When I was in school at the University of Virginia, Dean Smith's University of North Carolina Tar Heels basketball team routinely thrashed my beloved Cavaliers. At the time, I blamed Smith's reliance on the evil four corners offense, perhaps the most despicably cowardly offensive scheme in the history of sports.
But it turns out there was another reason. He--and the rest of the UNC sports apparatus--Cheated.
In 2010 allegations of an utterly corrupt academic system for student-athletes emerged from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus, home of the legendary Tar Heels. As the alma mater of Michael Jordan, Larry Brown, Marion Jones, Lawrence Taylor, Rashad McCants, and many others; winner of forty national championships in six different sports; and a partner in one of the best rivalries in sports, UNC–Chapel Hill is a world-famous colossus of college athletics. In the wake of the Wainstein report, however, the fallout from this scandal—and the continuing spotlight on the failings of college athletics—has made the school ground zero in the debate about how the $16 billion college sports industry operates.Written by UNC professor of history Jay Smith and UNC athletics department whistleblower Mary Willingham, Cheated exposes the fraudulent inner workings of this famous university. For decades these internal systems have allowed woefully underprepared basketball and football players to take fake courses and earn devalued degrees from one of the nation’s top universities while faculty and administrators looked the other way. In unbiased and carefully sourced detail, Cheated recounts the academic fraud in UNC’s athletics department, even as university leaders focused on minimizing the damage in order to keep the billion-dollar college sports revenue machine functioning. Smith and Willingham make an impassioned argument that the “student-athletes” in these programs are being cheated out of what, after all, is promised them in the first place: a college education.
I like Temple law prof Tom Lin's work a lot. He's an imaginative and creative scholar. So I read with great interest his new essay National Pastime(s) (September 29, 2014). Boston College Law Review, Vol. 55, No. 1197, 2014. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2502950. Here's the abstract:
In his new book, Baseball as a Road to God, New York University President and Professor of Law John Sexton submits that baseball can serve as a vehicle for living a more conscious life that elevates the human experience for lawyers and non-lawyers. This Essay examines the credibility of the book’s thesis in a world where human intelligence, human deliberation, and human action is being replaced by artificial intelligence, mathematical models, and mechanical automation. It uses the preeminent national pastime of baseball, and the less eminent pastimes of law and finance as case studies for the book’s thesis. It concludes that a more conscious and meaningful life is much harder to foster, but also much more important to cultivate in light of modern advances. This Essay ultimately offers a different narrative for lawyers and non-lawyers to think anew about modern law and society in light of ongoing changes in baseball, law, finance, and beyond.
I'm not a fan of the writing style Lin uses in this essay. Consider for example, these phrases:
You can prove you're smart without being impenetrable. It's one reason I have always preferred Ronald Coase--who wrote with what one critic calls "the beautiful simple prose of the accomplished English essayist--to Oliver Williamson, whose writing style is jargon-filled and difficult to penetrate. In too many places, Lin's essay is closer to Williamson than Coase in style.
Having said that, there are some very interesting insights here. The treatment of parallels--but, more important, differences--between how technology and quantitative analytical methods have influenced baseball, finance, and law is very well done. And the conclusion he draws from them makes sense (albeit that some of us may need to read it with a dictionary in hand):
As science and technology reduce more of our lives into bits and bytes of data and code, the ineffable and irreducible components of the human experience have been made much harder to sustain, but also much more important to living a meaningful, spiritual, and balanced life for lawyers and non-lawyers.
Rather than surrender our doubts, our curiosities, and our humanity in whole or in part, we should leverage modern conveniences in ways that permit us to rededicate more of ourselves to experiencing the timeless, ineffable joys and wonders of learning and living.
In sum, recommended. But I also recommend some books likely to help a searcher find God (or, at least, the God in whom I believe).
