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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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Nationals cancel 2021 Winterfest due to COVID-19

Nationals cancel 2021 Winterfest due to COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic will prevent fans from attending Nationals games during the 2020 season and it appears will also cost them an annual offseason tradition.

The Nationals announced Wednesday their plans to cancel Winterfest 2021. The convention was originally scheduled for January 2021.

"Due to the continued uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, we have made the difficult decision to cancel Winterfest 2021, which was scheduled to be held in January," the team said in a statement. "We know how important this event is to our fans. That said, we look forward to offering a variety of alternative opportunities for our community to come together to celebrate our team."

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Details regarding the alternative opportunities are unknown as of this writing. 

In the meantime, Washington will continue to play its 2020 season without fans. They are 4-5 entering a series with the Orioles Friday and had to take four days off after the Marlins experienced a COVID-19 outbreak within their clubhouse and the Nats' series with Miami was postponed. 

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Making a case for Warriors as Washington Football Team's new name

Making a case for Warriors as Washington Football Team's new name

It's been several weeks since the Washington Football Team announced it was retiring its former name and logo after more than 80 years. Ever since FedEx became the first known sponsor to formally ask Washington to change its name, fans have taken to social media to voice some of their favorites among potential replacements. I spoke with several marketing experts about a few of the fan-generated names, and will use their responses to make a case for some of the most popular suggestions. This is the case for Red Hogs.

Case for: Washington Warriors

When it comes to the Washington Football Team, developing a new brand has as much to do with separating itself from the previous identity as it does creating a new one.

While the team’s previous moniker provided a sense of pride and joy to some people, it was considered derogatory by others. Those offended by the name had expressed resentment for decades before the team finally decided to take action this summer. But the team only did so after its bottomline was at risk of taking a hit by corporate sponsors threatening to end their relationships with the team.

If Washington wants people to take its rebrand seriously and view it as more than a money-saving play, the team will need to completely distance itself from Native American imagery. That being considered, is Warriors a good choice as the replacement name? It depends, says Tim Derdenger, associate professor of marketing and strategy at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business.

“It depends on which direction you go with it,” Derdenger said. “I’ve read things that they want to keep the feather and go in that direction as opposed to a military warrior, more of the Indian warrior. And if they do it the latter, they’re completely missing the mark on why they’re changing their name.”

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This conundrum highlights the different things that have to be considered when undergoing a name change. It isn’t just the name; it’s also the logo, the branding on team gear and uniforms, the stadium atmosphere, the fan experience, and so much more. If the team was able to rebrand itself as the Warriors without singling out a specific race or group of people, the name could work. The Golden State Warriors of the National Basketball Association have a great brand and don’t use human imagery at all, going with the Bay Bridge as their primary logo.

Matt White, president of WHITE64, pointed to Washington Football Team owner Dan Snyder's background in advertising and branding as a reason he thinks the team could pull it off.

“I think what you have to do is, do it in a thoughtful, logical manner, where you’re hiring a firm, which he has relationships with that can really do a great job,” White said.

The option for thoughtful branding exists in a way for "Warriors" that it doesn’t for a name like "Braves." Some fans had tossed around the latter as an option because of its history as the Washington franchise’s original name for one season in 1932, when the team was still located in Boston. But that’s a piece of history most fans likely forgot, if they ever knew it. And a Brave, by definition, is specifically a Native American warrior. The name doesn’t allow for a change in branding the same way Warriors does.

“The Cleveland Indians are already being asked to change their name. The Atlanta Braves apparently are even being looked at with that,” White said. “And again, there’s gotta be a solution that doesn’t offend somebody but that can still capture the spirit.”

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That's where Warriors could be used, like Braves, to appease the base of fans who never wanted to part with the old moniker. However, Brad Nierenberg, the CEO of RedPeg Marketing, thinks choosing that name is also a choice to please those particular fans over the people who want to see a clean break. 

“If you’re gonna stay close with the Redskins, I think you’re gonna be staying with a fan base that ... you’re gonna placate the challenge to changing the name, then the Warriors and Braves are gonna be that next step,” Nierenberg said.

“I think there’s gonna be people saying they didn’t go far enough. That’s my gut.”

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This is where everything else that accompanies the name change becomes so vital. Because while it’s likely true everyone won’t be happy with Warriors, it’s possible to win over a few more people with the proper branding and imagery.

"The logo is then going to be the key part,” Derdenger said. “And what that logo will look like and how it connects back to the military warrior.

“I can’t right now see in my head what a Warriors logo looks like. ... But they have to go away from the connection to the Native Americans.”

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