- 15 Sports Myths and Why They Are Wrong by Fort, Rodney and Jason Winfree
Economists view the world through a different lens than others. Nowhere is this truer than in the world of sport. While some accept statements such as “Title IX costs colleges so much they must abolish men’s sports” or “Player drafts foster competitive balance,” Rodney Fort and Jason Winfree, two well-known sport economists, use economic thinking and analysis to show these statements are, in fact, false. The conventional wisdom of so many fans and sports reporters is incorrect. This book is their attempt to explain why these types of myths exist and, more importantly, why they are wrong.
Economists think in terms of incentives, that individuals and firms respond to the costs and benefits they face and make rational choices. To address each of the fifteen sports myths chosen for their book, Fort and Winfree give background on the issue, explain the myth, and then use economic theory to explain why the myth both persists but at the same time is incorrect. The book is divided into two parts: myths surrounding college athletics and those associated with professional sports. For both, the key theme that emerges is that while fans want nothing more than a championship and judge success by the number of wins, the decision makers in college and professional sports do not judge success in [End Page 507] the same way. For those individuals, profits (or benefits to the individual) are paramount. Understand their incentives and you understand why the myth is incorrect.
The strength of the book is its ability to appeal to both those with a background in economics as well as those without. While Fort and Winfree use economic concepts such as principle-agent theory, game theory, and simple statistics, the applications are explained in a way so that even those unfamiliar with economics can come away with a clear understanding of the concepts through their explanations, examples, and logic. The tools of the economist are underlying the text without overwhelming it.
The authors methodically work through the primary misconceptions first of collegiate sports and then of professional sports, identifying the decision makers and their motives. It is interesting to see how each myth benefits a particular group, be it university administrators and athletic directors or professional team owners and general managers, and how it may be in their best interest to perpetuate certain myths as cover for their rent-seeking actions.
In the section on collegiate athletics, a recurring theme is that athletics serve more than just the athletes—both to the institution at large but also the administrators and coaches. The athletic department generates benefits to the institution in increased applications, donations, and directly in grant-in-aid payments to the college. To this end, one must not trust statements such as the athletic department is a drag on the institution financially, or that certain sports must pay for all others, or pay-for-play will bankrupt colleges. Many of the myths surrounding college sports pit the athletes of one sport against another (“revenue” versus “non-revenue,” or men versus women) in a battle for resources, not realizing the adults and administrators around the athletes are truly the ones benefiting through larger salaries and better facilities who have no interest in correcting the prevailing misperceptions.
In their section on professional sports, the authors point out the biggest difference between professional sports and college sports: professional sports team owners are profit maximizers. Once a fan realizes that the owners and general managers are maximizing profits of their entire business operation, not just the wins of the team, all their decisions should be clearer. Winning may be a by-product of their immediate choices, but winning is not necessarily the goal of all professional team owners. I found this section of the book less interesting than that on collegiate sports primarily because once it is established that profits are the goal, the myths are...