Sunday, May 31, 2009

Secret coaches' poll to lead to a football playoff?

American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Executive Director Grant Teaff announced that beginning in 2010, the final votes by coaches in the USA Today coaches' poll - which accounts for one-third of the Bowl Championship formula - will be secret and no longer disclosed to the public. According to an article in USA Today, "The adjustments were made based on the results of a three-month independent study by Gallup World Poll of the voter selection process and voting procedures. Gallup recommended the change because confidentiality leads to a better poll, according to Teaff. 'Why do you have booths for people to vote in?' he said."

As a general rule of thumb in polling, confidentiality can enhance honesty. For example, if polling about personal use of alcohol or drugs, views on gay marriage, or workplace satisfaction, the likelihood of honest disclosure is enhanced by confidentiality. Respondents are able to express views or disclose information that may cast a poor light on themselves, may not be popular due to political correctness or may subject them to retribution with a confidential poll.

However, there are significant differences between these situations and those that are presented in the football coaches' poll. Transparency is not only preferable to secrecy, it's necessary.

The greatest difference is that voters in the coaches' poll are likely to find themselves in situations where they have significant conflicts of interest and stand to personally benefit from their vote. Unlike judges who will recuse themselves from situations with conflict of interest, football coaches do not do the same. Below are some plausible examples of situations where transparency is preferable to secrecy:

  • A coach voting in a situation where their own team is in position to play in the national championship game.

  • A coach voting on a hated rival lowers the rival's rank a few notches in order to keep the rival out of a national championship game which will impact his own team's recruiting.

  • A coach under-ranking a non-BCS conference school (e.g. Boise State) in order prevent that school from going to a lucrative BCS bowl so that they or another conference member can receive a more desirable bowl bid and the associated financial benefits.

  • A coach's contract has incentive clauses based on their final BCS ranking or for playing in a BCS bowl.
Secrecy in the poll increases the possibility of manipulation by significantly over-rating one's own team or by under-rating a key competitor thus increasing the value of their own vote while neutralizing the decisions of other voters.

Further, the idea that coaches shouldn't be subjected to public scrutiny or pressure is specious. Coaches are already used to second guessing, partisan fans and media scrutiny and can certainly handle questions about why they viewed one team better than another. Any coach who is legitimately concerned about this issue should simply decline to participate, except none will because it's in their best interest to be a voter.

Football coaches are by nature a paranoid lot (see former coach Bill Curry's comments) and most probably love a good conspiracy theory. The AFCA's decision to embrace secrecy over transparency will promote such theories among their members and fans by making it easier for politics and self interest (or at a minimum, the perception of them) to play a role in the selection process. With a bill in Congress attempting to ban use of the phrase "national championship" unless the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) champion is determined via a playoff, perhaps this ill-conceived idea will move the sport one step closer to that possibility. Now that's a conspiracy theory worth discussing.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

NCAA's appeal in Oliver case denied - Contempt of court hearing date set

The NCAA's request to the Ohio Court of Appeals to stay a contempt of court hearing was voided (see earlier posting for specific details surrounding the NCAA's appeal) when the trial court modified its order to exclude allegedly privileged documents in order to move the case forward without delay. The court also reinforced an on-going theme that has been developing in the case - the NCAA's apparent failure to properly communicate how its membership should handle NCAA Bylaw which has been ruled unenforceable by Judge Tygh Tone.

The court stated in their brief ruling "This court is concerned about what the [NCAA] is advising the public, in particular prospective and current student athletes, as to its ruling regarding the invalidation of Bylaw"

The contempt hearing will now be held on June 15.
This post was modified on June 1.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

NCAA's contempt of court hearing delayed

The NCAA's contempt of court hearing did not occur on Wednesday as scheduled because the NCAA filed an appeal with the Ohio Court of Appeals requesting the contempt hearing be stayed (see this week's earlier post for more details) .

The NCAA's rationale for the stay is buried in the supporting case history, legal jargon and interesting Latin phrases (such as "sua sponte") of the latest filings. The NCAA indicates that disclosure of information at the hearing would violate attorney client privilege, stating "... the trial court, at [Oliver's attorney Rick Johnson's] instigation, has determined to parse through the privileged files of the NCAA in order to search for some evidence that might bolster an anemic claim of contempt...".

Johnson in his response to the NCAA's motion to the appeals court calls the filing by the NCAA "contemptuous behavior" and a "frivolous foray". Johnson also views the filing as an attempt to have the hearing drift past the baseball draft in mid-June.

