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How the AP analyzed football players' weight gain

How the AP analyzed football players' weight gain

For a sport with rabid fans, historic rivalries and trivia buffs, college football does not have a single, official repository of historic rosters. Each school prints its own rosters and is responsible for its archives.

To analyze changes in weight over time, The Associated Press obtained official rosters from 2001 to 2012 from all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision schools, the big-time teams that make up what used to be known as Division I-A. School rosters have been recognized by peer-reviewed scientific journals as a legitimate source for studying athletes.

For some schools, the AP already had media guides. Other schools published their media guides and official rosters online. In many cases, reporters asked schools for their historic rosters. In some instances, when a school did not have a roster readily available, the AP used cached versions of the school's official football website, capturing the roster as it was published by the school at the time.

From there, the AP studied more than 61,000 individual athletes whose name appeared on rosters for the same teams for multiple years. The AP did not attempt to track transfer students.

The AP tracked each player's change in weight over each year and over his career. The AP also calculated each player's yearly body mass index, which calculates the ratio of height to weight. A gain of 20 pounds is more significant to a 5-foot-8-inch athlete than to a 6-foot-6-inch athlete. In such cases, comparing BMI is useful.

For decades, scientific studies have shown that anabolic steroid use leads to an increase in bodyweight. The weight gains observed in the studies varied depending on the type of drug, the sport and the duration of use. In 2004, two Dutch doctors analyzed all the research and concluded that short-term steroid use typically helped athletes gain 4-11 pounds. Some athletes reported gains of 20-33 pounds, but that was outside of well-designed clinical studies, the authors wrote in the journal Sports Medicine.

Kathy Turpin of the National Center for Drug Free Sport, which conducts testing for the NCAA and about 300 schools, said that rapid, significant weight gain is something her organization considers a potentially suspicious indicator.

Changes in weight and body mass do not prove steroid use, and the purpose of the AP's analysis was not to prove that individual players were doping. The analysis was one part of a larger effort to test the question: Does the NCAA's incredibly low rate of positive steroid tests - it was .64 percent in 2009 and as low as .26 percent in 2006 - accurately reflect a near absence of steroid use? Former drug testers, players, dealers and trainers said otherwise.

In its study, the AP conducted several tests.

First, the AP compared all players' body mass gains against everyone else in big-time college football and found outliers. That process, known as linear regression, factored in other variables that could have accounted for weight gain, including position, the school's athletic conference, how much money was spent on football, the team's win-loss record and even whether the school's drug policy gave it the authority to test for steroids.

Second, the AP looked at players who gained more than 20 pounds in a single season - the high end reported in the 2004 study of bodyweight gain by athletes. More than 4,700 players fell into that category, although it's unclear based on the data how much of that amount was muscle.

Finally, reporters examined players who, in any one year, also increased their body mass by more than 21 percent. That's the extreme change that former NFL star and admitted steroid user Lyle Alzado saw when he first started doping in college. During the last decade, more than 130 players had done so.

As with any statistical analysis, the tests are as good as the available information. Schools don't routinely make available their team body composition, strength training or speed data. One explanation for the unusual gains is that NCAA players said they were just getting really fat.

``I could easily increase your weight just by pouring a quarter cup of olive oil on everything you eat. Believe me when I tell you, your weight is going to go up,'' said Dan Benardot, director of the Laboratory for Elite Athlete Performance at Georgia State University.

While former players who have admitted using steroids said they quickly put on lean muscle, it's impossible to extrapolate those anecdotal accounts to the entire population without knowing about each player's body composition.

``There's a big mass increase that occurs. Is it muscle? Is it fat? Is it a combination of the two? You don't know,'' Benardot said. ``If it's mainly muscle then there are suspicions that there are anabolic hormones being used to aid that accrual. If it's predominantly fat, then they're just eating a lot more to increase.''

The AP consulted on its methodology with George Shambaugh, a statistician and professor at Georgetown University.

``The outliers suggest there are some underlying factors that make these players different,'' Shambaugh said. ``Sure, it could be steroids, or it could something else. But steroids are certainly a possible culprit, so it's worth opening up the box and taking a look inside.''

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Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

The Capitals managed to earn a point on Friday in a 6-5 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers, but the game felt like a missed opportunity for Washington. After giving up four goals in the first period, seven power plays including two 5-on-3s, and two power play goals, the Caps knew they had no one to blame but themselves for the loss.

“We were still not quite there maybe emotionally,” Lars Eller said.

At least not for the first period. The Caps allowed four goals in the opening 20 minutes to dig themselves into a 4-1 hole. Each goal came from the slot as the Caps had no control over the front of their own net.

