Saturday, December 08, 2007

Thoughts While Waiting for the Heisman Trophy Show...

• Anyone who thinks Tim Tebow isn't winning in a landslide is kidding themselves. While there might be some doubt about whether Tebow is a clear-cut choice, everyone (save a few McFadden supporters) agree he should win. He's going to get a clear majority of the first place votes, and possibly even more than that.

• This year proves why the BCS is a joke. How does LSU jump Virginia Tech in the final Harris and Coaches polls despite winning less convincingly (against a weaker opponent than VT played) in their conference title game? Ignoring the fact that LSU should have been ahead of the Hokies in the first place on account of a head-to-head win, why aren't people asking voters to explain themselves. To me, this looks like the BCS voters trying to hand pick who plays in the title game.

• I don't think any school owes more to the BCS than LSU. In 2003, they were one of the three one loss teams to make the title game, where they beat an overrated Oklahoma team. The AP title went to one-loss USC team, who everyone that didn't vote in the Coaches poll agreed was the best team. Now, voters give them the nod over other two loss teams. Maybe they deserved it, playing in the tough SEC and having both of their losses come in overtime, but there's no way to say that objectively, which was the whole point of the BCS system.

• My pick for #2 in the country - Oklahoma. They played two bad halfs of football (the second half against Colorado and the first half against Texas Tech - and they were without their starting QB in that one), and aside from that defeated a tough Texas team and were the only team to beat Missouri all year.

• I'm at the point where I believe that if college football isn't going to go to a playoff, they should go back to the bowl system, since it at least didn't pretend to be objective. Since 2/3 of the BCS is human polls, it's effectively as subjective as the old system.

For fun, here's my guess at what the major bowls would look like if the tie-ins that existed 10 years ago were still in existence:

Rose Bowl (Pac-10 vs. Big 10): USC vs. Ohio State
Orange Bowl (Big 12 vs. At-Large): Oklahoma vs. Georgia
Sugar Bowl (SEC vs. At-Large): LSU vs. Virginia Tech
Fiesta Bowl (2 At-Larges): West Virginia vs. Kansas

This would set up an interesting dynamic. If OSU won the Rose Bowl, they'd win. If they lost, I could see three different outcomes:

1. USC gets the bump for beating them.

2. LSU gets the bump as they'd still likely bet #2 in the polls entering New Year's Day.

3. Virginia Tech gets the nod for beating LSU. If they did, they would have avenged their two losses (Boston College and LSU) in the ACC title game and Sugar Bowl respectively.

I can't see a scenario in which Oklahoma, Georgia, WVU or Kansas would win.

It would certainly make for a fun New Year's Day, and would be no less subjective than the BCS system we're left with is.

Other scenario - how fun would a 16 team playoff be (11 conference champs plus 5 at-larges settled on through the computer polls)? To make it even more fun, you could make those 5 play at the mid-major conference champs in round one to increase the chances of an upset.

Here's what the first round matchups would be:

(1) Ohio State vs. (16) Troy
(2) LSU vs. (15) Central Michigan
(3) Virginia Tech vs. (14) Central Florida
(4) Oklahoma vs. (13) Florida
(5) USC vs. (12) Arizona State
(6) West Virginia vs. (!1) Kansas
(7) Hawaii vs. (10) Missouri
(8) BYU vs. (9) Georgia

Those would be some fun matchups.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Hog Wild

Great game in Baton Rouge yesterday, as LSU became the latest championship contender to fall by the wayside after a triple overtime loss at the hands of the Arkansas Razorbacks.

For LSU, long considered the best team in the country, this game effectively ends their BCS chase (unless about 5 other teams lose as well). It may also precipitate the move of head coach Les Miles to the Michigan Wolverines. Not everyone would object to that. In the wake of this game and several other close calls, many are starting to questions Miles' coaching ability. Given the amount of talent he inherited at LSU, his failure to get them over the hump these past two years when he arguably had the most talented team in the game, a series of close calls against less talented teams this year, and a trend of questionable play calls and fourth down gambles have given credence to the thought that Miles has been more lucky than good with the Tigers. All this despite not losing a single game in regulation this year.