Its not clear how long this detour from the previously scheduled path will last, but its quite clear that these two parties really don't like each other and a lot of down in the weeds legal maneuvering will be occurring as the proceedings move forward. ESPN won't have any interest, but Court TV might want to pick up the television rights.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Athletic budget cut update #29 - Quinnipiac drops another team

The Quinnipiac volleyball team's successful petition to have their team temporarily reinstated due to non-compliance with Title IX has been followed by a University announcement that the Bobcats are dropping their indoor track program. Meanwhile it appears that the women's volleyball team will be heading for a court date to determine if the program should be permanently reinstated based on the athletic program's possible non-compliance with Title IX after questions were raised about the counting practices used to report their data.

Miami is making a number of cuts to balance their budget including using head football coach Randy Shannon to push season ticket sales in the community, ordering all teams to cut at least 3% from their budget, scheduling non-conference games in men's basketball against in-state opponents to reduce travel expenses, and cutting 15% of the baseball budget mostly through equipment reductions.

Cal Riverside is cutting more than $200,000 from its $8.7 million athletic budget.

Washington State discusses their use of zero-base budgeting as well as some other cuts they are making.

Florida International is planning to close three academic programs including their Recreation and Sports Management department as well as their Athletic Training program.

The Division I schools in Utah are all covered in this Salt Lake Tribune article detailing their status related to fund raising and capital projects.

Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports wrote an article critical of the college athletic enterprise and particularly football's role in the economic crisis facing athletic programs. has an in depth article by Gene Wojciechowski about the recent Delaware State decision to forfeit a conference football game in order to accept a $500,000 guarantee from Michigan. was recently interviewed for an article in the Albany Times Union detailing some of the cuts that have been happening throughout the country.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Andrew Oliver, the MLB Draft and the College World Series

The NCAA was issued a strong rebuke in its case with Andrew Oliver and will be in court this week to answer contempt of court charges for public communication that was allegedly contrary to a court order voiding NCAA Bylaw As has discussed in previous posts, this case has landmark implications for the NCAA's members schools across all sports because as Judge Tygh Tone stated "contrary the [the NCAA's] rhetoric, the February entry did not presume to void an NCAA rule, it did void an NCAA rule."

I continue to believe that this case will be settled by the NCAA, but the problem with a settlement is that Oliver has played an entire season under a court order that voids the Bylaw. Further, even if the NCAA did settle, a settlement won't vacate a contempt ruling, should one occur on May 27, essentially reaffirming the Bylaw is indeed null and void. I don't see how the NCAA can put the genie back in the bottle regarding legal representation for athletes.

Indeed Andrew Oliver's lawyer Rick Johnson, an ethics attorney from Cleveland, Ohio, sounds exceedingly positive about the latest developments in the case.

"We are gratified that the court has reaffirmed its commitment to enforcing the rule of law and its previous court orders invalidating the NCAA's no-lawyer and restitution rules, the NCAA's memo of May 11th is clearly in violation of its declaratory judgment and permanent injunction in this case, and if the NCAA does not withdraw the same and notify its members, their student athletes, and the public, that these rules will no longer be enforced, we expect that the NCAA will be held in indirect civil and criminal contempt of court with sanctions appropriate to the NCAA's level of arrogance, misconduct, and size."

Johnson's suggestion that the NCAA needs to proactively inform its members that Bylaw is unenforceable is particularly noteworthy. Should Judge Tone rule that such public steps are necessary at the contempt hearing on May 27th, a number of upcoming events could be thrown some wicked curve balls. The Major League Baseball Draft will be held on June 9th and 10th (with the NBA draft just 2 weeks later). In addition, one of the greatest events in all of sports, the College World Series, begins June 13 and continues for ten days. Will the top prospects from the eight teams in Omaha, Nebraska be attending with "legal representation" in tow? We should have a much more clear picture in about two days.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Athletic budget cut update #28

UNLV is losing $1.8 million in state funding and will have to adjust its budget in numerous ways including reducing team equipment and apparel by $125,000, eliminating two chartered flights for football, saving $100,000, eliminating insurance for walk on student athletes ($75,000), eliminating $50,000 of cell phone expenses, printing fewer media guides ($22,000), scheduling more day practices and games to save lighting and staffing costs ($10,000). An extra $500,000 in student fee money prevented dropping a program.

