Because of many obviously-blown calls (well, obvious to everyone but the umpire) in baseball but no means by which to really review and retract judgments, Major League Baseball rightfully decided to institute a system to review plays using video footage from television production crews covering the games. The purpose was to prevent such blatant blown calls from deciding games. A couple arguments against using instant replay is that it disrupts the purity of simply using human judgment and because instant replay further slows down the pace of play.
There is a delicate balance that must be struck when reviewing plays – MLB wants the games to be called as accurately as possible, but with an already horrible pace of play without using instant replay, MLB further exacerbates the pace problem if they use a lot of time to check so many extremely-close plays.
A game on Monday night called into question the judgment of a catch as to what is considered “secured possession” or not and the transfer rule:
You think you know what a catch is? Here’s a play from Monday night, with Rangers catcher J.P. Arencibia trying to turn a 1-2-3 double play. He appears to catch the ball and then drop it while making the transfer to his throwing hand. Home plate umpire Paul Schreiber initially called the baserunner out. Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon appealed the play and after a lengthy four-minute instant replay delay, the call was overturned and Dustin Ackley ruled safe.
FOUR MINUTES to decide a play that probably took five seconds to complete. (Just watch the first minute of the video, lest you fall asleep like many fans likely did during this time.) Yes, it’s a big play at the plate, with the judgment affecting a run being scored. With the judgment being overturned, McClendon’s challenging of the call was justified.
But four minutes. If MLB is so concerned with the pace of play and instant replay is now a new contributor to the pace of play delay, shouldn’t MLB be measuring if not mandating that reviews be kept short? Shouldn’t this be a big metric to monitor?
MLB needs to decide what is most important to them – must the umpires and the instant replay system get every call right, or do they want to tighten up the pace of the game? It’s pretty obvious they can’t have both to their fullest extent. One must be prioritized over the other.
I’m not one to just throw out solutions, but if MLB wants to prevent the super obvious blown calls (a la Don Denkinger and Jim Joyce) while also trying to hold what fractured pace of game they still have, I suggest instant replays take no longer then sixty seconds. That is likely enough time (but not confirmed or measured by me) to tell if a play is obviously blown, and not so long that fans can’t be extremely bored moreso than they already are. If an umpire can’t make a satisfactory judgment after sixty seconds then the play stands because it’s not obvious at regular speed, let alone at super-slo-mo.
With this sixty-second mandate, five-second real-time plays wouldn’t take four minutes to replay and review and make the crowd restless.
Bubba Watson is in the last pairing for the final round of The Masters at Augusta National today. He is a past Masters champion, having won in 2012 in a sudden-death playoff with Louis Oosthuizen after completing 72 holes. Perhaps his most famous shot is his second shot from the right rough on the second playoff hole (hole #10 at Augusta National) – sitting in pine straw deep in the trees, he hooked an iron shot around the trees blocking his view of the flag and landed his shot on the green. Putting in for a one-shot victory over Oosthuizen, Watson referred to this shot as an example of “Bubba Golf”, or considering all the possibilities of types of shots he can hit with his clubs and taking calculated risks by not allowing himself to be limited to conventional wisdom and tradition.
Most golfers in his position probably would have punched back out to the front of the green because it was easy to see and there were fewer obstacles, and then taking a couple of shots to achieve par and avoid disaster. Watson thought differently – perhaps being at an advantage as a left-handed golfer he could draw his ball around the foliage with a lower risk of disaster. Watson indicates that with “Bubba golf” he pushes the limits on what his clubs allow him to do and the shots he is able to hit – anything is a possibility.
“Bubba golf”‘ is a prime example of Kaizen thinking – considering the optimal outcome and evaluating all possibilities for shots that will allow for that outcome or come as close to it as possible. With Kaizen, no ideas are out of consideration without genuine evaluation. Innovation and ingenuity come from such creativity. Genuine Kaizen application means putting all biases aside, asking “why not?” and “what do you think?“, and letting the results be what matters instead of the means by which those results are obtained (aside from taking unrealistic risks).
So often we are obsessed with the tools that can solve problems instead of properly looking at the results we want to achieve and considering how those results are problems solved.