For Arkansas, this game may have saved coach Houston Nutt's job, and revived Darren McFadden's Heisman hopes in the wake of his dominant performance. Nutt has been rumored to be on the chopping block after failing to get his team over the hump during his decade-long tenure at Arkansas. Despite the lack of conference titles and national accolades, Nutt has recruited well, kept the team competitive, and done better than the Hogs had for a long time before he arrived. Yet, his inability to get them to compete regularly with the LSUs and Floridas of the world may mean the end of his tenure. I hope they keep him on. McFadden, the tailback who finished second in the Heisman voting last year, spent much of the game taking snaps in the shotgun and running a spread option offense. He ran for over 200 yards and 3 touchdowns, and threw for another touchdown after taking a snap. Despite being spied by one or two Tigers at all times, McFadden made the defense look silly most of the time he touched the ball.

A few other thoughts on this game:

• Who calls a swing pass behind the line of scrimmage on 4th and short? Les Miles, that's who. That was one of the worst calls I've seen all year, and only a missed tackle saved LSU's season (for a little while longer).

• When LSU came back, the main thought running through my head was "even if they do win, how are they going to compete with Kansas, Missouri or West Virginia". The Tigers never seemed to adjust to the Wild Hog spread option offense, and have been gashed the last three weeks for at least 200 yards on the ground. Against a strong running team, they're in serious trouble. That goes for the SEC Title game and whatever bowl game they end up in.

• LSU's Jacob Hester might become the most successful white running back since John Riggins. The kid can play, and I could see him getting picked on the first day of the 2008 NFL draft.

• If you're the Miami Dolphins, how do you not draft Darren McFadden if he enters the draft this spring? Yes, Ronnie Brown is one of the best young backs in the league, but after watching McFadden run the offense against LSU why not give him the option to do the same in the NFL? They could put him in at QB part of the time, and use a conventional offense the rest. The Dolphins also have wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., whose speed would make him the perfect wing in this option offense. He could also take snaps in this formation since he played QB in high school. What's the downside for Miami here? Worst case scenario? It fizzles and they still have two outstanding running backs. Best case scenario? You have a multi-dimensional offense that pro teams aren't used to facing. I think this could work wonders.

• Felix Jones, the second string RB for Arkansas, is the real deal. He will be a big-time player in the NFL. He runs hard, isn't afraid to run at defenders, and he has great acceleration. He's flying under the radar for now, but one the offseason workouts and combines start, he's going to fly up the draft board.

Today's games to watch:

• Tennessee needs a win in Kentucky to make the SEC title game, and currently are holding a 14-7 lead over the Wildcats.

• West Virginia should be in the title game if they win out. They're in Morgantown today, but are in tough against the underrated UConn Huskies. Speaking of underrated, the Big East still doesn't get the respect it deserves. Written off after Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College bolted for the ACC, the conference survived a rough transition year but has thrived since with the resurgence of West Virginia and the emergence of programs such as Rutgers, Louisville, South Florida, Cincinnati and UConn. An interesting part of the BCS is that the computer polls have had Big East teams ranked first at times (Rutgers last year and South Florida this year), while the voters have ranked them lower. In last week's BCS poll, both man and machine agreed that West Virginia was third, but the other three Big East teams in the Top 25 (UConn, South Florida, Cincinnati) all scored higher in the computer polls than the Harris or the USA Today. Perceptions are often slow to catch up to reality, and I think the Big East is still suffering from the perception that it's the weakest BCS conference, and from the fact that most of their programs aren't traditional powers. That will change over the next couple of years if they can keep the quality of play up.

• Kansas and Missouri play in the biggest game of the week, with the winner almost a lock to become the new #1 team in the country - Kansas will certainly move from #2 to #1 with a win, while you have to think a victory by #4 Missouri will vault them ahead of #3 West Virginia and into the number one spot, at least in the human polls. This will happen even if the Mountaineers win today. The winner will be in tough against Oklahoma next week, especially with Sam Bradford back at QB for the Sooners.

• Ohio State will continue to sit and wait. A WVU loss should clinch them a spot in the BCS title game.

Other things to watch today:

• A banged-up Oregon team tries to hold off UCLA and keep their Pac-10 title hopes alive.

