Saturday, April 24, 2010

I guess we're raising him right...

Today I had the care of our almost 2 year old while my wife did a co-garage sale with some friends from church as part of Bolivar's annual city-wide garage sale celebration.

For lunch, I decided we'd do a father-son outing to McDonald's. It's a weird idea because Elias has probably never eaten at McDonald's and we almost never eat fast food as a family. But I know McDonald's has a power similar to Elmo's-- I knew a 2 year old in a third world country whose first words were practically from the McDonald's menu, something she saw maybe once a month. I sort of wanted to test this power. The main appeal of our McD's is that it has 45 cent ice cream cones and I thought it'd be fun to share that treat.

I got Elias a Happy Meal and myself a grilled chicken club, and 2 small cones. Elias is always a huge lunch eater, so I expected him to do well with the chopped up burger, bun, and fries.

He literally turned his nose up at the burger, bun, and fries. He ate most of the cheese off the burger, and a few bites of the bun. He wouldn't believe me that it was bread. He spit out the french fries, he clearly didn't like them. And the only thing he would eat off of my sandwich was the tomato, he ate most of it.

He ate most of his ice cream, although he didn't seem to like it as much as the sugar-free stuff I give him at home. He didn't know it was ice cream until I told him.

So, feeling guilty about this idea, we went home. The fact that he likes his Happy Meal toy is little consolation-- we could have bought plenty of similar toys today at garage sales for a much lower price. At home, I heated up his leftover green beans, ham, and rice from last night along with some sliced strawberries. "Mmmmm!" he exclaimed as he began chowing down.

Elias is right, of course, McDonald's food is fake processed crud and no one should eat it. So, I feel guilty about taking him to McDonald's. It might be the last time.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

"A win for the family!" -- Jim Nantz

I watch golf maybe twice a year, max. I usually watch the Masters (even though it's a rigged course) on Sunday (and Saturday this year). I sometimes get caught up in the anxiety but rarely do I get emotional. Scanning the headlines tonight, every newspaper in America has the same front page sports story, and it's about family.
courtesy: Getty Images/Yahoo!.com

This weekend we saw a competition between two players who Americans actually know nothing about personally, really. But we know that one player's golf game suffered because he took time off for cheating on his wife. The other player's golf game suffered because his wife and mother are fighting breast cancer. Which one were you rooting for on Friday? How about Sunday?

Jim Nantz sees a lot of memorable stories and heart-tugging video edits from CBS. When live action stuff makes him choke up, you know it's the real deal. I think it made us all choke up for a reason-- it reminded us of what really matters. Occasionally sports do that, and it's nice.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Is the NCAA welfare-enhancing (Part 2)

According to the NY Times, tonight's NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship between Duke and Butler features a game of David vs. Goliath in terms of basketball expenses (ie: budgets).

Butler's basketball budget: $1.73 million.
Duke's basketball budget: $13.89 million.

Butler's total endowment: $164 million.
Duke's total endowment: $6 billion.

So, we can calculate expenses per endowment (like expenses per assets):
Butler: 1.05%.
Duke: 0.23%.

Duke's basketball budget is a smaller percentage of their total endowment. Is that a good way to measure the cost of a program? I think a better measure might be basketball expenses vs. total spent by school on academics over the course of the year. I don't have that number yet.

BTW-- according to the U.S. Department of Education,
"Duke and Butler had the two highest NCAA graduation rates — 92 percent and 90 percent, respectively — of any of the men’s basketball teams in the Sweet Sixteen, and they graduate more than 75 percent of their African-American players."

One is probably supposed to read the above quote and say "Hooray, these programs are doing it right! Winning and graduating players." Butler would obviously be the champion in terms of bang-for-your-buck. They're getting more wins and graduates per dollar spent than Duke is. But this is deceiving.

Questions you have to ask:
1. What kinds of degrees are players graduating with? A degree in Sports Management is not equivalent to a degree in Nuclear Physics. A school can boost its graduation rate by having players enroll in degrees that are relatively easy.

I couldn't find info about major for any of the Butler players. A few of the Duke players have it listed in their personal bio. I count 2 History majors, 2 Visual Arts majors, 2 Economics majors, and 1 African-American Studies major.

2. What is the expected reward of their 4 years at respective schools? This is a function of several things including:
a. Degree earned.
b. Quality/rank of the academics of the institution.
c. Quality of the player-- if he's good enough to play professionally he's going to earn more than someone who is going into social work or something. The more NBA-quality players you have the higher the average reward will be for the team.
d. Quality of the student-- GPA, honors, etc.

Some of these are difficult to compare across institutions. Duke ranks higher in most areas than Butler, but it depends on the department chosen. Butler has the only player projected to be drafted by the NBA this year, Duke has 3 projected for next year.

According to this graph, according to the median cash compensation for Butler and Duke alumni who are 5-15 years into their careers are:
Duke alumni: $104,000.
Butler alumni: $74,700.

But does having a basketball program have anything to do with the above salaries? One could argue that by giving someone a scholarship to play basketball who would not otherwise have gotten into the university, you've given him higher income possibilities. But this also fails to properly take costs into account (I'll address this in my next post).

