directors used to speak publicly to show support in difficult times. But words soon turned into dreaded votes of confidence.

So contract extensions and automatic rollovers became the next tools to show recruits their coach would stick around. It was quickly understood that extensions are never worth the paper they're written on.

Then came buyouts. Coaches initially had the upper hand, getting paid handsomely if they were fired and owing nothing if they left. Athletics directors wised up and made buyouts a two-way street, but at the cost of skyrocketing buyout prices both ways.

The reality is buyouts don't work to keep a coach at a school if he really wants to leave. And they don't work to keep a school from firing a coach if it really wants him to leave.
That's from Jon Solomon. Jon argues that Athletic Directors need to "find the discipline and political courage" to make a better bargain with their coaches. I think they buyouts are a form of deferred compensation, in part, and reflect long run marginal products. Bowden, Fulmer, and Tuberville all coached at their schools for a decade or more and each has had a significant measure of success. Not on the field in Clemson's case, but the program has never been as well stocked with talent and facilities, and Bowden is directly responsible for that. Bowden also had an explicit outside option -- the Arkansas job -- when his buyout was negotiated, and both Fulmer and Tuberville have significant earning potential elsewhere. Fulmer is reportedly interested in the Clemson opening, although the behavior of his players in recent years will be a liability with Clemson's administration.

The bottom line is that buyouts are a form of compensation that is market driven. I don't think they exist because Athletic Directors lack courage. The one policy change that would reduce their size would be to pay the players themselves, rather than the player-proxies that prowl the sidelines. But that ain't gonna happen folks.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Bowden Buyout 

In the comments, J. A. requested a post on coaching buyouts in the wake of Tommy Bowden's departure at Clemson.** The fundamental point is that buyouts are not the key economic issue. They key issue is that coaches salaries, particularly in Tommy Bowden's case, are proxies for player talent. Bowden was paid $1.8 million per year in part because of his ability to stock the Tiger dressing room with loads of (largely uncompensated) talent.

The $3.5 million buyout is being paid out of a "rainy day" fund that has been built up specifically for this, or some similar purpose. The contract states that it will be paid out over six years, or about $600,000 per year. This is the right context: buyouts are a form of insurance in a high stakes game; tragedy triggers the "lump sum" buyout, but it is effectively an annual cost, part of the cost of doing business in major college football. Moreover, $600,000 is not a ton of money in today's college football world. And in the context of Bowden's salary and ten year's of coaching at Clemson, it's a decent reward for a pretty good job. Further, if Tommy takes another FBS job, I'd bet those payments will cease.

I'm not sure if he needs another job though, in the psychological sense, as the pressure clearly showed in his demeanor in recent years. Also, despite the severance in employment, his family has a good bit of orange blood in it now, as his two kids are Clemson alumni. He could stay put and be, as he put it on Monday, Clemson's #1 fan. One thing that is poorly understood is that Clemson fans deeply appreciate the work he has done to reconstruct the program, but the game day results over ten years were not good enough. Tommy was "building a Ferrari" but always had a missing part or two, and when the car crashed (repeatedly) it looked ugly.

The hullabaloo over Bowden's buyout, and indeed over mid-season departures is overdone. I find it hugely ironic that pundits who piled on the media pressure are now decrying the result. Pat Forde would be exhibit #1. Ironically, Tommy's father and brother, who one might expect to be bitter, are not. Indeed, Terry's column earlier this week hit the nail on the head.

**Disclaimer: this poster is employed by Clemson University and is a season ticket older. He expects a fired up team on Saturday against Georgia Tech. Go Tigers!

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

College football and academic reputation 

The chancellor's decision at UNC Charlotte to compete on the college football field has generated some local controversy. Is the expense and institutional effort involved in starting up a football program consistent with fulfilling the educational mission of the institution? Here are two views from North Carolina's Pope Center for Higher Education. Both are worth reading in their entirety.

First, Jane Shaw writes a "qualified defense" of football at UNCC:
Schools that have been around for many years (especially the Ivies, which are centuries old) are well ahead in the reputation game. Because of the difficulty of measuring quality and because reputations are entrenched by time, those reputations are extremely durable, even if they are based on inaccurate information. Upstarts are always trying to catch up.