• Notre Dame travels to Stanford trying to avoid their 10th loss.

• The Iron Bowl between 'Bama and Auburn. Both teams are playing for respect and bragging rights.

• The Heisman watch focuses on West Virginia QB Pat White (against UConn) and Florida QB Tim Tebow (against Florida State) as they try and compete with McFadden's all-world performance.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

And Then There Were Six: The BCS Fight To The Finish

This hasn’t been the most spectacular college football season. There are no dominant teams, and we are without a clear-cut Heisman favorite. There are two undefeated teams – one plays in the WAC, and one hasn’t played a single team that received votes in the last AP Poll. The former team is hoping to sneak into a BCS bowl game, while the latter will play in the title game if they win out, but would probably enter that game a clear underdog.

The Season of the Upset claimed two more victims this week. #2 Oregon not only lost their Heisman hopeful in quarterback Dennis Dixon, but in falling to Arizona, they lost their hope of playing for a national title. They could still win the Pac-10 title and play in the Rose Bowl, but they need USC to beat Arizona State this week for that to happen. They almost certainly need a conference title to play in a BCS game, as they’re drawing power is severely diminished without a star quarterback to showcase.

#4 Oklahoma also lost their quarterback early then were upended by an unranked underdog. Unlike Oregon, the Sooners might get their quarterback back before the end of the season. They’ll need him, as they can still play for the Big 12 title if they upend Oklahoma State next week. Winning the Big 12 title game is their only path to the BCS, as they won’t hold much appeal as a 3-loss team.

One spot in the BCS is controlled by LSU, while the inside track for the other runs through the Big 12 North. Three teams sit on the outside looking in, hoping for the breaks to go their way.

Let’s take a look at the six teams that could still play for the BCS Title, and their paths to the title.

The Favorite
#1 LSU
Nov 23 – They host Arkansas, who at 7-4 is no pushover but will still be a heavy underdog. If they are to win, they need a great game from Heisman caliber running back Darren McFadden, and some big plays – either on offense or special teams – from backup running back Felix Jones. They’ll probably also need LSU themselves to play a poor game. Interesting dynamic in this game for the Razorbacks as coach Houston Nutt will probably be a lame duck by this point. Will that be a motivation or a distraction?

Dec 1 – They will play in the SEC Title game. Their opponent will likely be the Tennessee Volunteers, however if the Vols lose at Kentucky next week, the Georgia Bulldogs will win the SEC East. The Dawgs project to be a tougher opponent for the Tigers.

Either way, if LSU wins out, they will play for the title. If they don’t, their hopes are done.

The Big 12 Semi-Final
#3 Kansas (undefeated)
#5 Missouri (one loss)

Kansas and Missouri play this Saturday in Kansas City, with the winner moving on to play in the Big 12 title game, and then the BCS title game if they win there. Playing the role of spoiler from the South division will most likely be Oklahoma, themselves a title contender until an upset at Texas Tech this week, or Texas, if the Sooners lose next week against Oklahoma State.

Kansas is undefeated and hasn’t played Oklahoma, while Missouri’s one loss came against the Sooners in Norman. Neither the Jayhawks nor the Tigers have played Texas. Missouri’s title hopes are done if they lose this Saturday. If Kansas wins this Saturday then loses in the Big 12 title game, they might have a chance to hold on to the #2 spot in the BCS, but would need a lot of help (i.e. West Virginia, Arizona State and LSU losses) for that to happen.

But the good news for both Kansas and Missouri is that they should be finish no worse than #2 in the BCS if they win out. If neither team does, that opens the door for one of the other contenders.

The Longshots
#6 West Virginia
The plan:
Nov 24 – Beat UConn

Dec 1 – Beat Pitt

If they win out, they can probably hold off Ohio State, but it’s possible that Arizona State could leapfrog them if they win out.

#7 Ohio State
Nov 17 – Dec 1 – pray for the other contenders to lose, since they’re finished their regular season. They need LSU, West Virginia, and maybe even Arizona State and the Big 12 teams to trip up. Suffice to say they’re almost certainly playing in Pasadena, which is not a bad consolation prize at all.

