Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Daily Camera Column on College Athletics Budgets

My new Daily Camera column is out today, and this month I focus on budgets for college athletics. Yes, they are growing rapidly and with growth comes some challenges, but financial sustainability is not a particular concern. Here is how it starts:
Many of the issues currently facing big-time college sports result from its incredible popularity. Universities are in the success business, so the fact that campus athletics are thriving is good news, but with success comes challenges.

The most visible consequence of success is money. The attraction of college sports — mainly football and men's basketball at the top 60 or so schools — has resulted in bigger and bigger television deals. Last year Forbes estimated that the five biggest athletic conferences (including the PAC-12) brought in almost $1 billion in TV revenue. That doesn't even count another $1.5 billion brought in annually by the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament and the college football playoff. Much of this money is distributed among university athletics programs.

The resulting trickle-down effect has seen athletic department budgets swell, with corresponding increases in coaches' salaries and facilities upgrades. Some see the increasing budgets and worry that a crisis is just around the corner. For instance, earlier this year USA Today warned that "college sports may be facing a bubble ... the kind that goes — pop!"

Budgets are increasing, but college sports are not facing a financial bubble. Let's take a look at some data to understand why.
The Camera does not allow comments, but you are welcome to head over there to read it in full and come back here to comment.

In what follows, I'll provide some links and further reading for those who'd like to dig a bit deeper.
Comments/critique welcomed. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Julliard School President Responds to My Op-ed

In a letter to the New York Times today, Joseph Polisi, president of The Julliard School, takes issue with my op-ed proposing degrees in sports. Polisi writes:
There is a similar beauty and grace in both sports and the arts, but comparing the performance of a violin concerto to a successful three-point shot is a deeply flawed argument.

Although perfection of technique is necessary in both, the arts operate in a different sphere by communicating profound intellectual and emotional truths.
Intellectual and emotional truths in sport?  Hmm, let me think ...







Saturday, September 17, 2016

Did the University of Washington Just Cover Up Research Misconduct?

The University of Washington has completed an investigation into the alleged effort by one of its medical school faculty to influence funding decisions by the National Institutes of Health that were based on donations by the NFL. The researcher, Richard Ellenbogen, is also the chair of the NFL's Head, Neck and Spine Committee. The UW investigation was prompted by an investigation by Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee (here in PDF), released last May.

The NIH had awarded funds using the NFL donation to a group at Boston University, and a group that Ellenbogen was affiliated with had been ranked second. USA Today says of the UW investigation (emphasis added):
A University of Washington review committee has cleared Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, the pediatric neurosurgeon and co-chairman of the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee, who was harshly criticized in a congressional report in May over alleged attempts to influence a grant selection process.
In a letter to the UW medical school’s dean, members of the committee wrote they concluded Ellenbogen “did not attempt in any improper way to influence the selection or award process for the NIH (National Institutes of Health) research grant to be funded by the NFL” or violate any other ethical boundaries in advocating for additional funding. 
ESPN has more details. The conclusion of the UW report is mistaken in important respects and is compromised by a clear institutional conflict of interest. This post explains.

The most important mistake is that Ellenbogen did indeed participate in trying to influence the "selection or award process." This is clearly documented in both the Democrats report and the Republicans request for an Inspector General investigation of the whole situation, sent to NIH earlier this week (here in PDF). That letter includes the following new information about a phone call between Ellenbogen and Dr. Walter Koroshetz, NIH official responsible for administering the grant process using the NFL's donated funds:
Much of the discussion of this issue has centered on whether or to what degree Ellebogen sought to redirect funds from BU to other awardees. In his defense, Ellenbogen argues that his role in the process was not to de-fund the opposing group, but to explore if more funds could be obtained from the NFL so that an additional group might be funded.

The BU part of the story has captured attention, but it is largely irrelevant to the issue of whether Ellenbogen acted improperly. Here is all you need to know:
  • Ellenbogen was a party to a grant in the competition;
  • Ellenbogen was representing the funder, the NFL;
  • Ellenbogen was speaking to Koroshetz about the grant process.
That is it. The combination of the three elements above represent a prima facie case of an improper role in the NIH award process. Koroshetz, who apparently refused to speak with the UW investigators, is also guilty of violating protocol. He, apparently, was holding out the prospect of funding more research (to which Ellenbogen was a party) if an additional $15 million might be directed to his program.  Ellenbogen took charge of trying to get those funds. Think about that. 

The conflicts and improprieties here are not rocket science. They are obvious.