To break into the circle of eminent institutions, a school must triumph in a mysterious competition that involves the opinions of peers (who funnel their views into the U.S. News rankings), national publicity, and evidence of having money (whether from an endowment or state coffers).

So, will a football team contribute to the process of building UNC-Charlotte’s reputation, bringing it up from the also-ran level where it appears to be now? Given enough time—and [Chancellor] Dubois is planning for the next 25 years, not the next five—Dubois bets that it will.

In fact, Dubois not only argues that it will improve UNC-Charlotte’s reputation, he specifically stated that a football team will boost the academic reputation of UNC-Charlotte.

“Within North Carolina, does anyone doubt that the excellent institutional and academic reputations enjoyed by Chapel Hill, N.C. State, Wake Forest, and Duke have been strengthened by the prestige of their athletic programs?” he asked. He even cited research by two Charlotte faculty members confirming that a strong football program provides “measurable benefits to the academic reputation of a participating university.”

Odd as this seems, it is not entirely unrealistic. As long as we don’t know what actual education is going on (and even research is difficult to evaluate), then academic reputation depends on this smoke-and-mirrors competition that could be influenced by almost anything.
Here's the view of George Leef:
All the substance of cotton candy

Instead of trying to feed the sparrows of academic reputation through the horses of intercollegiate football, why not spend resources on programs that have a direct bearing on teaching and scholarship? With but a small fraction of what it would cost to compete in football, the school could establish several academic centers such as the James Madison Program and the Alexander Hamilton Institute. Initiatives like that would enhance the atmosphere of scholarship and debate at UNCC. That would do much more do make people think positively about the school as an educational institution than would a costly foray into entertainment.
My take is that if they didn't play football, colleges would be competing for reputation through orchestras, operas, etc., and the market void would be filled by minor league teams. I don't much like opera, and prefer college sports to the minor league form in the U.S., where even AA baseball teams threaten to pack up and leave town in search of a stadium subsidy.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Football in Dixie 

After my futile attempt to secure tickets to the USC-Ohio State game (Ticketless Trojan), a friend passed along a copy of Dixieland Delight: A Football Season on the Road in the Southeastern Conference. It's not exactly Grisham or Faulkner but provides insightful and humorous observations ranging from the pre-game culture and rituals to comments on "Bama Bangs" (male adolescent hair styles of AL fans). On funny excerpt on the relative confidence-insecurities of Georgia fans in the run-up to the 2006 Tennessee game in Athens :
"... as we cross the campus a Georgia fan approaches me and syas, "I just want to go ahead and congratulate you on kicking our ass." Then he shakes my hand. The Georgia Bulldogs are the defending SEC Champions, yet, based on their fans, you'd think that they were Vanderbilt about to kick off against the Chicago Bears."
DD's author, Clay Travis, relates ticket purchasing experiences on gameday on each campus. In all cases, tickets were available. In seven of the eleven cases with data (AL-AU seemingly not provided), he secured tickets at or below face value (UK-GA, Ole Miss-MSU, VU-SC, AR-AL, MSU-AU, TN-Cal, LSU-UK) and one slightly above (AU-LSU). The games substantially above face value include GA-TN, SC-TN, FL-SC. The ease of tickets at quality games (AR-AL) or rivalry games (Miss-MSU) likely owes itself to the size of the stadiums relative to the fan population base. Highest price (GA-TN at $100/ticket) involves high quality teams with relatively close proximity, relatively close to the South's largest metro area. Of course, the availability of tickets leads back to my question of the lack of them at the Trojan game. (Additional insights on ticket markets appears in the Boston Magazine, quoting one of the sports econ crowd, Craig Depken.)

DD also draws out socio-economic and cultural contrasts to my USC adventure. Twenty- and thirty-somethings dominate the USC fan base. I would estimate fewer than 10% were older than me (47) with hardly any below college age. In contrast, from both my experiences and Travis' book, the SEC demographics include a much wider dispersal of ages both on the low and high ends. Why such a difference? The SEC v. USC games reflect differences that others have noted about places such as Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field versus Wrigley Field (affluent 20s and 30s). No doubt, the alumni base from a relatively small private institution differs from that of large, public institutions in terms of affluence, and this may but why the age differences?