#8 Arizona State
The plan:
Nov 22 – Beat USC
Dec 1 – Beat Arizona

They might also need Oregon to hold off Oregon State to keep their quality of opposition up (especially since Cal lost today). They currently sit at #4 in the computer poll, but 8th in both the Harris and the Coaches. A convincing win over USC could catapult them over Ohio State and maybe even West Virginia, especially if Mountaineers struggle down the stretch.

The odds are long, but an upset in the SEC might be all they need. Nonetheless, the best they can probably hope for still is a Rose Bowl matchup with Ohio State.

Smart money is on the LSU Tigers advancing to the title game, but this season has been full of upsets and surprises. Of the six remaining contenders, five have at least one game left. Don’t be surprised if at least 2 or 3 of them get upended in the next two weeks.

My prediction – LSU wins out. Kansas beats Missouri then loses the Big 12 title game, and WVU and Arizona State lose this week, setting up a title game with LSU and Ohio State, who sneaks in due to attrition above them in the polls. The Buckeyes will be the heavy underdog this year after being the heavy favorite in last year’s game, but this time they will walk away with the BCS championship. Why? Because it’s been that kind of season.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Follow That Link

I followed Cosh's Dick Van Dyke Show clip through to it's source, which then took me to a post about World Series Songs, which then took me to a podcast of old baseball songs. Do yourself a favour and listen to it. The Vida Blue track is some hot shit.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Thin-Slicing Alex Rodriguez

I actually wrote this in two minutes, which is probably apparent. But I like it as an intellectual exercise. It's unfiltered even by myself, and exposes true feelings and/or biases on a subject. Today's two-minute drill is on Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez.

Alex Rodriguez is the Yngwie Malmsteen of baseball. Masterful ability matched with absolutely zero soul. You can't deny that as a ball player he's amazing, maybe the greatest to ever play the game. But you might as well cheer for a robot. Nomar was the same way, actually. That's why Jeter has always been the most popular of the three: he's also a character. Plus, while I think that A-Rod gets unfairly treated in the playoff performance category (no one goes after Vladdy that way), the fact is he's never taken a team to a championship. And in both Seattle and New York, he's been on good teams.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Fate of Alex Rodriguez

The Toronto Blue Jays should sign Alex Rodriguez.

That’s my conclusion after a quick and dirty analysis based on Nate Silver’s work on Marginal Revenue. The numbers below show that if Alex Rodriguez had been a Blue Jay in 2007, the team would have:
1) generated $24.9 million in marginal revenue by going from 83 to 91 wins;
2) avoided paying Troy Glaus $10.8 million.

In simple terms, that means the Jays could have paid Rodriguez $35.7 million, come out even financially, and potentially made the playoffs.

By the same logic, the Mariners and Tigers could have afforded a salary in the neighbourhood of $30 million.

Coincidentally, that's just what Scott Boras is thinking. Candidly talking about Rodriguez exercising his right to opt out of his New York contract, which would pay $81 to 91 million over the next three years, Boras calls Rodriguez an “I.P.N. player” – one who delivers iconic, performance and network value – who could play to age 45. There are mutterings of $300 million ten year contracts.

If Boras can demonstrate that Rodriguez would have been worth $35 million to the Blue Jays in 2007, then he's got a shot at convincing an owner to pony up for a record-breaking long-term deal.

The owner will have to account for a future decline in production which will mean Rodriguez generates less revenue for his team. But that should be partially offset by inflation which will increase team revenues, and it's really a separate topic.

Today, I want to explain how Rodriguez could be worth so much already.

In 2006, Silver asked and answered the question “Is Alex Rodriguez Overpaid?” in Baseball Between the Numbers.

To come up with his answer, he developed a "marginal value" for each added win – the amount of revenue a team would generate for each additional win it recorded.

The key to his analysis was that depending on a team's win total, the revenue it could earn from one extra win was different. Going from 89 to 90 wins -- a move that greatly increases the chances of a playoff berth -- was worth close to $4.5 million. But going from win #81 to #82 was worth only $1 million.

So to identify the teams where Rodriguez could generate the most revenue, we need to start by looking in the wins column to find the teams that could gain the most valuable wins from his presence.