Without Kaizen thinking with Bubba golf, Watson might have laid up and worked to par the second playoff hole two years ago and survived to play another playoff hole with Oosthuizen.
Of course, without Kaizen thinking Watson might not be a Masters Tournament winner.
The typical Masters security process and protocol is standard but rigorous – no cell phones or weapons, no outside food or beverage, prepare to walk through a metal detector, and on and on. Augusta National prides itself on providing the best fan experience possible, even if that means security protocols at or above those at other sporting events. (They still aren’t as bad as the TSA, though.) There are many stations through which patrons can enter at the front gate to help dissipate the crowd but a significant spike in foot traffic (such as when the gates open or the last golf groups finish up their rounds on the course) this means major backups.
However, on Friday, the metal detector process step was voluntarily suspended in all lines because of the crowds. Because of the stated rules I have never brought anything onto the course or to the entrance gate that is disallowed, but had I done so yesterday I could have slid by without being checked. No emptying of pockets, no checking of carried-in golf chairs, nothing.
So why the temporary suspension of the security protocols? On my way in I asked one of the security personnel from Securitas, the subcontracted security firm used by Augusta National, why the metal detector and emptying-of-pockets step was not being enforced. The representative said they had orders from their superiors to let patrons bypass all the scanners in order to get ticket holders into the gates faster. For an event so focused on doing things right, I’m certainly surprised the club would change course and focus on speed and haste instead of maintaining high quality security (with quality equating to thoroughness).
But this now leads to another question: if security is apparently so critical at a high-exposure sporting event, is it reasonable to now think that those security protocols were over the top and unnecessary? And if they are unnecessary, should they even be included at all?
The club elected to push the quality of the security to the curb in order to expedite the get-patrons-in process, at the risk of weapons or cell phones hitting the course. Maybe they were also assuming lots of folks like me would have already been prudent about leaving those things in the car because we are, in general, decent planners when it comes to big rules like that or have been through the security process so many times at other locations that we’re pre-programmed to comply.
Perhaps there was an unusually large volume spike that caused patrons to be lined up to the street and direct fan safety due to car traffic on the road was the primary reason for violating the security protocol. (I don’t know – I was not in any line when the directive came down and I arrived at the course about 9:00 a.m. – patron spikes are about 7:45 a.m.)
So if Augusta National said “Fan Safety from Car Traffic” > “Security and Stealth Photography”, then high-five to ANGC. Safety should always come first. However, if ANGC said “Fans inside are fans buying concessions” > Security, then this was a bad move and those security protocols should go away.
That said, those metal scanners and empty-your-pockets protocols are back in force today at ANGC.
Typically springtime weather in all parts of the country is crazy and hard to predict, but the last three years have seen upwards of 90-degree temperatures during The Masters Tournament in Augusta. Lots of sun, infrequent patches of rain here and there, and consistently warm temperatures have been the norm recently in early April. However, this season has already seen an ice storm strike down an iconic course landmark that will affect tournament play, a practice round cancellation, and cooler-than-normal forecasts. The weather will have impacts on two other revenue-generating outlets as well: concessions and Masters merchandise sales.
Very few concessions offerings by The Masters are prepackaged in special wrappers and ordered in mass quantities prior to the tournament. Examples of these would be candy, chips, Moon Pies, and peach ice cream sandwiches. The rest of the items are cooked or produced in small batches or quickly reordered locally and restocked.
- Sandwiches (ham or turkey, sausage biscuits, barbecue sandwiches, chicken wraps, pimento cheese sandwiches, egg salad sandwiches) are either prepared and packaged the evening before or during the day in a facility in close proximity to Augusta National (presumably across the street if my information is correct).
- Fresh fruit is purchased from grocery stores locally on an as-needed basis.
- Drinks such as beer, cola, tea, lemonade, coffee, and sports drinks are reordered from local vendors and restocked.
As a result, food and drink inventories are low. Cup inventories are ordered in mass quantities but ordered (I believe) from local vendors that can reprint the official concessions cupware as needed with a quick turnaround time.