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Monday, September 29, 2008

The BCS and bowl matchups 

Al Roth's foray into sports economics, "Unraveling Yields Inefficient Matchings: Evidence from Post-Season College Football Bowls" is pretty interesting (pdf). Roth is perhaps the foremost economist interested in the process of match-making, and college bowl games provide an interesting set of matchups to study.

While every fan with a laptop or a mike piles on the BCS system of matching teams for every conceivable sin, Roth and his co-authors do what economists are paid to do: examine the data in light of a) relevant theory and b) a potentially important policy change: the implementation of the BCS system in 1992. Roth et al. find that the matchups improved. Roth is more interested in the efficiency of kidney exchanges, doctor-hospital matches etc., but in the bowl system study, he and his colleagues provide "as far as we know, the first direct evidence and measurement of the inefficiency due to early transaction times in a naturally occurring market."

That's a good example of using the availability of sports data to attack an economic question that might be less tractable elsewhere. But the results are also relevant to the debate over how the bowl system should be structured. Here is Roth's interview on the topic at Working Knowledge, a daily newsletter from the Harvard Business School. Roth's answer to the opening question suggests he has no dog in the BCS fight.
Q: "What led you to research football teams? Are you a sports fan?"

A: "I'm a matching fan."
While Roth agrees with most commentators (presumably) that "the current organization of bowl games leaves much to be desired" his anecdotes and analysis are informative and cut to the heart of the problem:
Q: What particular changes do you see in the design of matching?

A: For football bowls, the Bowl Championship Series helps to delay bowl matchups until the completion of all the games in the regular season, so that the top teams can more often be matched with each other in a championship game.
We all have our gripes with the BCS, but when it comes to matchups, it really is as simple as that.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

One reason to root for Kansas 

QB Todd Reesing:
There is no playbook in Todd Reesing’s backpack, only business textbooks and three back copies of his favorite read: The Economist, the weekly newsmagazine that he says gives him a concise overview of what is going on in the world. He has a broad vision for a numbers guy.

Last year as a sophomore quarterback, Reesing saw the football field well enough to throw for 3,486 yards and 33 touchdowns and lead the Jayhawks to a 12-1 season and a victory in the Orange Bowl over Virginia Tech. When he faces South Florida on Friday in a battle of undefeated and ranked teams, Reesing will do so as the nation’s top-rated passer, completing 76.7 percent of his passes and throwing for six touchdowns.

He is perhaps more dazzling in the classroom. Reesing earned first-team academic all-Big 12 honors last year as a dual major in economics and finance, and he is on an accelerated track to graduate next fall. This week, for example, he was just as consumed with calculating marketing and revenue projections for an imaginary hand lotion — part of an independent study course — as he was preparing for the No. 19-ranked Bulls.
Here's the rest of an interesting story, from Joe Drape in the NY Times.


Monday, September 08, 2008

The College Football Encyclopedia 

I'd like to thank the folks at Skyhorse Publishing for sending me a copy of The USA Today College Football Encyclopedia. With a picture of last season's BCS Title Game between LSU and Ohio State on the cover, you know it is up to date, and it has 1353 pages of data, game summaries, award winners, etc. etc., dating back to 1953. The development of each season is described, along with the exploits of the outstanding players and coaches.

I get lots of utility from reading monster sports encyclopedias, even in the internet era. The book is marked down from $25 to $15 at Amazon, which makes it a steal for anyone who likes to review sports data in unplugged fashion.


Friday, August 22, 2008

The Price of Success in Sports 

Mizzou heads into the upcoming football season with national championship aspirations. They return 10 of 11 starters on defense, a Heisman finalist at QB, a prolific tight end, and an All-American at wide receiver. A consensus top-10 team doesn't come cheap for fans, who have a higher demand for all things Tiger...

Not just to Babcock, MU’s senior associate athletic director in charge of external operations. Changes to the way reserved parking spaces have been allocated for the upcoming football season - the very thing Babcock was discussing - have led hundreds of Tiger Scholarship Fund donors to contact the athletic department this week looking for an explanation.

