Tennis is played and followed in most nations worldwide. But professional players aren’t making much money. Fewer than 1,000 pro players break even at the sport. Far fewer make a decent living.The opportunities to make good money are dwindling. More players are competing for prizes that are growing slowly, especially at the game’s lowest levels. Earlier this month, the ATP World Tour, which runs the most lucrative pro men’s events, announced it was increasing prize money significantly over the next four years. But the most exclusive tournaments will get the biggest boosts. After adjusting for inflation1Which I did using the U.S. Consumer Price Index, since U.S. dollars are the standard currency in tennis, prize money on the ATP’s Challenger Tour — the equivalent of baseball’s AAA minor league — has fallen by 25 percent in the last six years.Soon after the ATP’s announcement, the International Tennis Federation released results of its analysis of the pro game’s financials. Among the sobering findings: Only 336 men and 253 women made more than they spent playing tennis last year.2That doesn’t count sponsorship money and appearance fees, but it also doesn’t count coaching expenses.In every pro sport, many compete for few lucrative slots. Tennis’s economics are particularly brutal. Players are individual contractors who have to cover their own transportation, equipment, coaching and — at some events — accommodation and food. Almost all of them have to supplement their winnings with sponsorships, support from their national federations or their families, odd jobs or all of the above.The best 104 men and 104 women get safe passage to the four Grand Slam tournaments each year.3Each Grand Slam tournament has spots for 128 men and 128 women in its singles draws. Typically 104 men enter singles directly based on their ranking, while the rest of the slots go to players who qualify in a pre-tournament playoff, or who get a wild-card slot from organizers. Women’s draws are constructed similarly, though most majors allot four fewer qualifying slots for women, and four more direct-entry positions. They’re the players who have a chance to make a lot of money playing tennis. Lose your first match at each one last year, and you would still earn roughly $130,000. The rest of the players in the world are fighting for much smaller purses. The ITF estimates that the 4,978 men who won some prize money last year but weren’t in the top 1 percent earned, on average, a little over $13,000. The bottom 99 percent of the 2,650 women who earned prize money averaged about $22,600.If you’re the 350th best man in the world at baseball, basketball, American football, ice hockey or soccer, you’re earning more than $500,000 each year, expenses paid. If you’re the 350th best man in tennis, you’re probably either falling into debt or getting help from a sponsor or parent. Tennis looks better financially for women than for men, relative to other sports, yet it’s likely that fewer than 200 women are earning a living from tennis prize money.Tennis’s problem is that its fan base is wide but not deep. It has fans in countries around the world, but rarely enough to support a major tournament with sellouts and big TV ratings in any single market.The ITF is considering how to divide the revenue among players in a way that’s best for the game. The nonprofit body is studying the sport’s economics to make sure that players who are good enough to break through don’t quit the game before doing so — and to hasten the departure of those who aren’t good enough. The ITF’s data shows it takes about a year longer now than it did in 2000 for a player to go from his or her first ranking to reaching the Top 100, which is another year during which promising players might get discouraged and drop their rackets.“The last thing I’d want is for an exceptionally talented player to have to leave the game after a year or two, before they realize their potential,” Kris Dent, the ITF’s director of pro tennis, said in a telephone interview. “That’s something that drives what we’re doing, first and foremost.”The ITF enlisted outside researchers in Australia and the U.K. for its study. It surveyed 7,605 players worldwide, three-quarters of them active professional players. Just 6 percent of women and 5 percent of men who responded said their prize money in their most recent year of professional play covered their expenses. More than half of men and women said they had to cut costs to a level they deemed unacceptable for hotels and the number and quality of tournaments they played.The life most pro players lead is far from glamorous. They are concerned more with having enough balls and a good court to play on, than with paparazzi and endorsements. Players were asked in the survey where they’d be OK with cuts. Balls and facility maintenance were lowest on their list. In a recent post on Facebook, 22-year-old Tomás Buchhass of Argentina lamented “courts in a pitiful state which are a hazard to the physical well-being of the players” at a Chilean ITF event. And a photo of a shredded net on a practice court at a Tunisian ITF event made the rounds on Twitter last month.4An ITF spokesman confirmed the photo is genuine and added, “It is essential that tournament conditions meet the minimum standards expected by the ITF. Where complaints about an unacceptable site are upheld following investigation, as they were on this particular occasion, we will not approve the site for any future Circuit tournaments unless we are entirely satisfied that steps have been taken to ensure no repetition.”In one of the least surprising findings of modern polling history, nearly all players said prize money should increase. (Just who were the 12 percent of men and 21 percent of women who disagreed, the ITF couldn’t say.)Dent agrees with players, to a point. He’d like to see less hardship for young players. For instance, he wants the lowest-level tournaments to cover players’ food and hotel costs in the form of a per diem; this year fewer than 4 percent of ITF pro events covered all players’ hospitality costs. That would help encourage players to travel to more tournaments. More prize money would help, too, but big increases aren’t realistic for most events. Below the top rungs of the men’s and women’s tours, there is little to no income coming from sponsorships, ticket sales or broadcast rights, Dent said. National federations, sometimes with grants from the ITF or the Grand Slams, generally cover costs, and aren’t likely to pay for big prize-money increases.Many different bodies run the sport. Each of the four Grand Slams is run by the host nation’s tennis federation. The ATP runs the men’s tour, the WTA the women’s tour. For the men, the ATP handles the highest minor-league level, of Challengers, while the ITF runs the lowest-level pro tournaments, called Futures. For women, the ITF runs all events below tour level.The ITF runs the least lucrative tournaments, so it doesn’t have much leeway to increase prize money at those. Dent wants to shrink the player pool so there is more money for each player. “We need to look at how we reward players who are progressing, but start to make it harder for players who aren’t,” he said.Tennis isn’t likely to start forcing players to earn tour cards, as golf does. But Dent repeatedly cited golf as an example of a sport that properly “signposts” steps on aspiring pros’ journeys. Tennis, he said, needs to a better job of that. The point of Futures and Challengers isn’t to award enough money for players to live on, but to identify the best emerging talents and bestow ranking points so they can qualify for bigger, more lucrative tournaments. Toughening playing-down rules, which prevent players from competing at events below their level, are a way for the ITF to ensure that prize money and ranking points at entry-level events get divvied up among emerging stars, not established veterans.Dent also envisions adding yet a lower level of competition — development events that cash-strapped national federations can support so that local players can afford to play without heavy travel costs. The events would have smaller draws and use officials with less experience than is required at current ITF events — while not skimping on costs for courts and balls.“Already a number of developing nations, particularly in Africa, find it difficult to host events at the prize-money level we have,” Dent said. Nearly half of men’s prize money at ITF events, and more than half of ITF women’s prize money, was distributed at European events this year.The pool of money for aspiring players could be growing soon. In March, the ITF Board will consider the idea of the development tour and other potential changes — including increases to prize money and hospitality — in light of the research. The ATP likely will increase prize money and hospitality spending at Challenger tournaments next year, too, according to a spokesman — which would reverse recent stagnation and decline.The big money, though, remains at the top of the game — and the gap likely will widen. The ATP’s recently announced prize-money increases are biggest for the 500- and 1,000-level tournaments, which are the most exclusive ones, with increases of 50 percent and 54 percent, respectively, in 2018 compared to this year, after adjusting for projected inflation. The 250-level events, one notch up from Challengers, will increase prize money by just 6 percent.