... economic theory says we should make decisions based only on the costs and benefits that a course of action has in the future, not on “sunk costs,” which we’ll never get back. When you finish a plate of food you don’t really want just because you already paid for it, you’re falling victim to the sunk cost fallacy. On a bigger scale, the sunk cost fallacy can lead a company to keep pouring money into a failed venture, or a nation to keep pouring resources into a hopeless war.
Which brings us back to the Redskins.
In other words, all those draft picks the 'Skins gave up ought to be irrelevant to the decision of whether to make Kirk Cousins the starting QB.
But is Dan Snyder smart enough to see it?
Mary Willingham deserves a medal. As much as anyone in recent years, the University of North Carolina instructor has helped shed light on how big-time college athletics corrupts academics and robs students of the education they deserve.
Rather than honors, Willingham has received insults and a demotion. Now, in a despicable character-assassination campaign, the powers that be at Chapel Hill are calling her a liar. The situation demands national attention because UNC, widely perceived as a paragon public institution, has become ground zero in the conflict between the industry that is Division One sports and the mission of providing higher education.
As I’ve noted in a series of recent posts (for example, here and here), Chapel Hill offers an especially revelatory example of how higher education suffers under the pressure to keep athletes in the “revenue sports” of football and basketball eligible to play. My dispatches have drawn on three years of investigative work by the News & Observer of Raleigh. ...
This week, CNN added valuable fuel to the fire. The cable network produced an investigative survey showing that at public-university sports powers across the country, dismaying numbers of varsity athletes can barely read or write. UNC played a dubious starring role in the CNN report, and Willingham served as an insider-narrator. She told CNN of one Tar Heel basketball player who couldn’t read or write. Another athlete asked her to teach him to read well enough to follow news accounts of his games.
In a 2011 post, It's time to tax college athletics, I argued that:
As non-profit organizations, NCAA colleges and universities are mostly tax exempt. At present, that includes the huge profits that are generated by many big time football and basketball programs (of course, not all are profitable; some are cash sinks dragging down the rest pf the university).
These profits go to support enormous salaries for coaches, bowl game officials, top NCAA executives, athletic department staff, and so on. Sure, at some schools, some pittance goes to support non-revenue sports, but that can't excuse the massive corruption that pervades revenue sports.
Because it is now obvious that college athletics does not advance the exempt educational purposes of colleges and universities, it's time to start taxing college athletics. And subjecting them to antitrust klaws and all the other regulations that other business must comply with.
Ellis Cashmore argues it's time to legalize sports doping:
Were we to treat athletes as mature adults capable of making informed decisions based on scientific information, we could permit the use of performance enhancing substances, monitor the results and make the whole process transparent. ...
Twenty-four years after the Johnson scandal, performance-enhancing drugs are as abundant as ever and, as the Armstrong experience reminds us, the testers remain embarrassingly behind the curve. Despite the major advances since 1988, several athletes have evaded detection not just for the odd competition, but for entire careers. ...
No sensible observer of sport today denies the prevalence of drugs in practically every major sport, yet none would argue they can ever be eliminated completely. Money alone guarantees that much. The days of the gentleman-amateur have long gone: Athletes today are competing for high stakes, not just millions, but dozens of millions (Armstrong is worth about $70 million,according to Forbes).
A while back, I argued that:
The only rationales for caring I've ever been able to see are (1) paternalism to protect players from themselves and (2) drug use by some creates a market for lemons (see my TCS column Drug Testing and the Market for Lemons). I'm somewhat persuaded by the latter, but at the end of the day it's just not much of an issue for me. I wouldn't watch baseball or cycling whether the players were juiced or not, while I would watch football and basketball whether the players were juiced or not.
Cashmore doesn't discuss the latter, but he also rejects the former:
There are too many dangers. Of course there are -- as the situation is now. By inviting athletes to declare with impunity what they are using, we encourage and open discourse and promote research so we'd be in a position to advise on the relative values and risks of different substances. This openness isn't possible while we continue to force drug-taking underground. Opening up sport in the way I'm advocating would render it a safer, more secure environment.
