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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' victory celebration halted as a win suddenly turns into a loss

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Capitals' victory celebration halted as a win suddenly turns into a loss

WASHINGTON — The Capitals bounced up and down in celebration. They yelled. They screamed. They lost. 

Call it the win that wasn’t. Washington stole two points from the Arizona Coyotes on Monday night at Capital One Arena when T.J. Oshie scored in overtime. The up-and-down first two periods, all those big saves from Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta, a 3-0 deficit, all erased as the crowd roared and the players exalted. 

But old baseball writers have a term for what happened next: “Or so it seemed.” 

It’s the perfect phrase to describe a story that’s been written and now has to be deleted: You’re on deadline. One team is about to close out a win. Just waiting to hit send on the story. Then someone walks and then there’s a bloop hit and, oh my god did the third baseman just throw the ball into left field? Suddenly what seemed certain no longer is. Time to rewrite. 

That’s where the Capitals were when Oshie’s apparent game-winner was overturned on replay. Teammate Lars Eller had actually slipped and entered the offensive zone too soon. The play was deemed offside. 

“A bit of a buzzkill there,” Capitals forward Tom Wilson said. 

Somewhere, a guy sprinted from his seat after Oshie’s goal and was halfway to the Metro before they announced the goal didn’t count. Hopefully he finds out what happened. If not, then he’s going to be confused when the ticker says it was a 4-3 shootout loss. 

“Like coming back from the dead,” said Arizona coach Rick Tocchet.

Dmitry Orlov knocked Coyotes winger Clayton Keller off the puck a little over two minutes into 3-on-3 overtime. Orlov found Oshie streaking toward the middle of the ice, he gave it to Eller, who lost his balance, but pulled up inside the blueline when the linesman ruled he was onside and passed to Oshie.

 Arizona defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, one of the NHL’s best skaters, had no chance after an Oshie head fake. Neither did Raanta. Oshie went down to one knee in the slot and ripped the shot home. The crowd exploded. The Capitals poured off the bench to celebrate. The Coyotes skated off the ice. Washington had won. 

Or so it seemed. The Coyotes coaching staff started looking at the play on the tablets kept on the bench. Players started pointing up at the scoreboard, which was replaying the goal. Then the officials made their way over to the scorers’ box and referee Jake Brenk held out his hand. Linesman Darren Gibbs put the headset on to talk with the video review officials in Toronto. The Capitals figured their work might not be done.  

After a review that took almost four minutes, officials in Toronto decided Eller really was offsides. Halt the celebration. The game wasn’t over yet. It would be only after Arizona won in the shootout. The Capitals would settle for one hard-earned point, instead of two and that was probably a just result.    

“That was unfortunate, because it was a great move and it's a goal. But T.J. is pretty on top of things,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “He had a strong feeling it was gonna be offside."

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Brandon Scherff could very well ask for a contract that tops the one Brandon Brooks just signed

Brandon Scherff could very well ask for a contract that tops the one Brandon Brooks just signed

On Monday, one Brandon in the NFL signed a deal that another Brandon in the NFL absolutely noticed.

The first Brandon is Brandon Brooks, a guard whom the Eagles gave a four-year contract extension worth just more than $56 million that'll kick in starting in 2021. His current agreement with Philadelphia runs until 2020 and carries remaining base salaries of $8 million and $7.5 million.

The second Brandon is Brandon Scherff, also a guard and one who's scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in a few months. If Scherff truly gets a chance to negotiate with the Redskins or on the open market, he'll likely look for something very close to or even exceeding the numbers Brooks got from Philly.

Brooks' extension has a $14.05 million annual value, which slots just ahead of the Cowboys' Zach Martin when it comes to the highest-paid guards in the sport. Scherff absolutely deserves to ink something that puts him right next to those players, if not ahead of Brooks and all others at the position.

One thing that works in No. 75's favor is his age. Scherff is about to turn 28 years old. Brooks, meanwhile, is already 30. Washington's lineman should have plenty of productive campaigns in his future, wherever that future is. 

Another interesting similarity between Brooks and Scherff is their durability. Both have have returned from a significant injury they suffered in 2018 — Scherff tore his pectoral, while Brooks tore his Achilles — that look like outliers in otherwise reliable careers.  

Scherff is certainly in the same realm when it comes to talent and production as Brooks, too. They've each earned two Pro Bowl nods, and while Brooks may be thought of as the best guard in the league, Scherff isn't far behind.

Plus, as anyone who's followed NFL contracts this decade knows, it often doesn't really matter if the next elite guy to sign is truly better, it just matters that he's elite and he's next to sign.

Those are all factors Scherff could point to when it's time for him to cash in. When will that time come, though?

The Burgundy and Gold, who reportedly offered Scherff an extension worth $13 million a year this past September that didn't really do much for the 2015 first-rounder, could franchise tag him if they want. That move, of course, would be profitable for Scherff but limit his ability to negotiate. 

Now, whether the Redskins go that route or give him something more stable, it's hard to imagine them letting him get away. Trent Williams will very likely never suit up for Washington again, and having to roll out an offensive line in 2020 without Williams and Scherff would be a very unfortunate situation.

Scherff, however, will likely make the organization pay up to ensure that doesn't happen. He said in October he hopes to be a Redskin until he retires, but it doesn't appear he'll do that on a discount. With the way he's played and how his peers are being compensated, he shouldn't have to, either.

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