When the weather forced the cancellation of Monday’s practice round after 10 a.m. the impact on already-prepared food was very minimal because the weather forecast was closely monitored by the concessions management and production was halted when the management knew that afternoon concessions demand would be zero (due to no one being around to make purchases). Prepackaged foods could be used again the next day, drinks could remain in the coolers and used the next day, and very little food would go to spoil (the heated sandwiches already cooked and placed on the shelves).
Merchandise at the golf shop, on the other hand, is handled less “locally” than concessions. While it’s true that a lot of The Masters merchandise will sell out by the time the green jacket is slipped onto the winner’s shoulders, sometimes a lot of potential sales opportunities are left on the table because of stockouts way too early.
Clothing items are designed to be exclusive to Augusta National and The Masters, but they are produced overseas. Last year I purchased polo shirts for friends that came in plastic wrappers labeled “Made in China”, and this year I have a snappy new Peter Millar pullover whose tag indicates production in Thailand. Pretty standard for any clothing offering.
Because of the overseas production and subsequent time and transfers resulting from transportation over multiple thousands of miles, Masters merchandise production has to start really early in the year. Orders must be placed weeks, if not months, in advance. Quantities needed for the tournament week must be predicted based on weather forecasts that struggle with accuracy more than seven days in advance, let alone seventy days. Merchandise coordinators place orders to Asia early and hope that the demand for the items are close to expectations.
Well I’m betting that, if the coordinators relied on past weather results to predict what might happen to demand this year, they weren’t predicting such a mild weather week in Augusta for The Masters. Heck, the weather (and its impact on the course itself) was hard enough to predict when it came to printing media guides.
Cooler weather will lead to increased consumption of coats, pullovers, and long-sleeved gear. When and if they stock out before players make the tournament cut, there won’t be any viable way to restock the now-gone-forever items. Those sales will be left on the table. Also, it’s possible that short-sleeved items won’t sell out like they have in years past. And of course we’ve already covered the reprinting of calendars due to the weather.
Look, Masters merchandise is already extremely pricey to begin with because of the high demand and exclusive sales window (merchandise is only for sale during the seven-day tournament week). The margins are through the roof for clothing sales because of the high price tag and low cost of manufacture (transportation notwithstanding). If Augusta National gave stronger consideration to using local suppliers for their merchandise production the margins might be lower but inventories could be kept smaller, transportation costs reduced, and reproduction and restocking of stocked-out items could lead to fewer sales being left on the table.
Why do players think it’s a good idea to slide head first into first base? The baseball season is barely nine games old and already there have been two injuries resulting from head first dives into first base.
Yasiel Puig has missed the past two Dodgers games after suffering a thumb injury while sliding head-first into first base. On Tuesday night, Josh Hamilton slid head-first into first base in the seventh inning and was removed in a crucial situation in the ninth inning because he had injured his thumb.
Players perceive there are two reasons for sliding into first base in an attempt to make it to first safely.
- Avoid the tag of a fielder with the ball
- Get to first base faster
Baseball, being a game of inches, has a lot riding on the line when it comes to bang-bang plays at any bag. Any advantage available to runners or fielders should be carefully considered.
This kind of thing happens in traditional business or manufacturing processes as well. Risks are taken to obtain perceived improvements in process outputs. Moldsetters remove safety glasses to see things better or closer up on their machines. Lab staffers need to react quickly to tests and neglect to put neoprene gloves on before opening the titrating valves. Hospitals keep extra varieties of medicine doses in close proximity to improve reaction time to emergencies, even if those doses are similar in color and can be confused.
Now, back to the subject of sliding into first base. Welp, according to ESPN.com:
Studies have shown runners do not get to first base faster by sliding head-first, so runners, please stop.
Where are these studies? First, let’s look at sliding as a means of reaching a base faster in the first place, let alone just first base.
- According to Mythbusters, sliding into base is faster than flat-out running through a bag (assuming the bag into which you are sliding is the one you intend to hold as the play ends – you aren’t looking to immediately move to the next base).
As you run to base, your body’s mass combined with your speed creates momentum, which changes into angular momentum as you slip into a slide, so the friction created with the ground doesn’t slow you down as much as you might think. You may lose a little speed, but keeping your body stretched out may enable you to touch base sooner than if you kept running the whole way.