Nolan Richardson (left, Arkansas) and John Thompson (Georgetown) won national championshipsThe lack of Black men’s college basketball coaches is not just noticeably missing from the Final Four—they are missing all across the country. Once a powerful source of leadership in the NCAA, the presence of African-American men coaching African-American young men at major colleges is fading like the markings on the bottom of an old pair of sneakers.Since the end of the college basketball’s regular season, seven Black coaches have been fired—at George Mason, Penn, Holy Cross, Mississippi State, Alabama, DePaul and Nevada.Three hires have been made as replacements. . . none Black.St. John’s and Texas now have openings, too. Chris Mullin, the former St. John’s great, already reportedly is mulling that job. Nowhere are African-American coaches being listed, at least publicly, as candidates for these openings. Of about 330 Division I head-coaching jobs, Blacks coaches make up about 17 percent of those positions—the lowest percentage in 20 years. Meanwhile, African-Americans constitute about 60 percent of players.This is a problem, a shame on the sport.Gone are the strong, convicted voices of the past: coaches John Thompson (Georgetown), John Chaney (Temple), Nolan Richardson (Arkansas) and George Raveling (USC). Left are competent Black coaches who are less imposing and more restrained, virtual figureheads more concerned about keeping their jobs than adding more jobs for men who look like them.Kevin Ollie won the title with UConn last year.Long gone are Clarence (Big House) Gaines at Winston Salem and John McClendon, after years at HBCUs, who became the first Black coach at a Division 1 school when he went to Cleveland State in 1966. They inspired.To be fair, the few Black coaches today likely care that their Black contemporaries are outsiders looking in. But they have not been able to do anything about it—or tried much. The Black Coaches Association at one time brought a measure of influence—primarily because championship coaches Thompson and Richardson and smart and steadfast Chaney and Raveling were more Civil Rights movement than politically correct.Today, the BCA hardly exists. It’s long-time executive director, Floyd Keith, resigned the position in 2013. Since then, sadly, it has been dormant.Meanwhile, the business it should be tending to goes undone. Last year, Kevin Ollie coached UConn to the NCAA Tournament championship, an impressive feat in his second year as head coach. Ollie, who is Black, told the New York Times that African-American coaches lack the structure and leadership of two decades ago with Thompson, Richardson, et al.“They paved the way for me that I can have a job and do it successfully,” Ollie said. “But it’s definitely something we need to take a long look at, and hopefully we can get more African-Americans in these jobs, in these positions, that they can run a program.”Thompson, Richardson, Ollie and Tubby Smith are the only Black coaches to win the NCCA Tournament championship. Chaney, Hewitt, for two, took teams to the Final Four, Hewitt to the title game with Georgia Tech in 2004. So the barrier of a Black coach’s competence has long been shattered.Richard Lapchick of Central Florida University, who has researched diversity in sports for 50 years, suggested the NCAA adopt a version of the NFL’s Rooney rule, which requires teams to interview Black candidates before making a hire.Tubby Smith won the title at Kentucky in 1998“Anywhere that’s been put in place, it has made things better because it just opens the hiring process,” Lapchick said to ESPN. “You’re gonna get bogus interviews for sure, but more than likely the case is going to be even if you had no intentions of hiring that person, if they come in and they’re impressive, which happens consistently in the NFL, people in the organization … they’ll remember that person.”Good luck on the NCAA taking up such an edict. Meanwhile, colleges have taken on a modern day good ole boy network: search firms.To avoid the scrutiny of not hiring Black coaches, they pay search firms hundreds of thousands of dollars to execute the search for them. Problem is, the firms are just an extension of a network of white athletic directors who make up 80 percent of those jobs.Black coaches are not even a part of the firm’s clients, so they sit back and watch, helplessly, as whites who are clients of the firms continually get jobs.Used to be that Black parents wanted a Black coach as an authority figure to look after their son. You can bet Patrick Ewing chose Georgetown because Thompson was the coach. Raveling, Chaney and Richardson also landed top prospects because of their convictions and the trust that they would be fair and honest with their players and teach them about more than the game.That factor seems to be less of a recruiting value now. Parents are younger and farther away from the Civil Rights movement and are enthralled by the glamour of the big-name coaches and NBA chances, while giving the coach’s personal, political and social background less credence. Thompson—who walked off the court before a game to protest an N.C.A.A. rule that linked eligibility to standardized test scores, which he viewed as racist—Raveling, Chaney and Richardson were consistently vocal about injustice based on race, and that conviction resonated with parents.“I was a kid in the ’80s,” VCU coach Shaka Smart told Yahoo! Sports last year, “but I remember the notion that if you were a high-level player from a family that really valued a Black identity, going to play for John Thompson was the thing to do.”That does not seem to be the case much these days. And colleges, with no one holding them accountable for their lopsided hiring practices, are doing what they always have—selecting candidates that look like them.And so, as the Final Four commences in Indianapolis this week, Black coaches will be there looking for jobs more than to watch the action on the court.