The Big Ten is dropping its gifts (luggage, electronics, etc.) for the men's basketball championship and other sports, saving $500,000 and has frozen salaries for higher paid league employees.

The NCAA is cutting $4 million from its budget through reduced travel and through delays in hiring for vacant positions.

The Big Sky Conference is moving to a Friday/Saturday format in men's and women's basketball that will have its teams playing on back-to-back nights, returning to a scheduling arrangement that was last used in 2002; men's and women's basketball travel parties will be limited to 17 people; air travel will not be permitted for trips of less than 450 miles; and the number of teams that compete in the volleyball and men's and women's tennis championships will be reduced from 6 to 4.

Louisiana Tech is cutting funding by $258,000 and reducing out of region travel. The article also presents positive approaches the institution is taking generate revenue.

Northwestern State (LA) is facing $129,000 in additional scholarship costs and has adjusted its football schedule - dropping Cal Poly and absorbing a $100,000 buyout to escape the contract in exchange for a $300,000 payout from Houston.

The Sporting News has an interesting article about some potential ways the sport of football could save money.

The Sports Business Daily (subscription required) is reporting that the Pac 10 intends to submit NCAA legislation to eliminate foreign travel, prohibit hotel stays the night before home contests and to reducing the number of games and the length of the playing season in all sports except football, men's and women's basketball and women's volleyball.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Keep your eye on the ball - An experiment

Today's post involves a brief experiment, at the end of which you have to answer one questions. Your answer to the question might help you in the future. The instructions are simple.

Your goal while watching a 30 second video is to accurately count the number of times people in white shirts pass a basketball to each other. Watch closely. Again, your goal is to accurately count the number of times a basketball is passed between people in white shirts. That's it.

After you've watched the video and have your answer about the correct number of passes between people in white shirts, scroll down the page to see if you were correct.

Here's the link:

Don't peek.

Don't peek.

Don't peek.

Don't peek.

Don't peek.

Don't peek.

How many passes did you count? 10? 11? 12? 13? 14? 15? 20? Are you sure? If not, go back and watch one more time. Are you sure of your number?

The answer is 15

Now answer this question - Did you see the gorilla? Yes, I'm serious. Did you see the gorilla? There is a gorilla in the video. If you don't believe it's there - go back and watch again. The gorilla is really there. Some people have to watch multiple times to see it, but it is indeed on the screen.

Why didn't you see the gorilla? Because you were focused on something else - something you perceived as more important. You were told what to focus on and you did it. You were told what "really" mattered. The result - and it happens to most people - you missed something obvious and noteworthy.

In this time of serious budget cuts and economic challenges, everyone has turned into an accountant. We're all watching numbers, focused on the bottom line. It seems as if it's all we care about. That singular focus may cause us to miss fairly obvious things - opportunities and ideas that we might more easily recognize in a different environment.

As you think about the challenges you face, budgetary or otherwise, don't be so narrowly focused that you miss the gorillas in your midst.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Athletic budget cut update #27 - Indiana State and Nicholls State drop teams

Announcements from Indiana State and Nicholls State headline the latest sport cuts. Indiana State has announced they are dropping their men's and women's tennis programs, leaving the department with just 14 sports.

Nicholls State is dropping their women's golf program, making them the second school in Louisiana to announce that they are dropping sports.

Boise State needs to cut $750,000 from the budget by July 1 and is laying off three people, eliminating two vacant positions and scrapping plans for two new positions to help cover the cost.

Washington is laying off an additional 7 people (4 were released when their swimming programs were dropped) and not filling two open positions. Another three positions will be reduced to 10 or 11 month appointments.

The ACC has established a 72 player travel-squad limit in football for conference games. Previously there was no limit on the number of athletes who could travel.

Minnesota State - Mankato, which sponsors Division I men's and women's hockey, is cutting $338,000 from the department budget by cutting 7 graduate assistant positions, an administrative assistant and reducing duty time for marketing staff.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a feature article about the challenges that college baseball is facing in the current economic environment.

The Knight Commission also met with researchers to examine reasons for the current budget crisis facing college athletics.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Athletic budget cut update #26

Extensive budget news has emerged in the last few days. Here's the latest:

Delaware State has decided to forfeit their contest against conference opponent North Carolina A&T rather than reschedule a game with Michigan that was scheduled for the same dates. It is anticipated that Michigan will pay Delaware State at least $500,000.