To answer that question, I pulled together three pieces of information in a table below:

Which teams were close to the playoffs but missed or nearly missed?
Thirteen teams had between 76 and 89 wins this year, ranging from Oakland to Philadelphia and San Diego. While there are teams above this win level with uncertainty about their future third base production (such as Boston with Mike Lowell), they almost certainly have cheaper ways to maintain or increase their win level and so I excluded them.

What did their existing third basemen contribute in 2007?
The chart below shows the players used in 2007, and in the “Lost WARP” column the wins above replacement that the team would be forgoing if Rodriguez was to replace the incumbent.

This is a proxy for what their future third base production might be, and with a couple of exceptions (Philly, Dodgers) I considered only the everyday players.

As a proxy it’s imperfect. Thirty-five year old Chipper Jones stands little or no chance of playing for ten more years, so Atlanta might consider that its future WARP from the position is less than the 8.7 Jones put up this year. On the other end, Minnesota might believe that anyone will be better than Nick Punto, who was barely above replacement level while eating up 8.7% of the Twins’ plate appearances.

At least one other number warrants explanation. Ryan Braun’s WARP is much lower than his batting production because of his atrocious defence.

Finally, I did not consider what synergies might be created by shifting players to other positions. This is a real consideration, as witnessed by New York’s earlier decision to move Rodriguez to third and keep Jeter as shortstop.

What would Rodriguez add?
The answer used below is the same for all teams – 11.1 wins above replacement level (his WARP1 in 2007). The column “A-Wins” shows how many wins the team would have had in 2007 had Rodriguez been the everyday first baseman. Obviously this does not address the question of his projected future production. Unless Scott Boras has some voodoo spells, Rodriguez will not be generating 11.1 wins above replacement for the next ten years.

What marginal revenue would be created by this substitution?
Possibly the most interesting result, this is the sum of the marginal revenues created by the team’s actual 2007 wins and its “A-Wins.” It’s different for each team based on where the sit on the curve.

And the winner is: Los Angeles, which could have created $26 million in marginal revenue this year if it had substituted Rodriguez’s production for the tag-team of Betemit, Abreu and Laroche. At 91 wins, they’d have been playoff bound.

The Blue Jays and Twins are not far behind, with the potential for $24.9 and $24.6 million in marginal revenues. The values have a great deal to do with the low production the teams got at the position this year – Glaus underwhelmed with his 3.1 WARP, and Punto was near replacement level – and their near perfect position on the curve at 83 and 79 wins. Five other teams could generate more than $20 million in marginal revenue.

One of the big market contenders – the Mets – would be burning money by signing Rodriguez. It’s because they have Wright, obviously. If the Mets found a way to keep both hitters (replacing Delgado at first base), the numbers would be quite different.
Team07 WinsCurrent 3BLost WARPA-WinsMarg Rev
LA Dodgers82Bet+Abr+Lar(2.1)91 $26.0
Toronto83Glaus(3.1)91 $24.9
Minnesota79Punto(0.3)90 $24.6
Philadelphia89Dobbs+Helms(1.3)99 $23.7
Detroit88Inge(3.8)95 $23.4
San Diego89Kouzmanoff(1.7)98 $22.8
Seattle88Beltre(4.7)94 $21.7
Milwaukee83Braun(4.4)90 $20.7
Oakland76Chavez(1.9)85 $9.3
Chicago Cubs85Ramirez(7.7)88 $8.9
St Louis78Rolen(3.9)85 $7.9
NY Mets88Wright(11.2)88 $4.1
Atlanta84Jones(8.7)86 $4.1

Eliminating the Incumbent
There is one last step: to eliminate the salary of the player that Rodriguez would substitute for. In theory, the maximum amount it would make sense to pay Rodriguez would be the sum of the marginal revenue he creates and the salary the team no longer has to pay its incumbent third baseman.

The same caveats apply: the 2007 salaries are an imperfect proxy for future salaries, and now we’re also assuming that teams could find other homes for their incumbent third baseman.