FiveThirtyEight More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed Welcome to the latest episode of Hot Takedown, FiveThirtyEight’s sports podcast. On this week’s show (Jan. 17, 2017), we discuss how Aaron Rodgers led the Packers to victory in one of the most exciting NFL playoff games in recent memory. Plus, we preview next weekend’s AFC and NFC championship matchups. Next, ESPN Insider’s Mike Goodman drops by to school us on what’s going on in the English Premier League as the title race gets going. Finally, we add our 2 cents to the speculation about Carmelo Anthony potentially leaving the Knicks. Plus, a significant digit on Alex Rodriguez’s future as a TV host.In case you missed it, ESPN recapped the Packers’ 34-31 victory over the Cowboys.The Cowboys-Packers game was as great as it seemed, writes Neil Paine.Bill Barnwell wrote for Grantland on why icing the kicker does not work.ESPN’s Dan Graziano reflected on the four biggest questions in next weekend’s conference championships.Our NFL predictions will continue to be updated throughout the playoffs.In the other type of football, the BBC took at look at how the top six are shaping up in the English Premier League.Deadspin’s Tom Ley investigates the latest speculation that Carmelo Anthony may leave the Knicks.Significant Digit: $21 million, the reported salary that A-Rod will be paid by the Yankees next season. He won’t actually be playing for the team, but instead hosting “Back in the Game,” a new CNBC reality show that will feature a panel of experts advising former professional athletes who are struggling financially. Embed Code
If you followed FiveThirtyEight’s coverage during the World Cup, you know that we’re big fans of the World Football Elo Ratings. They’re based on a relatively simple system developed by the physicist Arpad Elo to rate chess players. But they can be adapted fairly easily for other head-to-head competitions from baseball to backgammon.We thought we’d have a little fun and extend them to American football. In an accompanying post, you’ll find our initial Elo ratings for all 32 NFL teams (at this point, the ratings are based on a team’s standing at the end of last season, discounted slightly to reflect reversion to the mean). We’ve also developed a simulator program that plays out the NFL schedule thousands of times and projects a team’s likelihood of making the playoffs, based on a team’s record up to that point in time, its Elo rating, its remaining schedule and the NFL’s various tiebreaker rules. We plan to update these projections at the end of every week.But first (inspired somewhat by The New York Times’s personification of its election model, Leo), we thought we’d “interview” the Elo system about how it does its work.FiveThirtyEight: What are some of some of your best qualities?Elo: I’m simple, transparent and easy to work with. I can do a lot with a little, such as calculating point spreads and the probability of either team winning a game.Can I use you to beat Vegas?I wouldn’t try that. Vegas lines account for a much wider array of information than I do. When Nate backtested me, he found that I got 51 percent of games right against the point spread. That’s not nearly enough to cover the house’s cut, much less to make a living.We noticed that you have the Seattle Seahawks favored by 10 points in their Thursday-night game against the Green Bay Packers, while Vegas has the Seahawks as six-point favorites instead.That’s a perfect example. Has anything strange been going on with the Packers?Well, their star quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, was injured. Now he’s back!If this Mr. Rodgers fellow is as good as you say he is, that could account for the difference. I don’t know anything about him. I only keep track of the final scores, the dates of games and where the games were played.So what good are you?Think of me as a benchmark. I do a pretty good job of accounting for the basic stuff — wins and losses, margin of victory, strength of schedule. I also retain a memory from past seasons, so I know that the Jacksonville Jaguars aren’t as likely to win the Super Bowl as the Denver Broncos. Can we get to some more technical questions?Um … what are your parameters?That’s more like it. Like K, for instance; K is my favorite parameter.What makes K so special?K tells me how much to update my ratings after each game. In a sport like baseball, where there are lots of games, any one additional game doesn’t tell you all that much, so K takes on a low value. In the NFL, it’s much higher. Specifically, it’s the number 20. That may not mean anything to you, but if you set K a lot higher than that, I’d be a nervous wreck and bounce around too much from game to game. And if you made K much lower, I’d be hopelessly sluggish and too slow to notice changes in the quality of team’s play.I noticed the Detroit Lions have an Elo rating of 1467. What does that mean?An average team has an Elo rating of 1500 — so your Lions are not so hot. But it could be a lot worse. In 2009, the Lions got all the way down to a rating of 1223. Most NFL teams wind up in the range of 1300 to 1700.We’re still not quite sure how your ratings work. If you have one team at a 1650 and another at 1400, what does that mean?If it makes things easier, you can translate my ratings into a point spread. Take the difference in my ratings and divide by 25. It’s that simple.So, if one team is rated 250 Elo points higher than the other, that works out to a spread of 10 football points.Precisely.What about home-field advantage?I can account for that, too. Historically, it’s been worth about 65 Elo ratings points or 2.6 NFL points. Just add that to the point spread.What if you want to calculate a team’s probability of winning?That’s pretty easy, too, although you’ll need a formula for it. In a game between Team A and Team B, Team A’s win probability is equal to:Pr(A) = 1 / (10^(-ELODIFF/400) + 1)Where ELODIFF is Team A’s Elo rating minus Team B’s Elo rating.Let’s say Team A wins. Its Elo rating will improve?Yes. One of my more appealing