3. How much revenue does the basketball program generate for the overall university? Good luck finding an estimate for that unless you're on the board of one of the schools.

4. Is it worth it for the money either school is spending? Is spending an additional dollar on basketball worth it relative to spending on other programs? Resources are allocated efficiently if an additional dollar spent on basketball yields the same output per dollar as an additional dollar spent on, say, the science program.

Where am I going with this mess of numbers? I really just want to illustrate the cost of having a basketball program and show it's really hard to flesh out the benefits in terms of the costs. Defining success is also difficult. A dollar spent on basketball is a dollar not spent on something else, so opportunity costs matter. It's the opportunity costs that are at the heart of my thinking.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

On the NCAA (an aside)

One thing that has really bothered me this Easter weekend is reading Daniel Orton's tweets. Orton just finished his freshman season at UK, he was a highly-ranked player out of high school and originally committed to play for the previous coach but kept his commitment to the new one.

Orton has been rumored to be entering the NBA draft, a rumor substantiated by an interview his father gave last week. It seems that UK fans have been dogging the kid simply because Facebook and Twitter give them the ability to.
Orton's tweets:
3 things I want to address: 1. I've never been a me first person. I came to UK bc I loved the fans. I care what they think of me. I have a great relationship w ALL the coaches 3. Demarcus is a GREAT player and he made me better and he deserves all the praise and accolades he's received. Please understand my dad lost the love of his life of 23 yrs. He is a great father and a great example of a strong Christian man. We are a very humble family. Its been an emotional year and a half. We are all still grieving bc my mom was our rock. Please understand my dad lost the love of his life of 23 yrs. He is a great father and a great example of a strong Christian man.

So, here's a 19 year old who is getting brow-beaten by selfish fans who all have an opinion but none of them have much information. His family is mourning the loss of his mother who would have loved to see him reach this level.

Easter morning, Orton writes:
People I KNOW that if I dropped outta school it would cost UK a scholarship. I'm not self centered or a me person at all. I'm a team player. That's why I didn't. Your scholarship won't be taken away for all you fans out there that need it so badly!!

And to make it worse, some "fan" writes him this message in response:
I'm suddenly ashamed of all the times in my life I booed a 19 year old kid while he was playing ball (and the 50 year old referees doing their jobs). Of all the times I got upset when those 19 year old kids didn't do as well as I expected, or what I'd hoped, or whatever. Of all the times I hated an opposing team just because they were the opposing team.

He's just trying to make a living, to do the best thing for everyone. The kid needs love, prayer, and support, not Big Blue Nation lighting up his phone. All of us have opinions, NONE of us have any information. I think we should all be ashamed.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Is the NCAA welfare-enhancing?

I believe the U.S. has gotten one thing horribly wrong that the rest of the world has gotten honorably right-- namely, the co-opting of universities to be the home of major amateur athletics and to likewise serve as a minor league system for several professional sports.

If you're a teenage basketball player in Europe, you can turn professional, join a team and work your way up the ranks and pay scale. If you attend college it's because you want to, not because you want attention from NBA scouts or because the school is giving you a scholarship to play ball. It's simply a career choice you make as a teenager (similar to the way stock car racing works here, or even being drafted out of high school to play baseball).

Not so in the U.S. Our major amateur athletics are housed in universities. This leads to a few important differences from the rest of the world's schools which I see increasingly as inefficiencies:

1. The goal of the American university is not only to educate the mind, but also to develop athletes to their full potential.
2. Therefore, the resources of the university go not only to education, but to developing the athletic program.
3. As a result, the success of the university's academic programs and its athletic programs are intertwined, creating a symbiosis such that one cannot exist without the other.

On what grounds is this system defensible as being efficient from the standpoint of maximizing social welfare? Is this system equitable? Is there any hope of change? I hope to explore these questions in depth in future posts. On some points the cost/benefit analysis is pretty straightforward in terms of dollars and educational attainment of students. On other points, some subjective/normative statements have to be made. For example, should developing athletes be a goal of university as a supplement to a well-rounded education? Or does a well-educated individual add more value to a society than a well-developed athlete?

If anyone is out there with thoughts, articles, books, or questions, they are most welcome to comment.

Book Review (#3 of 2010)

Egypt, Greece, and Rome: Civilizations of the Ancient Mediterranean by Charles Freeman (1st edition).
I started this book when I was in college and made a determined effort to finish it as part of a New Year's resolution. It is a long book with small print covering 4,000 B.C. to 640ish A.D. and has to be the most comprehensive history of the three civilizations ever written.

Freeman covers everything from governments & conquests, to literature and pottery, economic life, cultural & religious life, and the enduring impact these civilizations have on society today. There are plenty of aside chapters on philosophers and artisans, architecture, etc. I feel there are very few details he leaves out. Whether you're interested in specific battles or historical figures, you'll find plenty of info and further recommended readings in the back. A comprehensive timeline is also included and plenty of maps.

In the closing chapters there is a history of the rise of Christianity. It's interesting to read from a secular perspective and I appreciate how little I know about the early church and the development of the major manifestations of the Christian religious orders.

I give this book 5 stars out of 5. I am now glad to move down the list of other dusty books on my shelves asking to be read.