Boise State is cutting their athletic budget by more than 6% (approximately $175,000). No specific details about what will be cut have been announced yet.
Hawaii is facing an accumulated debt of more than $5 million and is expecting a shortfall of $2-3 million at the end of this fiscal year. Increased student fees and relief from their Aloha Stadium agreement are being suggested as the most likely ways to close the financial gap.

Conference USA football coaches and athletic directors are meeting to discuss the possibility of limiting travel squads and eliminating media guides. The coaches quoted in the article view comparison to BCS schools as the standard by which cuts should be determined.

Harvard is reducing team travel, closing a recreational facility for the summer and dropping three junior varsity teams (basketball, baseball and ice hockey) to club sport status.

Florida State Faculty Athletic Representative Joe Beckham is quoted in the Orlando Sentinel that the Seminoles may have to consider cutting teams if their budget situation remains poor for more than another year.

The Desert News has a lengthy article about the budget cuts that are occurring in the state of Utah. Contained within the article is information that University of Utah is facing a budget hole of $250,000 at the end of the fiscal year; no budget or salary increases; elimination of a football fan festival; and possible reductions in non-traditional season scheduling for teams that are out of season.

Utah State is facing a $1 million deficit and considering going to paperless media guides, eliminating land based phone lines, and cutting back on administrative travel.

Weber State has had to lay off staff and is reducing air travel for football in favor of chartered buses where possible.

Wyoming is facing a between 2-15% cut in state funds for athletics. Nearly half of the Wyoming budget is from state funds. And extended period of cuts could lead to the elimination of sports.

Lastly, following on an earlier posting from, Quinnipiac has been testifying in court over their Title IX compliance practices with numerous questions arising about the Bobcats' approach to roster management.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

What color is the NCAA's laundry?

Sam Keller, former Nebraska and Arizona State quarterback, has filed a class action lawsuit against the NCAA and video game maker EA Sports for their alleged appropriation of student athlete images in their football and basketball video games. While the games do not use the actual names of the student athletes, the suit cites techniques used to signify who players on the screen represent, such as the individuals height, weight, jersey number, home state, as well as wrist bands, head bands and other distinguishing features that appear to reflect the real-life version of the corresponding person. The student athletes are not compensated by EA Sports, the NCAA or their institution.

The lawsuit presents an interesting juxtaposition to an issue covered in one of the earliest posts - the NCAA's expressed concern but inaction over the use of student athletes' statistics for fantasy sports leagues, including one run by broadcast partner and NCAA revenue producer CBS Sports. The worry was that such use would further erode the ideal of student athletes as amateurs.

In the case of fantasy sports, the NCAA as well as the Knight Commission view the use of statistics such as batting average, free throw shooting percentage and the number of tackles as commercializing athletes and eroding the amateurism ideal. At the same time, the NCAA permits EA Sports and collegiate licensing groups to create computerized images with identifying characteristics.

In the case of video games, the NCAA and member institutions profit through licensing revenue. The NCAA and member institutions have not developed revenue streams from fantasy sports.

In today's computer driven world, video games have become a very tangible type of fantasy sports league in that the participant gets to control the outcome. In a traditional fantasy sports league, the fantasy participant actually has far less control, acting as a "general manager" or "coach" while attempting to discern which individual is most likely to produce meaningful statistics. As I have written previously (related to agents and the Andrew Oliver case), the NCAA continues to construct pragmatic, but philosophically challenging positions around notions of amateurism.

Amateurism and commercialism are bleeding together - just as colors do when throwing a red sock into a load of white laundry. When the clothes come out they have an unmistakable pink tint. No matter how much you try to get the clothes back to their original color or try to convince yourself that the color isn't pink, it doesn't change the reality. And when it comes to amateurism, it seems like the red socks of commercialism keep showing up on a regular basis.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Athletic budget cut update #25

The latest budget news has the Atlantic Coast Conference moving their baseball championship out of Fenway Park to Greensboro, North Carolina in order to have the games in a city that is geographically central to the conference membership.

A recent New York Times article details a number of cuts across the country, many of which have been covered by Additional information in the article includes: Stanford's plans to cut $3 million in 2010 and $4.5 million in 2011, the Ohio Valley Conference eliminating media days and media guides and Lehigh University bringing their fall athletes back to campus only a few days before dormitories officially open instead of a full week to save on room and board costs.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

David vs Goliath: Get your slingshot, you're going to need it

Extraordinary author and columnist Malcolm Gladwell recently wrote an excellent article, "How David beats Goliath: When underdogs break the rules". The May 5, 2009 New Yorker piece weaves together details about 12 year-old girls basketball, war throughout history, and a game between UMASS and Fordham in 1971 that featured Dr. J. and had a significant impact on Rick Pittino's coaching career and the biblical story itself to describe how underdogs were able to beat prohibitive favorites.