properties is that a team’s Elo rating will always improve after it wins and always decline after it loses. How much it improves will depend on how much of a favorite or an underdog it was.So, like after the 2008 Super Bowl …I can predict where you’re going with that question. I’ll admit that I didn’t have the New York Giants rated so highly compared to the New England Patriots. But the Giants’ Elo rating improved a lot after they won that game — more than the Patriots’ would have if they’d won instead. I may have my flaws, but unlike a lot of you human beings, I know how to fix them. The lower a team is rated, the easier for it to gain ground by proving me wrong.Do you also account for margin of victory?Affirmative. I took some inspiration from the soccer ratings, which account for goal differential in addition to the game result. But this is one of the more complicated parts.For the NFL, I start by adding one point to team’s margin of victory and then take its natural logarithm. Then I multiply that result by the K value. That means I’m more moved by big wins than narrow ones, although there are diminishing returns. I’m not so impressed by the fifth touchdown when a team is ahead 28-0.That seems simple enough.It would be, but that isn’t all there is to it. We haven’t talked about my autocorrelation problem. It’s a little embarrassing.Go on. “Autocorrelation”? Was that the weird David Cronenberg movie?Autocorrelation is the tendency of a time series to be correlated with its past and future values. Let me put this into football terms. Imagine I have the Dallas Cowboys rated at 1550 before a game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Their rating will go up if they win and go down if they lose. But it should be 1550 after the game, on average. That’s important, because it means that I’ve accounted for all the information you’ve given me efficiently. If I expected the Cowboys’ rating to rise to 1575 on average after the game, I should have rated them more highly to begin with.It’s true that if I have the Cowboys favored against the Eagles, they should win more often than they lose. But the way I was originally designed, I can compensate by subtracting more points for a loss than I give them for a win. Everything balances out rather elegantly.The problem comes when I also seek to account for margin of victory. Not only do favorites win more often, but when they do win, they tend to win by a larger margin. Since I give more credit for larger wins, this means that their ratings tend to get inflated over time.Is this also a flaw with the soccer Elo ratings?Possibly. You may want to reconsider what you wrote about Germany.So, how do you correct for this?It isn’t complicated in principle. You just have to discount the margin of victory more when favorites win and increase it when underdogs win. The formula for it is as follows:Margin of Victory Multiplier = LN(ABS(PD)+1) * (2.2/((ELOW-ELOL)*.001+2.2))Where PD is the point differential in the game, ELOW is the winning team’s Elo Rating before the game, and ELOL is the losing team’s Elo Rating before the game.It’s a little ugly, but we all have our vices.I see that you have ratings for this year’s teams, but they haven’t played any games yet! How does that work?I take their rating from the end of last season and discount it slightly. Specifically, I revert it to the mean by one-third. Remember that the mean Elo rating is 1500. So, if a team finished last season with a rating of 1800, I’ll revert it to 1700 when the new season begins. This whole notion of “season” is strange to me, by the way. We don’t have them in chess.For now, the ratings are all about which teams were good last year?Technically speaking, a game affects my ratings forever once it’s played, just with a smaller and smaller weight that gradually diminishes to almost nothing over time. But, yes, for the time being, my ratings are mostly about who was good last season. Games toward the end of the season will count more, especially games during last year’s playoffs.Thanks for taking the time! So, you’re saying we should take the Seahawks?How about a nice game of chess?See the Week 1 Elo ratings and playoff odds.
Ken Griffey Jr. has been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame after receiving a vote on 99.32 percent of ballots — a record. Earlier, we examined how Griffey’s prime, once separated from his unfortunate latter years, compared with the primes of other all-time great players. Junior turned out to be Willie Mays, more or less. While we’re at it, and for no particular reason today, we figured we’d run the same numbers for Barry Lamar Bonds, destroyer of worlds.Don’t worry, we think it’s weird to see Chipper Jones and Albert Pujols as Bonds’s most comparable peak-season players, too. More than anything else, consider this a sign that Bonds breaks the system — no other player had a truly similar mix of skills in their best seasons, particularly considering the absurd proportion of Bonds’s top years that came when he was in his mid-to-late 30s. Unlike Griffey, whose career bifurcation was so stark that his career-long comps end up being players he didn’t much resemble, a look at Bonds’s full career finds a satisfying pair of comps at the top:Remember when we made a big deal about how closely Griffey matched Willie Mays’s statistical profile? Mays is also Bonds’s most similar career player — except that Bonds showed better patience, power and contact skills than Mays, while still coming close to matching the Say Hey Kid on the basepaths and in the field.Because Bonds’s statistical profile is an invitation for the absurd, we thought it might be instructive to compare his worst years (i.e., his aggregate rate statistics after giving more weight to his “worst” WAR seasons) against the best years of other players. Those “bad” Bonds seasons were most comparable to — and, in fact, surpass — the best seasons of two current or soon-to-be Hall of Famers.You may now return to whatever it is you were doing, which is likely not as fun as looking at Barry Bonds stats.