What has so many people riled up is that, for the first time, Missouri is charging donors a $100 fee on top of their donation and season-ticket costs for a parking space in any of its reserved lots. In the past, those spaces had always been complimentary.

Damned if Mizzou does. Damned if Mizzou doesn't. Babcock could have said something like "We've got unprecedented demand for season tickets, parking spaces, single game tickets, etc. and we've got to divvy up a relatively scarce amount of resources. We could have used other ways to allocate valuable resources (first come-first serve for parking, for example, which means some people who would come from, say, St. Louis might not be able to find a parking space after they've made the 2-hour jaunt to Columbia). Or we could have given them to our friends and political contacts. That way of allocating resources will also upset some people. We thought that the most efficient way was to charge higher prices so that those with the highest willingness to pay get first crack through us.

"We realize that we'll never be able to make everyone happy. But at least the higher prices allow us to generate more revenue which we can use to invest in our athletic programs."

Cross posted at Market Power

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

"The Bob Stoops Economy" 

Exhibit 1 in "Why College Football Coaches are Paid so Much Money." This is the fifth story in a ten part, all you can eat, series on Stoops at the Oklahoman.

If you are interested in what the chairman of the board directors of the NCAA has to say about NCAA policy & potential reform, check out this Q&A from The State's Paul Strelow. As Jim Barker is my boss as president of Clemson University, I'd be a fool to throw smack at him in a blog, but trust me, he's a serious man who takes bold initiatives and knows how to get things done. Particularly notable is his comment on "the price of admission" to Division I athletics and academic accountability.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Tree hugging in Berkeley 

I recall the Cal-Tennessee football game last year, a tasty inter-sectional contest, with a bit of NoCal spice thrown in: tree sitters, among them someone named "Running Wolf". The tree sitters, their bodies and camping equipment visible above the top of the stadium, were protesting Cal's plans to build a training center in "Oak Grove." The issue is back in the news:

Even after more than 50 emotionally wrought people begged and pleaded with the City Council to appeal a judge's recent ruling that will allow UC Berkeley to start building its sports training center, the council refused to move forward with such a motion.

"We deadlocked," Mayor Tom Bates said after the closed-session meeting. "We did not have (the needed) five votes to file an appeal."

The city of Berkeley, the Panoramic Hill Association and the California Oaks Foundation sued UC Berkeley in December 2006 to stop it from building its $140 million sports training center, where 44 trees are planted. People have been living in the trees since then, and four tree-sitters remain.

Judge Barbara Miller ruled in Cal's favor this week, lifting a stop-work order that has been in place for 18 months. That means on Tuesday the order will be lifted unless the appeals court grants a continuation of the injunction. When the injunction is lifted, Cal can legally remove the trees and start construction.

The issue is coming to a head. I imagine that Cal would like to have it sorted prior to football season. Here's more:
What will happen Tuesday if an appeals court does not grant a continuation to the injunction is not known. Cal could go in and extract the four remaining tree-sitters and take chain saws to the trees. Until then, they will allow one bag of food and water to go up daily. UC police cut off food supplies from ground supporters last month and started sending up a 2,400-calorie diet of energy bars. Late Wednesday, UC Police agreed to allow ground supporters to send up one bag of food daily as long as tree-sitters abide by certain conditions, including sending down their waste daily.


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Success in Year t, Greater Demand in Year t+1 

Two things are well-known among sports economists.

  1. Ticket prices do not drive team performance. In other words, when a team says it must raise ticket prices to become/stay competitive, you should detect a whiff of stinky sulfur.
  2. When a team performs well in one year, especially when the performance is unexpected, it faces a higher demand curve the following year, all else equal. This results in higher ticket prices and in the following year.

The Missouri and Kansas football programs provide a nice anecdote.

In sports, winning sells, especially the year after.

When a team posts a better-than-expected season, the financial rewards through ticket sales typically follow in the next calendar year.

So it should be at Missouri and Kansas, both on a record season-ticket sales pace with football programs coming off 12-victory seasons and high-profile bowl triumphs.

With that kind of wind in the sails, the schools haven’t needed to launch major ticket-selling campaigns.

