Sunday, June 14, 2015

The "Upshot" of Portraying Sports Success Incorrectly

TheUpshot is at it again (David Leonhardt, NYT, 6/4/15), tweeted numerous times since).

The object this time is "city success" at pro sports.  The definition:

Success = Championships won, as a percent of possible chances across all of a city's teams, over the last 50 years.

Seems straightforward enough--higher percentage, successful sports city; lowest percentage, unsuccessful sports city.  Only two problems.  First, the measure, itself, gives ambiguous results.  Second, the definition of success, championships only, doesn't look like it coincides with a fan definition of success reflected by their observed behavior.

First, the measure.  Suppose one city has teams that won recently in the 50-year span, while another city has teams with the same percentage, but enjoyed 50 years ago.  Yet another city has teams with the same percentage spread over the entire 50 years.  All of these are equally successful cities by the definition.  But fans do not think so; dated success is just that.  If a city has only one team and another city has two teams, but both cities have the same percentage, both cities are equally successful again.  So two teams, say, half as successful are equivalent to a a possible dynasty.  Finally, and this is just the way the ball bounces, completely equal success in a given league would have 20 teams winning twice and 10 teams once over 50 years.  10 cities are then losers even as the distribution is trying to reveal itself as completely equal over time.  Finally, lumping leagues together in a given city means that a championship is a championship is a championship... say, NHL fans view an NBA championship the same as they would a hockey championship.  But does a championship by any other name really smell as sweet?  Ambiguity abounds.

Moving on to the definition:  Why just championships? [Appearances in semi-finals are charted but not labeled by team and the rest of the article clearly only focuses on winning championships.]  Again, there isn't much room for many to be successful at the championship level.  Instead, let's ask fans for their definition of success since it is their definition that matters.  If Bob Costas is correct, it's a legitimate belief that the post-season is possible.  But there are other indicators of fan preferences as well--the tens of thousands of fans driving hundreds of thousands (NFL) or millions (MLB) in total attendance, even without a championship.   Let alone the TV audience.  I guess this "success" is just irrelevant.  After all, no championships, right?  The alternative, of course, is that the assessment of "success" based on championships alone simply misses the mark.

Really, Mr. Leonhardt just points out championship concentration in major league pro sports that is news only to newcomers.  And they would be better served if Mr. Leonhardt pointed them to all the work already out there on that topic.  But that just doesn't "sell papers".

Monday, June 8, 2015

"Giving Up Raises" = Reallocation from Coaches to Players

In a recently re-worked contract, MTSU's head football coach Rick Stockstill is "foregoing" raises ($100,000 per year, next 4 years) that were in his previous contract (Will Borthick, DNJ 6/4/15).

He and the AD at MTSU claim it was Coach Stockstill's idea. And it's to make sure the MTSU athletic department can catch the wave of offering full cost of attendance (FCOA) to football recruits.   And the coach hopes maybe some of the $400,000 can go toward facilities (unspecified, but presumably football).

The tone of the article is that this is a sacrifice on the part of Coach Stockstill, but the result also has another economic explanation tied to the reallocation away from coaching salaries (and AD salaries, facilities) due to gains by players.  The gains are both real, e.g., the Power 5 move toward FCOA, and more probabilistic, e.g., the pending decision in O'Bannon.

Now, just how would markets reallocate in the face of the Power 5 choice to move to FCOA, and at "Group of 5" departments like MTSU that are not in the Power 5 but choose (and I stress the word) to move to FCOA anyway?

Since all of the money is already being collected by very effective ADs, and taking as given that MTSU has already determined its optimal athletic department size, the answer is: Just what you see happening at MTSU. Whether Coach Stockstill sees the handwriting on the wall, or whether it would have happened a bit later at the AD's insistence, this is the expected outcome across all departments choosing FCOA.  Reallocation away from coaches toward players.

[Should O'Bannon go the players' way, the same thing will happen at departments that choose to pay up to the court's "lid" on image rights payments.  The decision under appeal did not require any department to do so, remember.  But those departments that do choose to pay for image rights will behave the same as MTSU's athletic department.]

I find it simply fabulous that it is happening at MTSU, a "Group of 5" member rather than a Power 5 member, and it is happening as many of us have predicted--with coach's pay, not cutting sports as predicted by doom and gloom forecasters at places like the Knight Commission.

And make no mistake.  If it were truly charity, Coach Stockstill could have taken the raise and given it to the athletic department as a gift.

Instead, revenues being generated by players, being spent elsewhere in the department, will be diverted from those other spending areas to players at those departments moving to FCOA.

Of course, the behavior of one school does not make a data set.  But this is the shape of things to come. And don't be distracted when you see raises and FCOA going hand in hand at some departments. The raises would have been higher in the absence of the new FCOA policy.