“Just tough to start that way, to kind of dig ourselves a big hole,” Brett Connolly said. “Obviously, it’s good to come back and get a point but we don’t need to do that to ourselves. It takes a lot of energy to get back in that game.”

Washington battled back to tie the game at 4, but penalties ultimately derailed their momentum, allowing Florida to retake the lead.

After scoring three straight goals, the Caps took three minor penalties in the final three minutes of the second period.

Alex Ovechkin was called for interference on Aaron Ekblad as he made no attempt to play a loose puck that trickled past the Florida defenseman. He was clearly focused on delivering the hit and nothing else.

Less than a minute later, Eller was caught on the ice a tad early, and Washington was called for too many men.

“I see Backy coming for a change, they had full possession,” Eller said. “I don't see behind my back, I think the guys are telling me he has one skate over so I think it was an unnecessary call, but what am I going to say? It's a tough one.”

With 1:15 of a two-man advantage to work with, Jonathan Huberdeau scored the go-ahead goal late in the period.

Even after a furious comeback, the Caps could not escape the second with the score tied because of the penalties.

Just 43 seconds after Huberdeau’s goal, Washington went right back to 5-on-3. Evgeny Kuznetsov was tossed from a faceoff by the linesman and argued the call, eventually earning himself an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

“He said something he shouldn't have said to the referee,” Reirden said of the call.

The Caps' penalty problems were exacerbated by the continued problems of the penalty kill.

Heading into Friday's game, Washington was only killing off 72.2 percent of the power plays they faced. They allowed another two power play goals Friday as they continued to struggle when facing the extra man.

“We have room for improvement for sure,” Reirden said of his penalty kill. “It’s a new system, new with the way we’re killing, its new personnel. We’re learning. We’re missing a key guy in Tom on that as well. It’s not easy, either, when you’re 5-on-3 when they’ve got talented players that can convert in that spot. It’s definitely a work in progress and I didn't expect it to go smoothly to start with. That’s one of the areas that we knew was gonna be new to our team this year and it’s gonna continue to take some work. It’s something that definitely is a work in progress.”

Mistakes put the Caps down 4-1, they put them down 5-4, they cost them a valuable point against a previously winless Panthers team before a four-game road trip through Canada, and they are ultimately why the defending Stanley Cup champions are only 3-2-2 to start the season.

And they know it.

“We’re still trying to find our game,” Connolly said. “Would we have liked to have picked up where we left off? Yes. But it’s not easy. We played a lot of hockey last year and a short summer and you come in here and there’s a lot of distractions, a lot of that kind of stuff. We’ve done some good things and we’ve done some not so good things.

"I think if you look at last season we weren't very good either at the start. We weren't at our best. Just take the positives and know that we can overcome that. It hasn’t been disastrous. We’re still getting points, we’re still above .500 right now with a tough couple back-to-backs to start the year. So not the worst start, but obviously we have another level.”

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Panthers head coach calls for league to review Ovechkin’s hit to Pysyk

Panthers head coach calls for league to review Ovechkin’s hit to Pysyk

The Florida Panthers played over half of Friday’s game with five defensemen after a hit from Alex Ovechkin ultimately knocked Mark Pysyk out of the game.

Early in the second period, Ovechkin attempted to enter the offensive zone with the puck, but it was swept away at the blue line back to Pysyk. Pysyk quickly chipped the puck away and then was on the receiving end of a hit from Ovechkin.

In real time, the hit did not appear to be a big one. It wasn't even the biggest hit Ovechkin delivered in the game, as in the third period he sent Aleksander Barkov flying with a shoulder hit. But Pysyk went down to the ice after the hit and left the game soon after.

After the game, Florida head coach Bob Boughner did not mince words.

“Pysyk got a high hit to the head,” he said.

When asked if he thought the league should review the hit, Boughner said, “I hope they do because if you see the replay, it's high. It's a head shot. And the league's trying to clamp down on that. Whether there's no call, I don't blame the refs. Maybe they missed it. That happens. But those are the kind of plays that need to be reviewed.”

Based on the replay, it is hard to determine if the principal point of contact was the head. Ovechkin does not launch himself, but does appear to take an upward trajectory into Pysyk. Still, it seems like a hard sell to say Ovechkin was targeting the head.

But the hit did send Pysyk out of the game, and in today’s NHL, when head hits are a big topic of conversation and when a player is injured on a play, the NHL has shown it takes those plays more seriously.

Pysyk returned to the game for one more shift after receiving the hit, but left the game after and did not return.

“Right now we're still getting him checked out, but we'll see more in the morning,” Boughner said.

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