If you stay on your feet, your momentum will try to keep powering you forward as you near the base, so you’ll slow your speed to stay upright when you stop on base — adding time to your sprint.
- According to a physicist at Washington University, head-first slides are faster than feet-first slides.
Headfirst slides are better than feet-first slides, says Washington University physicist and baseball fan David Peters. According to Peters, it’s simple physics: As a runner slides headfirst, the body’s center of gravity — and therefore its momentum – is thrust forwards. Slide feet first, and the body’s center of gravity falls backwards, away from the base.
So I’m not quite sure where David Shoenfield got his data – not disputing that he has it, but the Mythbusters and a physicist suggest otherwise. But here’s why sliding head-first into first base is not the best idea.
First, the Mythbusters quote ends with the runner slowing down to stay on base…but runners are allowed to run through first base. Stopping to stand on first base isn’t mandatory. Those lost milliseconds due to slowdown are irrelevant. Sliding to stop is applicable to other bases but on a batter hitting the ball and running to first it isn’t always going to work that way.
Second, sliding head-first presents a big safety risk.
- Fielders can step on sliders’ hands, which are full of little tiny delicate bones. Breaking one of them not only affects a player’s ability to play but also their livelihood away from the field.
- On a slide the runner’s head is closer to the throwing line between the throwing fielder and the first baseman catching the throw. Helmet or not, getting hit in the head by a throw is a risk that maybe should be avoided.
Basically, the only good reason for sliding into a base, whether it’s first base or any other, is to avoid being tagged by a fielder. Sliding (apparently) gets you there a smidge faster but stops your momentum on that base.
But why do players do it? Let’s ask Shin Soo Choo, a player for the Cincinnati Reds who hurt himself sliding head-first into first base last year, and not to avoid a tag (see the picture above).
“Stupid play,” Choo said. “I tell myself, and I tell a lot of players, the worst play is the headfirst slide into first base and home plate. But I did it. I don’t know why I did it. It’s a situation, big game, tie ballgame, we came about. I don’t know, my body just did it.”
Choo injured himself and put the Reds’ playoff chances at risk by taking a small risk for a small reward of being safe rather than out.
What does this mean from a Lean standpoint? Well, how many operators deviate from a best practice with a different process step because they perceive taking a shortcut or risk will result in improved performance?
Basically, don’t slide head-first into first base. The risks outweigh the rewards. Take the out and try again in your next plate appearance.
Earlier this winter Augusta suffered through a major ice storm that destroyed trees all over the region. Augusta National Golf Club was no exception and the Eisenhower Tree, one of the most significant landmarks on the course, was damaged to the point that it had to be removed in February prior to The Masters Tournament. The course layout was apparently so dramatically different that Augusta National Golf Club chose to correct and reprint 2,000 media guides:
Augusta National had already mailed out some 2,000 media guides, with a glossy cover, color photos and 420 pages of information.
A week or so after the tree came down, the club sent the media guide back to the printer to update the mention on page 28 of the tree. Everything was changed to past tense, and it mentioned how it was taken down in February 2014 after an historic ice storm.
That is a LOT of paper consumed just to indicate a single course change that could be construed as a defect. Was it really necessary to invest in the extra time, paper, money, and printer capacity? Instead of allowing the media guides to serve as a de-facto memorial to the history of the hole, Augusta National decided to change all references to the Eisenhower Tree and absorb the costs of doing so. And believe me, the excess to which Augusta National Golf Club goes through to make everything look spectacular, the media guide is probably exquisitely produced.
The media guides weren’t the only things subject to reprinting. Other pieces of merchandise were replaced as well.
It (the club) removed all the calendars on sale in the merchandise shop because they had photos of the Eisenhower Tree, redoing the calendars with a different image of the 17th hole. It also changed the yardage books and spectator guides that are on sale this week to reflect that the tree is no more.
While the media guides were shipped out and put into use before the Eisenhower Tree came down (thereby making the media guides “defective” and not excess inventory that became defective while waiting on a shelf), the calendars and guides would not have been available for public consumption until this past weekend with the opening of the golf shops and entrance gates. That means that defective materials were produced far in advance of when they would be needed.