Cross-country skiingWomen’s sprint0150.0 Freestyle skiingMen’s slopestyle33100.0% HockeyWomen’s51533.3 BobsledTwo-woman51338.5 Freestyle skiingWomen’s ski cross060.0 Sport▲▼Event▲▼U.S.▲▼Total▲▼Share▲▼ In which new Olympic events does the U.S. shine?Medals won by the United States in events that have been added to the Winter Olympics since 1994 SnowboardingWomen’s halfpipe101855.6 Freestyle skiingMen’s ski cross060.0 Cross-country skiingMen’s sprint0150.0 CurlingMixed030.0 SnowboardingMen’s parallel slalom030.0 SpeedskatingWomen’s team pursuit090.0 We really only have to go back to Sochi 2014 to see how this has affected the medal table. In Russia, Team USA won 28 medals, which was roughly 10 percent of the total medals awarded that year — just one behind the Russians for the overall lead.3After the Russians lost four medals from their initial 2014 total in a doping scandal. But if you were to eliminate events that were introduced in Lillehammer ’94 and beyond, the Americans would have finished with just 11 medals, or roughly 7 percent of the total medals awarded that year in those longer-term sports.With their medals in X-Games sports, Team USA were very nearly on top of the Winter Olympics world in 2014. Without those medals, they would have finished in a relatively pedestrian tie for sixth place. SnowboardingMen’s parallel giant slalom1128.3 Sport▲▼Event▲▼U.S.▲▼Total▲▼Share▲▼ Short track speedskatingMen’s 1,500m31520.0 SnowboardingMen’s slopestyle2633.3 Short track speedskatingWomen’s 1,000m1185.6 Nordic combinedIndividual large hill/10km2633.3 BiathlonWomen’s pursuit0150.0 Figure skatingTeam trophy2633.3 SkeletonMen’s21216.7 Short track speedskatingMen’s 500m21811.1 SnowboardingMen’s snowboard cross31225.0 Does not include medals that were subsequently stripped.Men’s skeleton appeared in 1928 and 1948 and then returned for good in 2002. This study considers men’s 30km skiathlon, women’s 15km skiathlon and Nordic combined normal hill as continuations of earlier events.Through the end of competition Thursday.Source: Sports-reference.com, International Olympic Committee SnowboardingMen’s halfpipe91850.0 SkeletonWomen’s21118.2 SnowboardingWomen’s slopestyle2633.3 Look at Team USA’s overall performances from 1964 through 1992, and this follows: They finished in the top five in terms of overall medals only twice in eight tries. Calgary ’88 was a low point — American athletes won just six medals. But all that mediocrity has been flipped on its head as the list of events grows.It should be said that the big air crowd aren’t the only American athletes responsible for this recent stretch of Winter Olympic team success (or who’ve benefited from events added to the games in the past three decades): Speedskaters like Apolo Anton Ohno and Shani Davis have had brilliant careers, and their achievements on ice also helped to augment Team USA’s recent medal hauls.To be sure, more traditional Winter Olympians like skiers Ted Ligety, Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin — and their predecessors like Tommy Moe, Picabo Street and Bode Miller — have assured that Team USA remains a threat in the Alpine events. The Americans aren’t exactly Austrians on the slopes, but they’re not exactly Bulgarians, either. But outside of the Alpine realm, don’t expect the Americans to impress in the more historic events: They’ve captured just one medal each in curling, ski jumping and cross-country skiing, and they’ve won exactly zero medals in biathlon.The cynical take is that this stuff looks really good on TV, and it’s all a big ratings grab for NBC, which has owned the U.S. broadcasting rights for the Winter Olympics since 2002. Whatever the impetus for adding new sports, and especially new extreme sports, the Americans continue to capitalize. It should be noted here that Canada has had a similar windfall: While the U.S. has totaled 64 medals in the events introduced in 1994 and beyond,4Through Thursday. Canada has captured 55.The Americans aren’t at the top of the medal table right now, but they still have events like ski aerials, ski slopestyle, ski halfpipe and the debut event of snowboarding big air — the most X-Games-y of X-Games-y sports — so there are plenty more opportunities to do what they do best. Now if only they could figure out how to slide a rock across a narrow sheet of ice toward a bullseye, they’d really be onto something. Medals BiathlonMass start women090.0 Freestyle skiingWomen’s slopestyle1333.3 Freestyle skiingMen’s halfpipe1333.3 Medals SnowboardingWomen’s snowboard cross1911.1 Every two years, the Olympics give Americans a chance to feel good about themselves. In the summer, U.S. swimmers and track stars consistently reign superior — and its gymnasts are usually right there, too. The American basketball team, now borrowed from the NBA, often seems like it could sleep through the first half and still coast past most of the other countries. Because of this, the U.S. has finished atop the medal table for every Summer Games since 1996.In the winter, the U.S. has grown accustomed to a similar degree of success, albeit not with nearly the same level of global domination. Since the U.S. hosted the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, the Americans have finished no lower than second on the medal table, with the 2010 Vancouver Games providing a high-water mark of 37 medals. So far in Pyeongchang, Team USA has won eight medals through Thursday, and five of those medals were golden.But for anybody old enough to remember the Cold War, American success in the winter may seem a little odd. For decades, the U.S. was pretty, well, meh — never bad enough to get shut out, but more often than not looking up at the Soviets, Austrians and Norwegians. So what changed? The answer is obvious: It’s flying through the air, performing a chicken salad or a double Michalchuk.Since the 1990s, Americans have retained their stranglehold on sports you might see in a Mountain Dew ad. Freestyle skiing aerials were introduced in the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, and snowboarding came along four years later in Nagano, Japan — with more individual events added in these sports each winter cycle.From 1994 to 2014, the U.S. racked up 34 medals in those two disciplines, 18 of which came on the halfpipe alone.1Freestyle skiing and snowboard. The U.S. has been on the same track so far in South Korea. A pair of 17-year-olds named Chloe Kim and Red Gerard — who claimed Olympic gold in women’s halfpipe and men’s slopestyle, respectively — have been the emerging stars. Shaun White, meanwhile, avenged his forgettable performance in Sochi and returned to the top of the men’s halfpipe podium; Jamie Anderson snagged a gold in women’s slopestyle; and Arielle Gold stood next to teammate Kim on the halfpipe podium, a bronze slung around her neck.With those five freestyle medals in the bag, Team USA is well on its way to matching the 11 it won in Sochi. But even when you get away from the halfpipe, the U.S. has capitalized on other newly introduced events as well, such as two-woman bobsled, women’s ice hockey and skeleton.2Men’s skeleton appeared in 1928 and 1948 and returned for good in 2002, with the addition of women’s skeleton. Freestyle skiingMen’s aerials31816.7 Cross-country skiingMen’s team sprint090.0 Freestyle skiingWomen’s halfpipe1333.3 CurlingWomen’s0150.0 BiathlonMen’s pursuit0150.0 Ski jumpingWomen’s individual normal hill060.0 Cross-country skiingWomen’s team sprint090.0 Short track speedskatingWomen’s 1,500m0120.0 BiathlonWomen’s 4×6 relay090.0 BiathlonMass start men090.0 SnowboardingWomen’s parallel slalom030.0 SnowboardingWomen’s parallel giant slalom1128.3 SpeedskatingMen’s team pursuit1911.1 LugeTeam relay060.0 Freestyle skiingWomen’s aerials1185.6