We can look at the relevant NIH policies for a more formal exploration of what went wrong here:
  • Confidentiality - it is not permitted for the NIH official to be discussing the award process with members of the pubic (like the NFL HNS committee). The NIH peer review process is described here.  Confidentiality is described here. The relevant policies are here.
  • Post-submission materials. The NIH places strict limitations on what information might be considered in a grant process award proposals have been submitted. That policy is described here. It was completely ignored by all in this case.
  • Appeals process - NIH does have a formal process of appeal and grievance for funding decisions. That process is described here. Neither Ellenbogen nor his NFL peers used this process.
It does not appear that the UW investigation considered any relevant NIH policies in its investigation. That is shocking. Rather, it appears to have applauded Ellenbogen's quest for more funding that might have been directed to a group he was associated with. 

It is hard not to think that the UW investigation was either a whitewash or simply conducted by those poorly informed about research integrity policies. The fact that it was conducted from within the UW medical school, which received millions of dollars from the NFL, and NFL-related funders, does not look very good.

There is plenty of culpability to go around here. The Republican letter requesting an IG investigation asked the right question:

This whole situation is a mess, and the UW report makes it messier. The request for an NIH IG investigation makes good sense.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

A Mission Statement for an Athletics Degree Program

For my own future reference in the discussion of athletics degrees, below (and in PDF) is what a degree on music (strings) looks likes here at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Click to enlarge.
Here is the mission statement of the (excellent) University of Colorado College of Music:
The mission of the College of Music at CU Boulder is excellence in music through distinguished instruction in performance, composition, musicology, theory and teacher preparation for our graduate and undergraduate students, and to provide opportunities for performance, creative activities, research and scholarship and teaching experiences.

The college is dedicated to:
  • Providing music majors and non-majors the opportunity to develop their knowledge, understanding and ability in the various aspects of music at a level appropriate to their needs and interests 
  • Preparing students for careers as performers, composers, scholars, teachers, administrators and other professionals in the field of music 
  • Broadening and deepening the knowledge and understanding of music through research, teaching, creative activities, and publication 
  • Enriching the lives of students and faculty as well as the community, state, nation and the world with performances of a wide variety of music presentations and publications
The College of Music is an academic community committed to maintaining a climate of mutual respect and collegiality. The members of this community:
  • Share a spirit of cooperation and helpful, constructive, and friendly consideration for each other’s activities 
  • Maintain open communication in both formal and informal contexts 
  • Defend academic freedom
  • Encourage an environment of safety and well-being
  • Show respect for a diversity of musical cultures and individual backgrounds
Let me edit it by changing just a few words, so that it focuses on athletics rather than music:
The mission of the College of Athletics at Big-Time U is excellence in athletics through distinguished instruction in performance, coaching, management, governance and teacher preparation for our graduate and undergraduate students, and to provide opportunities for competition, research and scholarship and teaching experiences.

The college is dedicated to:
  • Providing athletics majors and non-majors the opportunity to develop their knowledge, understanding and ability in the various aspects of athletics at a level appropriate to their needs and interests 
  • Preparing students for careers as professional athletes, coaches, scholars, teachers, administrators and other professionals in the field of athletics 
  • Broadening and deepening the knowledge and understanding of athletics through research, teaching, creative activities, and publication 
  • Enriching the lives of students and faculty as well as the community, state, nation and the world with performances of a wide variety of athletic competition and publications
The College of Athletics sis an academic community committed to maintaining a climate of mutual respect and collegiality. The members of this community:
  • Share a spirit of cooperation and helpful, constructive, and friendly consideration for each other’s activities 
  • Maintain open communication in both formal and informal contexts 
  • Defend academic freedom
  • Encourage an environment of safety and well-being
  • Show respect for a diversity of cultures and individual backgrounds
OK, the question that follows is, why would such a mission statement be OK for a Music program but not for an Athletics program?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

NYT Op-Ed on Degrees in Athletics

I have an op-ed in the NYT today on the notion of degrees in athletics, akin to degrees in music. Here is how it starts:
A new influx of money into big­-time college sports is likely to reinvigorate debate over whether student athletes should be paid as if they were professionals, with colleges running semipro teams as side projects to their research and teaching missions.

But one question that gets little attention is how schools can keep big­-time athletics connected to their academic objectives. Perhaps one way is for universities to award degrees in athletics.
Feel free to head over there to read the whole thing and then to come back an offer any comments here. The article has 342 comments and counting and I've received dozens of emails and Tweets in response. Tomorrow I'll post up some of this reader mail.

Monday, September 12, 2016

NCAA Amateurism and the Olympic Exception

The manual for the NCAA which explains what it means to be an "amateur" athlete is starting to look like a block of Swiss cheese. One important exception (of many) to its amateurism rules prohibiting payment to athletes is for Operation Gold of the US Olympic Committee (The exception is found in NCAA Bylaws 12.1.2.1.5.1. and 12.1.2.1.5.2).

The USOC, like other national governing bodies, gives cash prizes to Olympic athletes for performance. The Gold Medal bonuses are shown above (via Yahoo via Fox Sports Australia), but there are also bonuses for Silver and Bronze.