Given those assumptions, in 2007 the Blue Jays could have paid more than $35 million to Rodriguez and come out ahead financially. It’s a staggering sum – more than $10 million above his current average annual contract value. And again, it’s driven by the underproduction from Troy Glaus, who was paid $10.8 million this year. But mediocre production from high priced veterans is hardly a unique phenomenon.

Glaus might serve as a reminder to all General Managers considering the A-Rod sweepstakes that past production may not mirror future returns. Being on the hook for a four-year contract is one matter, but buying into a ten-year deal at a record-setting price is taking an extraordinary risk that the performance five or ten years out will justify the dollars. Still, if there’s any client of Boras’ who can get that deal, it’s Rodriguez.
TeamMarg RevIncumbent's SalaryMRev+IncSal
LA Dodgers$26.0$1.1$27.1
San Diego$22.8$0.4$23.2
St Louis$7.9$12.0$19.9
Chicago Cubs$8.9$8.0$16.9
NY Mets$4.1$1.0$5.1

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Margin Notes: The Marion Jones Letter

Before appearing in U.S. federal court on Friday, sprinter Marion Jones penned a 1,700 word letter to family and friends....
Dear family and close friends, I hope this letter finds all of you well. I know some of you must be wondering where the pictures are that I so often attach to my emails. Unfortunately, this is a much different type of letter. I write this letter to all of you for a few reasons. The first is simply because I love you all. Some things will be happening in the next week that I want you all to know about from me FIRST. You deserve this because you have been there for me from the very beginning. You have supported me throughout the many struggles that I have had in my life and continue to do so to this day. You deserve to hear about Marion from Marion and not from the USA Today or CNN.
Jones' voice may be heard by her friends, but it's barely a whisper to the rest of us. A Google search produces nearly 3,000 news stories.
The second reason is because I finally want to shed much baggage that has been tearing me down for a long time. I want to share with you all my humanness. The fact that I have made mistakes in my life, made bad decisions, and have carried a great amount of pain and hurt throughout my life. I want you all to understand that I have constructed, what I thought, was this impenetrable wall, to protect me from hurtful and harmful people and things. In doing this I, unfortunately, have distanced myself from loved ones and made myself impossible, at times, to connect with. I want you all to know that I sincerely apologize for this. One day soon, I hope you will understand the reason for me having such behavior. I am not trying to justify it, but simply want you all to have a better understanding of why I have done certain things in my life. Having said this, I realize the need to be up front and honest with you about several things that have transpired in my life. I will not candy coat the following statements, as I have done this and tapped around the truth for too long.
Tapped around the truth is an understatement. She vigorously defended then-husband CJ Hunter when he tested positive during the Sydney Olympics, and stood by husband number two, Tim Montgomery, when he was banned following the BALCO investigation. And unlike many others, Jones also made repeated, unqualified denials about her own use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). And she even launched a defamation lawsuit against BALCO's Victor Conte, after he said in a telvision interview that Jones was a drug cheat. The suit was settled before trial.
As many of you know I am not one for a lot of small talk so I will get right to the crux of this letter. On October 5th, 2007, I plan to plead guilty to two counts of lying to federal agents. I will travel to New York on Friday, October 5th, where my mom will meet me, and return home to Austin on the following afternoon. I will now try and explain the details of all this to you all.
As she will shortly explain, the federal charges are only tenuously connected to the PEDs. Like Martha Stewart, Jones has been accused of lying to federal agents. The contents of the interview in which she lied are irrelevant. Count me as a skeptic when it comes to this technique of law enforcement (it's in the same category as charging a suspect with conspiracy, rather than the underlying crime, or inventing novel extensions of securities laws to capture otherwise legal behaviour).
In 1999, my track coach Trevor Graham provided me with some nutritional supplements. There is one in particular that he called "flaxseed oil." He advised me to take this supplement by placing a few drops under my tongue and then swallow. He told me that it was necessary to add this to my diet so that I could be in peak running shape. I, unfortunately, never asked him any questions about it. I trusted him and never thought for one second that he would jeopardize my career, nor his own. He told me to administer it by placing a few drops under my tongue for a few seconds and then to swallow. He supplied me this for the 1999 and 2000 seasons. In 2001, I noticed a change in how my body felt, how I was able to recover and my strength level. I felt generally weaker in my entire training routine. At that time I attributed the noticeable change to being burnt out from the Olympics, etc. It was not until after I left Trevor at the end of 2002 that I began to wonder to my self whether or not Trevor had given me something to enhance my performance. Looking back in hindsight, red flags should have been raised in my head when he told me not to tell anyone about our workouts or supplementation program. At that time my rationale was, well it makes sense not to give out any information about what we do, why give my competitors any edge.
