Capitals

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.''

Quick Links

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

It doesn't take an expert to tell you players like Alex Ovechkin or Marc-Andre Fleury will play a big role in the Stanley Cup Final.

Both the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights will need their best players to be at their best to take home the Cup. But who will be the unexpected heroes? Who are the players no one is talking about who will have a big hand in their team's success or defeat in this series?

Here are five players you should be watching in the Stanley Cup:

1. Devante Smith-Pelly: Smith-Pelly had seven goals in 79 games in the regular season. Now he has four goals in just 19 playoff games.

Smith-Pelly has been one of those unlikely playoff heroes for the Caps this postseason with very timely performances such as scoring the series-clinching goal in Game 6 against the Columbus Blue and scoring the goal that put the game away in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The physical play has really stood out as well for him, which fits well on the fourth line role he has settled back into now that the team is healthy again. Barry Trotz tried moving him to the top line in the absence of Tom Wilson and the results weren't great. He is best suited for the role he currently has and that will allow him to thrive.

2. James Neal: Neal came up just short of the Stanley Cup last season as a member of the Nashville Predators. He totaled nine points in 22 games during that run, a number he has already matched in just 15 games this postseason.

There are very few players on either team that boast the kind of postseason experience Neal has. He will be leaned upon this series for his leadership.

Vegas is a young team and their unprecedented success in the playoffs may make this feel like the first run of many for the Golden Knights, but not for Neal who is on the last year of his contract and came tantalizingly close to the Cup last season. He will play like there is no tomorrow because, for him, there may not be in Vegas.

3. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky was one of the heroes of Game 7 with two goals to put away the Tampa Bay Lightning. That marked just the latest peak in a career full of peaks and valleys for the young winger. Just two games before, Burakovsky was a healthy scratch and spoke to the media about his plans to speak with a sports psychologist in the offseason.

The talent is there and it certainly appears that the injury that kept him out earlier in the playoffs is largely behind him. Burakovsky’s issues have always been mainly between the ears. In a series against a fast team with strong depth, he can be an absolutely critical piece for the Caps. Hopefully, his Game 7 performance gave him the confidence he needs to continue to be effective.

4. Ryan Reaves: Vegas acquired both Reaves and Tomas Tatar around the trade deadline. If I were to tell you that through three rounds of the playoffs, both players were healthy, had played the same number of games (6) and had the same number of points (1), you’d think I was crazy. Yet, here we are.

Reaves was largely an afterthought in a complicated trade between Vegas, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators, but he has carved a nice role for himself on the Golden Knights’ fourth line and even scored the goal that sent Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final against the Winnipeg Jets.

Reaves is also an agitator on the ice, but what do the Caps do against a player like that when their normal fighter plays on the top line? We may see Reaves and Wilson come to blows this series, but it won't be very often because that is a bad tradeoff for the Caps.

5. Brooks Orpik: The elder statesman of the blue line, Orpik is the only player on the Caps with a Stanley Cup to his name and is the only one who has any idea what this experience is going to be like for the team.

Orpik is very diligent about keeping in shape which has allowed him to play in 81 games this season and all 19 playoff games despite being 37 years old, but you do have to wonder how much is left in the tank. Despite being the favorite whipping boy for the proponents of analytics, his physical play has been effective this postseason. The focus he placed on the skating in the offseason has paid dividends so far in matchups against the speedy Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Golden Knights will be the fastest team they have played yet. There is no denying Orpik is much more suited towards a physical style of game. Wil he continue to be effective or will Vegas exploit the Caps' third defensive pairing?

MORE CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS:

Quick Links

Capitals vs. Golden Knights Game 1 Stanley Cup Final: Date, Time, TV Channel, Livestrem

ap_18146636573129.jpg
AP Images

Capitals vs. Golden Knights Game 1 Stanley Cup Final: Date, Time, TV Channel, Livestrem

The wait is finally over. 

After two decades, the Capitals are back in the Stanley Cup Final. 

After a convincing 4-0 win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Capitals are in Vegas to take on the Golden Knights. They'll be facing off against a handful of familiar names, with former Caps GM George McPhee, fan favorite Nate Schmidt, and ex-Penguins goalie Marc Andre-Fluery are just a few of the names that'll be suiting up for Vegas. 

What will the X-factors in the series be? Who will be the unexpected heroes of Game 1? The action is almost underway, and here are all the details you need to know.

Game 1 Capitals at Golden Knights
Date: Monday, May 28
Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Location: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, NV.
TV Channel: NBCSN 
How To Watch Live StreamingNBC Sports App Live Stream
Radio: Capitals Radio Network (106.7 FM)

WHEN IS GAME 1 OF THE CAPITALS-GOLDEN KNIGHTS SERIES?

Game 1 of the Capitals-Golden Knights 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Final takes place on Monday, May 28 at 8:00 p.m. at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, NV.

WHAT TV CHANNEL IS GAME 1 OF THE CAPITALS-GOLDEN KNIGHTS SERIES ON?

The TV broadcast of Game 1 between the Capitals and Golden Knights is on NBC. Capitals pre- and postgame coverage takes place on NBC Sports Washington. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

5:00 p.m. — Caps Cup Preview
6:00 p.m. — Caps GameDay Live
6:30 p.m. — Caps Face Off
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
8:00 p.m. — Game 1 Capitals vs. Golden Knights
10:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
11:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime

WHERE CAN I STREAM CAPITALS vs. GOLDEN KNIGHTS GAME 1?

Game 1 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final between the Capitals and Golden Knights is available for online stream on the NBC Sports App. Click here for the NBC Sports live stream page.

CAPITALS vs. GOLDEN KNIGHTS GAME 1 OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals digital producer JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.