USA Today explains what these bonuses mean for US swimmers in NCAA programs:
U.S. swimming star Katie Ledecky’s performance at the Rio Olympics netted her a total of $355,000 in medal awards that she will be able to keep while remaining eligible to compete for Stanford, USA TODAY Sports has learned.

Three other incoming or current college swimmers also ended up with six-figure amounts: California’s Ryan Murphy ($234,375) and Stanford’s Simone Manuel (nearly $200,000) and Indiana’s Lilly King ($134,375).
Overall, 17 US swimmers enrolled in NCAA programs took home about $1.5 million in prize money.

Within the USOC Operation Gold program, individual national sport governing bodies are free to augment the USOC awards. So, "Wrestler Kyle Snyder, now a junior at Ohio State, won a gold medal in Rio that gave him $250,000 -- $25,000 from the USOC, the remainder from USA Wrestling’s Living The Dream Medal Fund." No one, to my knowledge, has summarized the total prize money won by US and international NCAA athletes, but it is easily into the millions of dollars.

The NCAA allowed exceptions only for US athletes up to 2015, when it was expanded to allow the same exception for international athletes in NCAA programs. Singapore’s Joseph Schooling, who swims for the University of Texas, was no doubt pretty happy about that new rule after winning Gold in Rio and taking home about $750,000.

Operation Gold is in place not just during Olympic years, but every year. Here is a table for cash awards:
As the fine print says, national governing bodies for each sport can augment the awards with additional funds.

Last week NCAA president Mark Emmert said that the NCAA was going to take a close look at such prizes, based on Schooling's award. But the NCAA is in a tough spot, both legally and and from a PR perspective. Is Ledecky's haul OK but not Schooling's? Would the NCAA really want to discourage Olympic athletes from attending NCAA programs? Do they want to risk looking mean-spirited or just plain ridiculous?

When you take a closer look at the NCAA rules, you'll find that there are actually a bevy of awards available to athletes, and not just Olympic athletes, but big-time college football and basketball players as well.

As Judge Claudia Wilken explains of the NCAA in the context of the O'Bannon case (over rights to athlete name, image and likeness): "The association's current rules demonstrate that, even today, the NCAA does not necessarily adhere to a single definition of amateurism." I'd venture that the facade of amateurism will soon go the way that it did in the Olympics - into history.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

FINA Advisers Resign, FINA Response Tortured

Last week, three members (of eight total) of the Doping Control Review Board of FINA, the international body that oversees swimming, resigned their position as advisers to the federation. They explain their resignation in a letter (seen in full below, click on to embiggen), in which they explain their decision.
The three advisers explain that in the wake of the findings of the McLaren report on systematic doping in Russian sport, FINA announced in 25 July that it would "conduct a review and issue a recommendation in respect to whether Russian athletes were subject to a reliable anti-doping scrutiny." The members of the DCRB follow up this announcement by providing to FINA leadership "criteria for the competent review of the adequacy of the anti-doping scrutiny to which the Russian competitors had been subjected."

Such criteria are analogous to those criteria developed and implemented by the IAAF in advance of Rio, leading to the banning of all but one Russian from Rio. The three advisers claim that FINA ignored both its own public commitment to review and recommendation, and along with it, the advice of the the DCRB. The advisers only learned of which Russian swimmers were deemed eligible by watching the games.

For its part, FINA has responded by pretending as if its commitment to review and recommendation never occurred. In a press release issued after the resignations FINA explains:
Concerning the claims expressed in their resignation letter, FINA would like to clarify that the Olympic Games are an IOC event. For Rio 2016, the decision on the participation of the Russian athletes has been made by the CAS and the IOC. FINA fully respected and implemented their decisions.

In this very complex process, FINA did express the DCRB position but our International Federation was not the body ultimately deciding the outcome on this matter.
This statement is patently false. After the IAAF developed its emergency criteria for the inclusion of Russian athletes in Rio, the IOC supported the IAAF procedure noting (emphasis added):
The IOC Executive Board, in a telephone conference today, emphasized that it fully respects the IAAF position. The eligibility of athletes in any international competition including the Olympic Games is a matter for the respective International Federation. 
FINA is simply wrong in its response to the resignations.

Here are those who resigned, as well as those who did not, courtesy SwimVortex:

Who resigned:
  • Prof. Dr. Andrew Pipe (CAN)
  • Dr Larry Bowers (USA)
  • Dr Susan White (AUS)
Who remains:
  • Dr. Jordi Segura (ESP)
  • Pieter Van de Merwe (RSA)
  • Willem L. Mosterd (NED)
  • Jose Veloso Fernandez (VEN)
  • Jian Zhao (CHN) 
That 5 members chose not to resign is an interesting as the three members who did. (Would make a good follow up, reporters, hint, hint;-)

According to Swim Vortex, Cornel Marulescu, Executive Director of FINA, once said, "You cannot condemn the stars for a minor doping offence." In FINA, that perspective is apparently not just culture, it is policy.