There's an interesting consistency between the stories told by BALCO clients. The drug -- THG -- was administered orally, and the recipients were apparently told it was flaxseed oil or 'the clear.' Of course, Jones is not just asking us to believe that she was unaware the "flaxseed oil" was really a steroid -- she's also asking us to extend our suspension of disbelief further: that she never asked more probing questions, that the secrecy demand didn't raise her suspicions, that she only noticed the impact of the drug after she stopped taking it, and that her marriages to two proven steroid users were a coincidence. In her statement to the court on Friday, she admitted that she used THG from September 2000 until July 2001, but that it was only "By November 2003, I realized that what Graham had given to me was a performance enhancing drug."
In 2003, I was interviewed by federal agents regarding the Balco scandal. For those of you that do not know, Balco was the name of a company that provided nutritional supplements and steroids to athletes through its owner Victor Conte. You can just Google it, if you need further explanation. In that interview, agents asked me several questions regarding my involvement, if any, with Balco or Victor Conte. There are two questions, in particular, that have gotten me into part of the trouble that I am involved in today. Agents asked me if I had ever seen this substance called the "clear.", and they then showed it to me. Up to this point I had heard about this steroid called the "clear," but had never seen it, or so I thought. It was the brain child of Victor Conte. When shown the substance I recognized it immediately as the supplement that Trevor Graham had given me and had referred to as "flaxseed oil," and knew at that moment that I had taken it for nearly 2 years. I panicked and told the agents that I had never seen the substance before. This was a lie. I indeed had seen it before but was introduced to it under a different name.
This passage contains my favourite line -- "You can just Google it," -- as well as the one I find most believable: "I panicked." This is Jones at her most sympathetic. Is there anyone who wouldn't panic when being interviewed by federal agents? Especially knowing that any slip-up, whether intentional or unintentional, might later be prosecuted?
The agents concluded the interview by asking me if I had ever taken a performance enhancing drug, or PED, as I will refer to it the rest of the letter. I told them that I had never taken a PED in my career. Prior to this interview, before seeing the "clear" I could have honestly said and did, that I never knowingly took any banned substances. But once they showed me the "clear" and told me that it was indeed a PED, I knew that what I had taken and been given was a banned substance and I lied about it. I lied for a few reasons. I lied because I panicked. I lied to protect my coach at the time. I lied to protect all that I had worked so very hard for in my life and career. And lastly, I lied to protect myself. It was an incredibly stupid thing to do. I made the decision to break the law and have to take full responsibly for doing so. All of this was after my attorneys had specifically told me several times the need to be totally truthful with the agents. That will be the first count that I will plead guilty to on Friday. As you can all imagine, the story will be front page news, and I want you all, as I have stated in the beginning of this letter, to have heard the truth from me.
Jones veers from her most to least believable and back again in an instant. "I lied" and "I'm sorry" are two of the most powerful phrases in our language. They are rarely used, and even when used are often qualified to the point of meaninglessness ("I'm sorry if you feel hurt" being the worst offender). Here Jones repeats the admission "I lied" and she tells us her motivation -- to protect herself, her reputation and those close to her, and because she panicked. This would be more effective if it wasn't again paired with the claim that it was only at that moment, in the interview, that she realized the 'flaxseed oil' was the same as 'the clear' and was therefore a steroid.
Regarding the second count of lying to a federal agent….At the beginning of 2006 I met with prosecutors in New York regarding a check fraud and check counterfeiting scheme they had been investigating. They had called me in because a $25,000.00 check had been deposited into my account in 2005, and apparently it was one of the counterfeit checks. I was asked if I knew anything about the check. I told the prosecutors no. This was a lie! The facts are these. Tim Montgomery, Monty's biological father, gave me the check in 2005 and told me that it was from the sale of a refurbished vehicle that he owned and it would be towards partial repayment of $50,000.00 which I loaned him for attorney expenses back in 2004. The government believes that I knew about the check fraud scheme from the beginning and that I knew that the check was counterfeit. This is not the case.