Embed Code Welcome to The Lab, FiveThirtyEight’s basketball podcast. Neil, Kyle and Chris are previewing the NBA playoffs in a special two-for-one edition of the podcast. On Friday’s show (April 13, 2018), they break down the first-round matchups in the Eastern Conference, where the Toronto Raptors are embarking on their journey as the No. 1 seed while the Cleveland Cavaliers are the betting favorites. (For The Lab’s discussion of the Western Conference, check out the April 12 show.)Here are links to what the podcast discussed this week:Keep an eye on FiveThirtyEight’s 2017-18 NBA predictions, updated after every game.Neil wrote a preview of the playoffs’ sleepers, favorites and best first-round matchups. More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed By Neil Paine, Chris Herring and Kyle Wagner
This MLB offseason, star players searching for contracts like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are going to be fine. But the majority of free agents in baseball this winter? They might be in store for another long wait as the game continues to trend younger — younger than it’s ever been for position players in the free agency era.Harper and Machado — rare 26-year-old superstar free agents — could break contract records this year. (Harper has already turned down $300 million.) But the rest of the free-agent class of 2018-19, which was once expected to be historically rich in talent, is not as strong as it could have been. Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw declined to exercise his opt-out and signed a new three-year, $93 million deal with the Dodgers on Friday without ever becoming a free agent. Josh Donaldson, the 2015 American League MVP, suffered a series of injuries that diminished his value, and A.J. Pollock has a similar recent history. Andrew McCutchen, a former National League MVP, is now 32 and no longer a star-level player.While there is star power at the top, more money to spend and perhaps fewer rebuilding teams, the vast majority of this class’s 250-plus free agents — who became eligible to sign with any team on Saturday — face the same questions that tormented the middle tier of free agents last year: Will any team sign them? And even if they land on major league rosters, how long will they have to wait, and what kind of salary will they have to accept to get there?The overriding issue is that the game is getting younger. Last season was the youngest for position players since the 1970s.To become a free agent, a player must accrue six years of service time.1Players also become free agents when they’re released from their clubs before reaching that threshold. The average age for rookies breaking into the majors last year was 24.4 for position players and 25.3 for pitchers. By the time these players have six years of service time, most will be at least 30 years old. Harper and Machado, who debuted as 19- and 20-year-old wunderkinds, are outliers.According to Spotrac, the 147 free agents to sign at least a one-year deal with guaranteed dollars last season were, on average, 32.6 years old, and the average age of this year’s class is 33.1 years. Last season, position players age 32 and older accounted for 12.9 percent of wins above replacement (WAR)2According to FanGraphs’ version of the metric. and 18.6 percent of plate appearances, which were the lowest numbers that demographic have contributed since 1975 and 1979, respectively. Free agency began in MLB after the 1976 season, so last offseason’s landscape for 30-somethings was about as bleak as it’s ever been in the free agency era. And this past season featured position players who were even younger. Pitchers are also trending younger, though not as dramatically. Pitchers age 32 and older combined for 18.7 percent of WAR and 19.9 percent of innings in 2018, which is down from 2001 levels (27.1 and 24.9 percent) but up from the 21st-century low in 2015 (12.1 and 17.1 percent).David Freese — who hit .296 with a .359 on-base mark last season — was ostensibly so concerned about his prospects this winter that, rather than test the open market, the 35-year-old signed a one-year, $4.5 million deal with the Dodgers last week that was less than his 2019 club option of $6 million. (The Dodgers also paid him the option’s $500,000 buyout.) Some background: Freese waited until March 11, 2016, to sign a one-year, $3 million deal coming off a 2.2-WAR 2015 season. Freese is well-aware of how tough the market can be for a 30-something free agent.When I spoke with free agent infielder Neil Walker in June, he was already concerned about the upcoming offseason. Walker signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the New York Yankees on March 12, nearly a month after spring training camps opened. He had produced seven straight seasons of at least 2 WAR.3Walker hit .219 last year, so perhaps teams saw something that made them rightfully cautious.“You hope this trend with middle-tier guys doesn’t continue through this collective bargaining agreement [which ends in 2021], because there are going to be many, many more guys that are affected,” said the 33-year-old Walker, a former player representative for the union. “It’s not the top top-tier guys. … It’s the guys in between. There are a lot more guys in between. I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know there are teams out there that didn’t spend a dime. There are teams out there that sold off most of their assets. That’s something, when you look around the league, it makes it pretty top-heavy and bottom-heavy. That’s alarming. That’s not the greatest situation, in my opinion, for baseball.”There was a time not long ago when a player with Walker’s resume wouldn’t have to worry about finding work. Not now, though. The Pittsburgh Pirates, Walker’s former club, proved you could achieve mediocrity without spending a single dollar on a major league free agent last offseason. The players union went as far as filing a grievance against the Pirates — along with the Miami Marlins, Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s — for spending very little on their major league payrolls while also being among the clubs receiving revenue sharing.There are a number of other issues contributing to the game’s youth movement, including