Stanford business law professors David Larcker and Brian Tayan have conducted an interesting thought experitment:
In recent years, NCAA football has been rocked by a string of high-profile violations, including those at USC, Ohio State, the University of Miami, and Auburn. In many ways, these violations were similar to the governance breakdowns at financial and other corporations leading up to the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009.
In the corporate world, Congress responded to the financial crisis by enacting the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, which among other things imposed various governance requirements on all publicly traded companies.
What would happen were the NCAA to adopt these same provisions and require them of all universities and their football programs?
In this fictitious tale, we explore what such a set of rules would look like. We ask:
* If these requirements would not work in an athletic setting, should we expect them to work in business?
* Why are the governance provisions of Dodd-Frank legally required, rather than voluntarily adopted by individual companies?
* Why does Dodd-Frank place such emphasis on executive compensation and disclosure? Will its compensation requirements reduce governance failures?
The NCAA Adopts 'Dodd-Frank': A Fable (September 14, 2011). Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University Closer Look Series: Topics, Issues and Controversies in Corporate Governance No. CGRP-20. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1927108
There is an odd disconnect between the internal logic of Dodd-Frank’s governance provisions and the back story of the financial crisis.
Consider, for example, the question of executive compensation. Regulators identified executive compensation schemes that focused bank managers on short-term returns to shareholders as a contributing factor almost from the outset of the financial crisis. As was the case with almost all public U.S. corporations, banks and other financial institutions shifted in the 1990s to a much greater reliance on equity-based pay for performance compensation schemes. The rationale for such schemes is that they align the risk preferences of managers and shareholders. Because managers typically hold less well-diversified portfolios than shareholders, having significant investments of both human and financial capital in their employers, they tend to be much more averse to firm specific risk than diversified investors would prefer. Pay for performance compensation schemes that link managerial compensation to shareholder returns are designed to counteract that inherent bias against risk and thus align managerial risk preferences with those of shareholders.
Shareholder activists long have complained that these schemes provide pay without performance. This was one of the corporate governance flaws Dodd-Frank was intended to address, most notably via say on pay.
The trouble, of course, is that shareholders and society do not have the same goals when it comes to executive pay. Society wants managers to be more risk averse. Shareholders want them to be less risk averse, for the reasons just discussed. If say on pay and other shareholder empowerment provisions of Dodd-Frank succeed, manager and shareholder interests will be further aligned, which will encourage the former to undertake higher risks in the search for higher returns to shareholders. Accordingly, as Christopher Bruner aptly observed, “the shareholder-empowerment position appears self-contradictory, essentially amounting to the claim that we must give shareholders more power because managers left to the themselves have excessively focused on the shareholders’ interests.”
In sum, the shareholder empowerment measures adopted before the crisis did nothing to prevent it and may well have contributed to it. The new provisions included in Dodd-Frank thus are unlikely to prevent another such crisis and may even increase the odds of some similar crisis induced by excessive risk taking.
I am an unrepentant fiddler with my fantasy football teams (although I'm nowhere near as bad as the guy who is the commissioner in a couple of my leagues). I'm always at or near the top of waiver wire moves by the end of the season.
We're one game into the 2011 season, and I'm already fiddling. Dropping Peyton Manning in favor of Josh Freeman in my Cowboys Drool league was sadly necessary. With Mike Vick as my starting QB, the injury risk required that I grab a (close to) elite QB backup ASAP. On the same team, I've put Ben Tate on the trading block. Sell high is my motto and Foster's hamstring surely will induce somebody to bite, even if Foster's owner doesn't.
The other big change was the addition of Robert Meachem as a WR in 2 of my teams. I had gone into the season deliberately avoiding Saints WRs. Brees just spreads the ball around too much. With Marques Colston out for at least 4 weeks with a busted collarbone and Lance Moore likely to remain on the shelf for a while longer, the Saints WR cupboard is suddenly not as full as it was. I figure Meachem to get most of the workload while they're out. Meachem was a free agent in 2 of my leagues. So I had the Unseen Academicals (PPR H2H) drop Daniel Thomas to add Meachem. Likewise, the LA Prawfs (rotisserie non-PPR) dropped Steve Smith (Carolina) to add Meachem.