He shows that the upsets aren't nearly as surprising as one would believe. They happen at a far greater rate than you might expect. Why? The willingness of the "Davids" to think differently about their situation by ignoring the "rules" and norms that intentionally or unintentionally support the "Goliaths" is a common theme. The importance of hard work, agility and flexibility to overcome adverse situations also comes through. In the words of Hall of Fame basketball coach Pete Carril, "The strong take from the weak, but the smart take from the strong" It's the type of thinking that Andrew Oliver's attorney Rick Johnson from Cleveland, Ohio used in his lawsuit against the NCAA, challenging the NCAA in a way that hadn't been tried before.

It's the type of reading anyone in athletics can enjoy.

These themes appear increasingly important as the Goliaths in college athletics put more and more distance between themselves and their Davidesque competitors, driven by the topic that is dominating discussion right now, budgets and the economy. The budget situations facing departments across the country are real and has chronicled the devastating cuts. But within those cuts are some notable moves by a small subset of athletic programs that show significant budgetary strength and the ability to put distance between themselves and others, both within their conference and nationally. Some have shown strength (e.g. Arkansas, Florida) by providing significant funding to the academic side of the University. Others, like Ohio State, have found major cash infusions through media rights deals.

The gap between those who have sufficient resources and those who do not will grow wider than we've previously seen. This is certainly the case between the 6 major conferences (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big Twelve, Pac 10, SEC) and everyone else in Division I. But it is also occurring within conferences as institutions with bigger stadiums, better brands and stronger traditions draw from the goodwill on their balance sheet to weather tough economic times.

The number of "Davids" is growing. Simultaneously, the relative stature of the "Goliaths" is also growing. Gladwell's article won't tell you what to do, but it may give you some insight about casting aside the rules about what you're "supposed to do" and encourage you to make decisions that are agile, differentiating, and winning. Get your slingshot. You're going to need it.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Athletic budget cut update #24 - New Orleans Privateers face more hurdles

New Orleans students voted down a proposal to increase student fees to help support the athletic program. The failed referendum brings UNO closer to the previously discussed possibility of either dropping the athletic program entirely, or perhaps dropping from Division I to a lower classification.

Washington State has announced that the athletic department budget will be cut by $350,000 and Beasley Coliseum (the basketball arena) will lose state funding and become a self-supporting entity. The cut is approximately 1% of the department's operating budget. A 10.8% cut imposed across the rest of the University will eliminate 371 jobs and several academic departments, including the sports management program.

Louisiana Monroe Athletic Director Bobby Staub has scheduled three guarantee football games for the 2009 season (Texas, Arizona State and Kentucky) that will bring in approximately $2.5 million in revenue.

Boise State's football season ticket renewals are off the pace from previous years and they are offering a three month payment plan option (for a $15 fee) for ticket holders who have seen the price of tickets increase 17%, the addition of a seventh home game and increases in Boise Athletic Association membership contributions necessary to maintain seats.

Lastly, wrote an in-depth examination of the economic situation facing many colleges and universities entitled "Colleges Flunk Economics Test as Harvard Model Destroys Budgets". It suggests that higher education has created a bubble similar to what we are seeing in other sectors of the economy. Its worth reading, if for no other reason, to see some of the staggering tuition costs that are being charged across the country. It's also very sobering in that college athletic programs, even at their economic best, are by definition a subsidiary of its sponsoring institution and their fortunes tied to the health of the sponsoring school.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Athletic budget cut update #23 - Washington Drops Swimming Programs

The University of Washington Director of Athletics Scott Woodward has announced the Huskies are dropping their men's and women's swimming teams in an effort to close a $2.8 million budget gap. The decision is expected to save the school $1.2 million.

Georgia Tech announced the elimination of 15 staff positions by laying off 13 individuals and leaving two vacant positions unfilled.

University of Miami has required each sport to cut its budget by 3.5% and it also laid off staff back in January to find $850,000 in savings due to declining profits. The school is also advocating, along with the ACC, that football establish an early signing period to help save money.

Arkansas is committing $1 million to the University's general fund to help offset budget cuts on the academic side of the house.

USA Today also had an article about rapidly increasing costs in college athletics.