...In 2007, KU set an attendance record, averaging 46,784 for seven games at Memorial Stadium. That happened with a record 31,000 season tickets sold.

The Jayhawks expect to top those marks this year, even with an increase from $275 to $300 for a full-priced season ticket. Priority seating goes to donors of the Williams Educational Fund, and that’s where associate athletic director Jim Marchiony said the school is seeing growth.

...Last season, the Tigers averaged 60,232 and sold about 34,000 season tickets. Earlier this month, MU had renewed 90 percent of its season tickets.

“That’s a figure we’re used to seeing in August,” Grinch said.

Missouri also had 3,500 new season-ticket accounts. When it’s added up by the Sept. 6 home opener, the Tigers should easily surpass the season-ticket record of 34,800 set in 2004.

Cross-posted at Market Power

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Starting the College Football Career Early 

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch notes that many college football freshmen are enrolling in college before they
have graduated from high school

Graham Pocic will graduate from high school in three months, so you would expect him to be at home in Lemont, Ill., enjoying his final semester with a light academic load and leisurely workouts with friends. Maybe even preparing for the prom.

Instead, the 17-year-old chose a path that an increasing number of college football recruits have pursued in recent years.

Having met graduation requirements, Pocic enrolled for the spring semester at Illinois to get a jump on his academic and football careers. He is one of seven players who signed this month to enroll early at Illinois.

..."It has to be the right guy who's good academically and who's fairly mature," recruiting coordinator Reggie Mitchell said. "The good thing for us is we get them for spring practice. The good thing for them is they've got 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 years on scholarship."

USA Today, which has tracked the number of freshmen who enroll early in recent years, reported that 69 football recruits entered college a semester before their high school graduation in 2007. That was nearly a 100 percent increase over 2004.

I'll take Mitchell's word that they actually get 4.5-5.5 years on scholarship per-se, but they still only get 4 - 5 seasons to play football. The difference is that they can come in and begin working their butts off and learning the ropes in January rather than in August.


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

UGA Wants a Playoff 

The Georgia Bulldogs were the hottest team in college football at the end of the season this year, and will finish second in the AP poll behind LSU. Perhaps they could have done better in a playoff system. Certainly, the BCS process led to a series of weird match-ups in the bowls, with teams like Missouri, Southern Cal, and Georgia -- all strong teams with great resumes -- paired against relatively weak opponents. Things would have been much different in a playoff system, probably to Georgia's benefit. Which may explain this open letter from Georgia President Michael Adams to NCAA President Myles Brand:
In recent years ... I have become increasingly troubled about the commercial influence of how the college football season is played out, particularly with the post season bowls. The television networks ... have grown too powerful in deciding who plays and when they play, and indeed, whom they hire to coach. The BCS has become a beauty contest largely stage-managed by the networks....

Colleges need to regain ownership of their football teams.... reorienting the national football championship is an important step in managing a model that benefits students, institutions, and our constituents.
Adams is proposing an NCAA-managed 8-team tournament that begins with the New Years Day bowls, to be accompanied by a return to an 11 game season. Adams is the chair of the NCAA executive committee, so this proposal - and the money that will flow from it - carries some weight. Here is Adams' letter to Brand, and a similar statement of the issue.

Adams' take changes my view of this issue - (I'm an advocate of league championships as being the focal point rather than playoffs, but the reality is that we will have some form of playoff, so I've been baying at the moon...). Moreover, the salaries paid to the bowl directors -- $490,000 for the Outback Bowl!!! --- suggest that the colleges are leaving money on the table in a system which is fraught with conflicting interests. While history provides many episodes that make one skeptical of NCAA coordination, there is clearly scope for improvement on the current setup. Let the negotiations begin!

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

One More Econo-coach 

LSU's Les Miles is profiled by Kelly Whiteside in USAToday. He comes across as an aw shucks feel good type. That the story reveals Miles has an economics degree from Michigan merits the post. The story also provides some cannon fodder to mitigate the "Crazy Les" stereotype he inherited from his gamble at the end of the Auburn game.*** As the latter link illustrates, critics can trip over their own feet trying to take down a guy. Check it out and play "spot the contradiction"!