I did not, however, jump on the Randall Cobb or Darren Sproles bandwagons. Thursday night's game was a freak show in the return game. Going forward, Green Bay has too many WRs and New Orleans has too many RBs for me to see Cobb or Sproles as week in and week out contributors.
The WSJ reports on a controversy over Manchester United's plans to go public with a dual class stock structure via a Singapore-based IPO:
U.K. soccer giant Manchester United Ltd. chose Singapore as the destination for its US$1 billion IPO so it could have a dual-share structure—one with voting rights and one without—that enables its owners to effectively retain control of the team, according to people familiar with the matter. ...
Until June, Hong Kong was the favored listing destination for Manchester United's initial public offering, according to these people, but its bourse banned dual-share listings in 1991 and refused to give Man U a waiver. ...
"Two-tier shares result in disproportionate power relative to the risk that the holder is taking," said David Webb, shareholder activist and former director at Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing Ltd. "This exacerbates the risk of controlling shareholders placing their own interests ahead of other shareholders when running a company."
The dual-share listing structure has raised concerns about corporate governance at Man U, which is owned by the Glazer family, headed by patriarch Malcolm Glazer, also owner of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
I don't have much sympathy for Mr Webb's complaints. I wrote about dual class stock in my article The Short Life and Resurrection of SEC Rule 19c-4, in which I explained that dual class stock structures established in an IPO (as is the case here) pose few concerns:
Public investors who do not want lesser voting rights stock simply will not buy it. Those who are willing to purchase it presumably will be compensated by a lower per share price than full voting rights stock would command and/or by a higher dividend rate. In any event, assuming full disclosure, they become shareholders knowing that they will have lower voting rights than the insiders and having accepted as adequate whatever trade-off the firm offered in recompense.
Man U public investors will buy their shares knowing that the Glazers are in charge and will remain so by virtue of the dual class stock structure. They will know or should know that dual class stock presents a serious agency cost problem because incumbents who cannot be voted out of office are almost impossible to discipline. Public Man U investors thus implicitly will have accepted whatever trade-offs the deal entailed as appropriate compensation for that risk.
Put another way, the market will price the risk posed by dual class stock, providing investors who buy the lesser voting rights stock with a discount from the price they would have had to pay if they had had full voting rights. Those who buy the stock thus are paying the right price and are fully protected.
SI details the tawdry doings at Ohio State's athletic department, especially amongst its football players, concluding that:
Ohio State officials will argue that the school should be spared, in part because they got rid of Tressel, the head of the program that has been so tainted by wrongdoing.
Which called to mind that scene from The Godfather II:
Tom Hagen: When a plot against the Emperor failed... the plotters were always given a chance... to let their families keep their fortunes. Right?
Frank Pentangeli: Yeah, but only the rich guys, Tom. The little guys got knocked off and all their estates went to the Emperors. Unless they went home and killed themselves, then nothing happened. And the families... the families were taken care of.
Tom Hagen: That was a good break. A nice deal.
Frank Pentangeli: Yeah... They went home... and sat in a hot bath... opened up their veins... and bled to death... and sometimes they had a little party before they did it.
Did Tressel have himself a little party first? And did he get a "good break"? Or is Ohio State even more ruthless than the Corleone family?