testing for performance-enhancing drugs and teams’ growing desire to manage budgets more efficiently. The average position player age reached this century’s peak — 29.3 years — in 2004, when PED usage had become so rampant that the league finally enacted penalties for testing positive. That age has been declining ever since and fell to 28.1 last season, suggesting that PEDs may have been artificially extending the productive lifespan of a significant number of older players. Furthermore, last season position players age 32 and up saw their plate appearances decline by 36 percent compared with 2001, but their WAR production dropped by 54 percent. In other words, older players have become less effective in the playing time they get.Younger players are also usually cheaper — until they reach arbitration after three seasons in the majors, players make at or near the league minimum salary. Players who haven’t yet hit free agency also don’t come with the kind of high-risk long-term contracts that teams seem increasingly leery of — and not without reason. For instance, Eric Hosmer was a relatively young free agent last winter, entering his age 28 season, when he signed an eight-year, $144 million deal with the San Diego Padres. Hosmer proceeded to turn in a below-replacement-level performance for the year (-0.1 WAR). FanGraphs’ top 10 free agents last winter included some successes — J.D. Martinez and Lorenzo Cain — and some failures in Hosmer and Yu Darvish.4Granted, this was just the first year of the players’ multi-year deals, so these assessments may change by the time the contracts end. Overall, the top 10 FanGraphs free agents combined to produce 20.5 WAR at $179 million in earnings in 2018. That’s $8.7 million per WAR for a club, which is not particularly efficient.Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer also believes that younger players have another advantage: They are better adapted to recent technology advances and have benefited from improved player-development practices.“Older players, generally, haven’t kept up with how the league is changing and evolving,” Bauer said. “They do what they did to get there.”But while more older players are aging out of the game and teams are avoiding risky, big-ticket contracts, free agency is also being pinched on the front end. Teams have increasingly manipulated players’ service time, delaying their entry into free agency. Kris Bryant filed a grievance against the Chicago Cubs in 2015 over this. Last year, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit .402 in Double-A and .336 in Triple-A, but the Blue Jays didn’t bring up the 19-year-old because they claimed that he needed to work on his defense, and the son of a Hall of Famer has yet to debut. Guerrero and the MLBPA filed a grievance.“Now it’s almost getting chopped on both sides,” Walker said. “The window [for player earnings] is much smaller than it used to be.”Moreover, teams have had success at hanging on to many young stars by offering club-friendly extensions before they reach free agency, buying out those first years when a player can test the open market. And in recent offseasons, an unusual number of teams have been mired in dramatic rebuilds, with no interest in adding to their payroll. In September, things had gotten so dire for the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals that we questioned whether they could even beat Triple-A teams.Said a MLB Players Association spokesperson to FiveThirtyEight: “If 30 clubs are competing for a pennant, the free agent market for players will be robust. We’ll closely monitor developments.”And while baseball officially has no salary limits, MLB’s strengthened luxury tax acted as a soft cap last winter. Only the Red Sox and Nationals exceeded the $197 million threshold in 2018, according to numbers obtained from the commissioner’s office by The Associated Press. The Yankees stayed under the luxury tax for the first time since it was implemented, and the Los Angeles Dodgers spent just $4 million on free agents last winter. Perhaps that was done with an eye on this year’s class and on courting Harper, Machado or other stars. Time will tell.At a time when baseball revenues have increased dramatically — the average franchise valuation increased from $295 million in 2004 to $1.6 billion in 2018, according to Forbes — total money spent on player salaries increased by just 1.86 percent from 2017 ($4.638 billion) to 2018 ($4.724 billion). Some have wondered whether baseball players would actually benefit from a salary cap if it also came with a salary floor that guaranteed players a share of the sport’s revenues. After briefly instituting a salary cap and replacing arbitration with restricted free agency during the 1994-95 strike, owners would likely reject such a proposal today.Tinkerers have put forward other ideas to help improve free agency for players, including declaring all players free agents when they reach a certain age, which would also address the way clubs have been manipulating service time. For now, they are just ideas.“As we approach the next round of collective bargaining, we’re going to be considering all aspects of the system, as we always do,” the MLBPA spokesperson said.But there are several actual developments that could help players this winter.The Marlins spent last offseason trading off significant assets like Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna, which had the trickle-down effect of allowing several teams to fill the holes in their roster without resorting to the free-agent market. This time around, the Marlins don’t have many assets to shed, though catcher J.T. Realmuto could be dealt. There don’t appear to be many teams with major assets to sell, though the Seattle Mariners might rebuild.In addition, large-market clubs like the Yankees and Dodgers reset their tax status last winter, which means that the next time they exceed the threshold, their tax rate will be lower. Since so many teams were rebuilding last year, maybe some of them will be past the teardown stage and more interested in upgrading their rosters this year.The Chicago White Sox and Atlanta Braves, for example, may begin to spend more significantly and build on their cores. The Philadelphia Phillies are rumored to be interested in Harper and Machado. The Toronto Blue Jays, Minnesota Twins, Houston Astros, San Francisco Giants and even the Tampa Bay Rays are projected to enjoy considerable payroll space.The stars will certainly get paid this offseason, but the game also continues to trend younger. That means it could be another long winter for the majority of free agents. Meanwhile, younger players continue to be productive — and gain more playing time. Position players 26 and younger accounted for 43.2 percent of position-player WAR in 2018, the highest share since 1974, up nearly 20 percentage points from 2001 (23.4 percent). Similarly, this group got 38.4 percent of plate appearances, which was the highest number for them since 1987.