***Down by 3 1 point with 15 seconds left, he had his team attempt a pass into the end zone with the clock running, eschewing a 39 yard field goal opportunity to put the game into overtime win it on an all-or-nothing kick. They caught the pass with 1 second left (must I point out that it would have been equally good with 0 seconds left?), and won the game, rather than attempt a kick which would produce an X% & (1-X)% opportunity of winning or losing on one play. Miles got two bites at the cherry, and didn't need the second. You do the math. (Edited thanks to DB's correction on the score at the time Miles made his decision. See comments.)

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Monday, November 12, 2007

The Schematic Irish Notre Dame Potpurri 

Some notes on the team that takes the field with a "decided schematic advantage."

--The 1-9 Domers are sitting 103rd in the Sagarin ratings this week. This puts them just above 7-3 Hofstra, who are 16th among teams from the Championship Sub-division (1-AA). The Irish are thus a "playoff-caliber" team. Barely.

--The question on everyone's mind after Air Force did the business in South Bend on Saturday: "Would Notre Dame be an underdog at home next week vs. Duke?" The answer is no: ND is currently a 5 point favorite for this bottom-ten tussle. Although the doormats of the ACC would appear to be a walkover for anyone, Irish fans shouldn't get too comfortable: Duke gave Navy fits before losing on a last-second field goal.

--Notre Dame made a historic mistake when they hired Charlie Weis, for in doing so, they imported the dreaded chicken curse. A little-known and under-appreciated fact is that Weis was an assistant coach for the South Carolina Gamecocks in the late 1980s. His subsequent rise with the NFL's Patriots certainly created an identification problem.
Question: Who is great?
a) Belichick; b) Brady; c) Weis; d) all of the above; e) a&b only.
It also pushed the problem of Gamecockiness below the surface. But with Weis' return to the land of college football, the chicken curse emerged with a flourish. And in classic curse fashion, with two BCS Bowl appearances teasing the faithful, before the inevitable, horrifying crash. The curse is mighty busy these days, having finished the career of former ND coach Lou Holtz, with another work in progress. It's a powerful thing, I'm tellin' ya!

--Next question: What do former NFL coaches Bill Callahan (dead man walking at Nebraska), John Mackovic (4-7 at Texas), and Charlie Weis have in common? Other than losing spectacularly at powerhouse programs, they've had a pronounced tendency to bury their head in a play chart while pacing the sideline.

--Weis' response after the defeat by Air Force: to "do a deeper level of thinking than you've done in the past." Oh dear me. This team is truly in serious trouble. A little more Les Miles and a little less playbook is surely in order for the Schematic Irish.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Cardinal Baseball is a Subsitute for Mizzou Football in St. Louis 

Mizzou's game against the Fighting Illini that will be played in St. Louis this year is not the blockbuster ticket that some hoped for:

Matching the attendance numbers the Missouri-Illinois football game achieved in the 2002 and 2003 seasons is going to be difficult for the St. Louis Sports Commission.

Less than 50,000 tickets have been sold for the Sept. 1 game at the 66,000-seat Edward Jones Dome, which is off the pace of the 63,576 tickets that were sold in 2003 and the 61,876 in 2002.

"The upper 50 thousands would be a nice place to be this year," said Marc Schreiber, the commission's vice president of marketing and development. "The key for us is that this is sort of a long-term thing for us. We're not just looking at this year and what we do to say whether it's successful or not."

Still, the interest in the season opener is low considering that both schools are expected to be improved, and possibly bowl-caliber. That's in contrast to the 2002 season when neither team went to a bowl and the 2003 season when Mizzou went to the Independence Bowl. In 2003, despite both teams coming off 5-7 seasons and Illinois ultimately going 1-11, the series hit a high in attendance as far as games being played in St. Louis are concerned.

Jeff Gordon thinks fans are taking a wait and see approach to this game. I think there's something else going on. The game starts at 2:30 on Sept 1 and the Cards - a substitute product - play the Reds at 6:15 in St. Louis. With the Cards in the race for the divisional title and Rick Ankiel being the feel good story of the year that, at least for St. Louis, really needs one, that game will command much interest.