"Baseball is the favourite American sport because it's so slow. Any idiot can follow it. And just about any idiot can play it." GoreVidal
"Call me Un-American; call me Canadian or Swedish, I don't care. I hate baseball ... I have lots of reasons to hate baseball. For one it's dull. Nothing happens. Watching baseball is like going to a lecture by a member of the Slow ... Talkers ... of... America. It's like turning on the TV - when the cable is out. It's like watching grass - no, Astroturf grow." Jeff Jarvis
"Calling it the World Series must impress the world as an example of America's modesty." Anon
"To root for the Yankees or the Red Sox is the functional equivalent of rooting for Microsoft or General Electric. No thanks." Malcolm Gladwell
"Baseball has the great advantage over cricket of being sooner ended." George Bernard Shaw
"I never realized how boring this game was." Homer Simpson, when first obliged to watch a baseball game while sober
"Baseball is what we were, and football is what we have become." Mary McGrory
"The national past-time is juiced." Jose Canseco
"McGwire refused to say whether he ever took steroids but I think he did because, as he was leaving, one of his tits fell out of his suit." Bill Maher
I'm not a baseball fan. Strikes, steroids, and the perpetual ineptitude of my childhood favorite Orioles combined to rob the game of interest. So I pursued the Flowchart: What Baseball Team Should I Root For? merely as an academic exercise. As it turns out, I'm supposed to be a Texas Rangers fan.
I think I'll stick to the NFL.
According to DC sportswriter Michael Wilbon, it's the Dallas Cowboys:
The Dallas Cowboys could be the single most overrated team in football ... maybe the single most overrated team in all of professional sports in America. The franchise has won one playoff game since 1996. Every acquisition they make, every game they win is overstated. Their players are overly praised. They haven't mattered in a decade nearly as much as the New England Patriots or Pittsburgh Steelers or Indianapolis Colts or even the New York Giants or Philadelphia Eagles in their own division.
Every single thing about the Cowboys, in recent years anyway, has been overdone. They come into every season being picked to win something between a division and the Super Bowl but limp out to great disappointment annually.
This season the hype has been attached, most specifically, to the Cowboys' offense, to the supposed damage Romo and Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Felix Jones are going to do, blah, blah, blah. Yet, the Cowboys looked like a bunch of stumblebums in the preseason, and pretty much the same through three quarters of the regular season opener Sunday night.
And no part of the evening was more humiliating for Dallas than the final play of the second quarter, the one that gift-wrapped a 10-0 lead for the Redskins, a play that should never, ever happen beyond high school.
"I'd buy that for a dollar"
No. That's not the measurements of an unusually pear-shaped swimsuit model. It's a rule of thumb for predicting whether a quarterback will succeed in the NFL:
If an NFL prospect scores at least a 26 on the Wonderlic test, starts at least 27 games in his college career and completes at least 60 percent of his passes, there's a good chance he will succeed at the NFL level.
Since 1998, these are some of the NFL quarterbacks who aced all three parts of the Rule of 26-27-60: Peyton Manning, Phillip Rivers, Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Tony Romo, Matt Schaub, Kyle Orton, Kevin Kolb, Matt Ryan, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Matt Stafford.
Meanwhile, among the once highly-touted prospects who failed at least one part of the formula: Ryan Leaf, Joey Harrington, Michael Vick, Akili Smith, Tim Couch, Daunte Culpepper, David Carr, Vince Young and JaMarcus Russell.
There are a few notable exceptions to the rule but only by slight margins. Two-time Super Bowl champ Ben Roethlisberger scored a 25 on the Wonderlic, just one point short of the standard of 26. Jay Cutler -- a mixed-bag thus far in the NFL -- scored exactly a 26 on his Wonderlic and had the starts, but completed 57 percent of his passes at Vanderbilt. Joe Flacco, who's been to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons, fell short in the starts category.
Of the top 4 rookie QBs, only Sam Bradford passes muster on all three scores. Colt McCoy, Tim Tebow, and Jimmy Clausen, all fall short on the Wonderlic by a few points.
As for poor Mr. Bradford, however, I fear that he may prove to be one of the exceptions that proves the rule. With a lousy offensive line and a pathetic receiving corps, he's going to spend most of the 2010 season being driven into the dirt by big, fast, strong defenders. One can easily imagine him going the way of Tim Couch or David Carr health-wise.