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer may be inheriting a new team, but it appears he has a building block in freshman quarterback Braxton Miller. On Miller’s 19th birthday Wednesday, the OSU quarterback was named the Big Ten Conference’s Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year. The award, which is presented to the conference’s most outstanding freshman, is named after Darrell Thompson who played running back for Minnesota in 1986 and Antwaan Randle El who played quarterback for Indiana from 1998-2001. Miller threw for 997 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions on the year, but also was effective on the ground. He was OSU’s leading rusher with 695 yards and seven touchdowns. Barring any unforeseen setbacks, Miller figures to be the Buckeyes’ quarterback to begin the Meyer-era of OSU football. “All due respect, everybody in this room,” Meyer said to the media at his introductory press conference Monday, “(Meeting Miller) was the highlight of my day, not this. Sitting there shaking hands with that good-looking quarterback with a nice smile and a very humble player. “To tell you I’m excited to coach him, I’m not using the correct adjectives. And because there’s mixed company around I’m not going to use the correct adjectives, how excited I am.” Meyer, known for running a spread offense that utilizes a quarterback who can both run and throw, has helped develop high-profile quarterbacks like Alex Smith, whom he coached at Utah, and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, whom he coached at Florida. Both quarterbacks are currently starting for NFL teams. “We’ve been blessed to have some great quarterbacks,” Meyer said. “And I’m really thinking (Miller) can be — I’m putting a lot of pressure on this cat already — but he’s special. What I’ve seen on film he’s special. “I think Braxton Miller is a difference-maker at quarterback. You can build a team around what I saw.” ESPN college football analyst Todd McShay said that Meyer and Miller are a perfect fit. “I think Urban would be a good fit anywhere,” McShay said before a speaking engagement at OSU. “But I think a place that has a good, athletic quarterback with the enormous talent like Braxton Miller has, I think that that would be a perfect fit … It would be a perfect fit for Miller and what he needs in a system.” Miller is the seventh OSU player to win the Big Ten Conference’s freshman of the year award, joining the likes of Terrelle Pryor, Maurice Clarett and Orlando Pace. He will be presented with the award as part of the activities surrounding the Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game between Wisconsin and Michigan State. Miller led the Buckeyes to a 6-6 regular season record under interim coach Luke Fickell. He started the year as the backup, but took over the starting role from senior Joe Bauserman after the third game of the season and remained the Buckeye’s starter for the remaining nine games. OSU is waiting to if it they will be invited to participate in a bowl game. Fickell will serve as the team’s head coach while Meyer will spend the time focusing on recruiting.
With just less than a minute remaining in the first half of the Ohio State men’s basketball game against Penn State, OSU sophomore guard Aaron Craft attempted to alley-oop freshman forward Sam Thompson about 35 feet from the basket. Thompson leapt to catch the ball, but Craft’s pass never made it into his hands. Instead, the pass landed in the hoop and was good for a 3-pointer. “Well, I got pretty lucky,” Craft said. It was that kind of night for the Buckeyes. No. 4-ranked OSU routed Penn State, 78-54, and moved into a share of the Big Ten lead. The 24-point victory is nothing new for the Buckeyes, especially at home. Not only are the Buckeyes undefeated at the Schottenstein Center, but only one team — Florida — has come closer than 17 points. The win moved OSU’s home record to 15-0 on the season and extended their home win streak to 37 games, the second-longest such streak in program history. PSU coach Patrick Chambers said playing at home is a huge advantage for any team. “The comforts of home and playing in this arena and the fans — it helps (OSU),” Chambers said. “It makes a difference. Going on the road in the Big Ten is absolutely brutal.” Defense led the way for the Buckeyes. PSU missed their first seven shots from the floor, and OSU jumped to an early 8-0 advantage. With six minutes remaining in the first half, PSU had managed just six points and was shooting less than 25 percent from the floor. OSU led at halftime, 38-18. Coming into the game, PSU junior guard Tim Frazier was the Big Ten’s leading scorer, averaging 18 points a game. Frazier got his points in the game, finishing with 16, but 11 of those came in the second half when Craft was only on the floor for six minutes. Craft contributed offensively as well, adding 11 points. Chambers said Frazier needs to bring it every night for his team to be successful and Craft got him out of his game. “I thought Craft did a great job on him.” Chambers said. “I think Craft got into Tim a little bit mentally and physically.” OSU coach Thad Matta agreed. “I thought Aaron was extremely effective,” Matta said. “I think (Frazier) had six points with 12 minutes to go and Aaron likes a good challenge. But for the majority of the game we gave him good support.” Craft made up for missing Thompson in the first half by throwing a lob from an inbounds play that Thompson caught high above the rim and finished with a one-hand jam. Thompson, who joked that he was a “decoy” on the first play, said he and Craft talked about the 35-footer at halftime. “I had a pretty good laugh about it,” Thompson said. “We just executed the play in the second half. The dunk gave OSU a 51-29 lead. Thompson finished with six points, two rebounds and three assists. Senior guard William Buford, who has been going through what some have described as a midseason slump, found his stroke from behind the arc, connecting on three 3-pointers. Buford had 15 points and 9 rebounds on the game. OSU sophomore forward Jared Sullinger left the game with just under 11 minutes remaining, but was still the Buckeyes’ high-point man, ending with 20 points and 13 rebounds. The win improves OSU’s overall record to 18-3 and its conference record to 6-2. The Buckeyes are now tied atop the Big Ten standings with Michigan, which travels to the Schottenstein Center Sunday for a 1 p.m. tipoff. The game, which is already sold-out, will have Big Ten title ramifications. “You always got to get up for Michigan,” Sullinger said. “Every sport at Ohio State and Michigan, if we clash it’s always a rivalry.”