In 2002, the MU - IU game was played on Aug 31st. That evening the Cards played at the Cubs (the Cards swept them that weekend, those cads). Over 61,000 went to that game. In 2003 the Tigers played the Illini on August 30th. Over 63,000 fans went to that game. That night, the Cards played in Cincy.

So my guess is that Mizzou fans can blame the Cardinals for producing an intrguing substitute good that evening just down the road from the dome.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

More on Toeldo 

Proud partisans at the University are "stunned" that a point shaving scandal could happen on their campus. I was surprised too, but for different reasons. The idea that an operator could get $100k down on a Toledo game without the line adjusting or being taken off the board -- one of you betting hounds can check the data on that -- suggests to me that online sportsbooks may have added a lot of liquidity to the point spread market in recent years.

The other interesting news today is that the perpetrators are being chased down on the basis of a tip to the FBI by Las Vegas Sports Consultants. These are the people who make the initial lines for the Vegas sports books. One thing they do is pore over the betting action, seeing which teams are developing a "following." Or something slightly different in the case of point shaving. It is intriguing that Vegas now runs to the FBI rather than a kneecapping hoodlum to keep the market straight these days.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Point shaving at the University of Toledo? 

From the Detroit Free Press.
A running back for the University of Toledo Rockets has been charged with recruiting fellow athletes to shave points and fix games on behalf of a Macomb County gambler.

A criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit said the player, Harvey "Scooter" McDougle Jr., 22, a senior, recruited football and basketball players to participate in the scheme spearheaded by a Sterling Heights man identified only as "Gary."

Gary’s recruitment of players allegedly included inviting the athletes to gamble and dine at Greektown Casino in Detroit.

The complaint said one player was offered $10,000 to sit out a football game. Other players received cash, groceries, merchandise and other gifts, the complaint said.

McDougle told the FBI that he received a car, telephone and other things of value from Gary, but insisted that he never changed the way he played to affect the outcome of games.
Toledo? I didn't think the betting market was thick enough for crooks to fool with mid-level programs.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Black coaches 

A congressional hearing took place yesterday on the issue of black coaches in college football. Jesse Jackson, the NCAA's Myles Brand,Kansas State's AD, and others particpated. The tone of some remarks reported here was emotional, and various remedies from bribing schools to suing them were proposed. Here are the numbers:
Of the 119 Division I-A schools, only six have black head football coaches. There are even fewer in the lower divisions: five in Division I-AA, two in Division II and one in Division III. The figures exclude historically black colleges.

In addition, there are only 12 black athletic directors in Division I-A, and not a single major conference commissioner is black.

Of the six D1A schools, there are black coaches at Buffalo (Gill), Kansas State (Prince), Miami (Shannon), Mississippi State (Croom), UCLA (Dorrell), and at my alma mater, Washington (Willingham). UCLA has a history of incorporating black talent in a discriminating market that goes back to Jackie Robinson, who played football there before breaking the color barrier in major league baseball. Buffalo is a new program at which the allegedly discriminatory network of boosters is largely absent. This might contribute to their having a black athletic director as well. The economic theory of discrimination implies that non-discriminators will profit by employing talented people who the discriminators ignore. Buffalo and UCLA being members of this small club of six falls in line with the theory. But where are the other non-discriminators, and what is Mississippi State doing on the list? There may be a bit more to the story than what's being reported.

While the report suggests that the mood at the hearing was quite negative on this issue, I see things differently. Here just south of tobacco road, the roster of basketball coaches in the basketball-mad ACC was once all-white. Today, Clemson, FSU, Georgia Tech, Miami, NC State & UVa, along with northern outpost Boston College all have black head coaches. That's a majority of minorities, folks. Even the disaster at Maryland after the Bob Wade saga could not hold back the tide in this booster-heavy, but more importantly, highly competitive league.

A statistic I'd like to see is the number of black assistant head coaches and coordinators at D1A schools, relative to a decade ago. This is the wellspring of future coaching talent. If it is much better stocked with black talent than ten years ago, and I believe it is, the six current coaches are just the tip of the iceberg. If it can happen in tobacco road hooops, it can happen anywhere.

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