Once again I panicked. I lied because I wanted to protect Monty's biological father. Although my relationship had ended, I did not want to be the one responsible for putting him in jail or getting him in trouble. And lastly, I wanted to protect myself. I did not want my name associated with this mess. I wanted to stay as far away from it as possible. And so I lied. I am not giving excuses for what I have done. I just want you to understand, even if it is only slightly, my bizarre reasoning behind lying to a federal agent, for the second time.
Her reasons are bizarre and so are the circumstances. What a nightmare Jones' life has become. News accounts suggest she's jobless, out of money, about to be stripped of her Olympic medals and up for a jail sentence following the guilty plea. According to the Star, "The $2.5 million dream house in Chapel Hill, N.C., is gone. So is the house Jones bought for her mother.In court papers, Jones claims to have 'total liquid assets throughout the world of about $2,000.'" And now she's tied up with an ex-husband's check kiting scheme.
This brings us to the present. Both the Northern District of California and the Southern District of New York cases will be presided over by one Judge in New York. They call this a global resolution. The sentencing will be held in approximately 3 months, or sometime at the beginning of January. The sentencing guideline for an offense such as this is 0-6 months in jail. Although it is extremely hard to fathom being away from my family for any length of time, I have to put the rest in God's hands and pray that this horrible chapter in my life, be resolved as soon as possible. I wanted you to know this and not be surprised when you pick up the paper or turn on the computer within the next week. You deserve more than that.

The next several months will be very difficult for me and my family, and all of you as well. With all of this happening though I want you to know that I feel a huge relief already being lifted as I will finally be able to tell the truth, as hard as it might be . I want to apologize to you all for all of this. I am sorry for putting you all through this after you have been there for me through everything. I want to apologize to you, in advance, for the questions that you will be asked about me and about your relationships with me. And lastly, I am sorry for disappointing you all, in so many ways. My intent was never to hurt any of you.

I hope that one day I will be able to share with you, and the world, my struggles with certain things in my life. And in addition use my story to help direct, motivate, and possibly even inspire young people to make better decisions in their lives. Please keep me in your prayers. Love, Marion
Prosecutors have asked for a sentence of 6 months. Peter Ueberroth has called for her to turn in the medals before they're taken away. And again, her use of an unqualified "I'm sorry" is powerful. But I can only assume her hope to one day share her "struggles" with us means a book deal is on the way.

One of the claims made by those who want PED using athletes to come forward and confess is that confession will bring absolution and understanding. 'If only they'd tell the truth, we'd forgive them,' the thinking goes.

There is little reason to believe this claim. The head of the IAAF has called Jones "one of the biggest frauds in sporting history." Fellow competitors have declared themselves pleased, and the head of US track and field, no doubt thinking of Jones' colleagues on the relay team, has said that "her fellow competitors, teammates and the sport are paying the price for her mistakes."

In a curious turn, Dick Pound has declared that it will be "disagreeable" to see Jones stripped of her medals -- but only because suspended doper Katerina Thanou will be one of the beneficiaries.

Some have been kind. UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell has said that "We love her, we care about her, we support her and we will do whatever we can do to help," and UNC track coach Dennis Craddock offered that "Marion is a good person, but she made some bad decisions." Her former coach Steve Riddick said that "I have my own cross to bear, and I wish I could bear her cross, too."

The most unfortunate defence has been from Victor Conte. "Those who have made the majority of the money from Olympic as well as professional sport must also take responsibility for the drug culture that exists...In a sense, Marion Jones is a victim of a corrupt system that has existed for decades." Given that Conte played a large part in that system, and made plenty of money doing so, his condemnations are disingenuous.

Conte did say one thing that I could agree with, and perhaps that's where I'll close: "Marion is no different than many others who have done the same but were able to easily beat the inept anti-doping system in place."

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