Augusta National Golf Club certainly prides itself on its commendable attention to detail. However, they did not catch everything. I’m fairly certain that they did not nail down The Augusta Chronicle’s coverage of The Masters online, where it appears they still have a computer image of the 17th hole with the Eisenhower Tree:
I believe that tree forcing itself into the fairway on the left side is the Eisenhower Tree. Oops.
Imagine a manufacturing process that has operated in mostly the same way every year. The same suppliers, the same machines, the same internal process steps. Extremely consistent inputs and outputs, no surprises. Maybe technology improves here or there, operators come and go, internal process step changes save a bit of time or reduce defects, but no significant changes over the years. You know what to expect every time until one day you discover a new, cheaper, and closer domestic supplier to one of the most important pacemaker components that reduces costs by 25% and waiting/transportation time by 90%. The process itself drastically improves, almost a step-change improvement. That’s what the removal of the Eisenhower Tree means to players at The Masters.
The Eisenhower Tree, also known as Ike’s Tree, was named for former President Dwight Eisenhower. President Eisenhower was one of the most famous and influential members of Augusta National Golf Club and played the course frequently after his presidency. A large tree, a 65 foot tall lolbolly pine, stretching over the 17th fairway was a constant victim of Eisenhower’s tee shots on 17. This pine tree’s existence so often drew the ire of Eisenhower that in a 1956 members meeting he proposed the tree be cut down. His request was denied but the nickname of the Eisenhower Tree certainly stuck.
And Eisenhower wasn’t alone. The tree has been a part of history of The Masters and has dictated tee shot approaches and plans for many tournament players looking to avoid getting caught in the rough and poor lies resulting from hitting the Eisenhower Tree. Players looking to preserve scores and play safe would angle their tee shots to the right of the fairway or maybe attempt to blow past or over the tree with a high tee shot. High risks sometimes come with high rewards and attempts at good scores on hole 17.
Augusta and the surrounding region were hit by a major ice storm this past winter, and unfortunately the storm was rough enough to damage the Eisenhower Tree significantly enough that it had to be removed.
No tree has taken its place and now the 17th fairway is wide open with no large specimen of foliage to block the path of a straight drive.
Now if scores don’t improve on the 17th hole during The Masters, it won’t be due to the loss of the Eisenhower Tree. The Masters, perhaps the most significant golf tournament in the world, is often won or lost by a single stroke over four rounds.All players now have to change up their strategy to account for alterations to the 17th hole.
For those who have had a chance to play the course since the tree’s demise in February, the lack of a towering pine presents a much different visual from the tee.
“It looks good to me. It’s nice,” said defending Masters champion Adam Scott. “It’s a little more open, obviously. It looks very good off the tee. It’s a nice look. It’s still a very narrow fairway where the drive finishes. I don’t know if it’s going to play easier. We’ll see at the end of the week when I guess all those averages are calculated.
How will the loss of the Eisenhower Tree play out? Like Adam Scott says, we’ll find out this week.
The 2014 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club is here! Sadly, for the first time in over ten years, inclement weather has forced the closure of a round at The Masters today. Masters Week at Augusta National typically consists of practice rounds Monday through Wednesday before the four-round tournament begins on Thursday. A little bit after 10 a.m. local time tournament officials closed the course because of rain – players scheduled to practice today were taken off the course and practice areas, the entrance gates were closed to incoming patrons, and those patrons already on the course were corralled out of the gates.
Outdoor sporting events are subject to the weather elements that can be hard to predict and properly plan for, whether it is a spectator or event organizer trying to prepare for all possible occurrences. The Masters is no different, especially since it plays in late March or early April every year and susceptible to crazy spring season weather. Fans travel from all over the world and plan trips to Augusta months in advance, but poor weather can significantly derail those plans at any time. Masters tickets are in high demand and very costly when purchased on the secondary market, as are logistical arrangements – despite enormously-inflated hotel room rates in the area the rooms sell out early. Postponement of tournament rounds can delay play to later days and even push tournament play into the following week.
Most tickets for sporting events are able to be used for rescheduled events (such as single occurrences such as college bowl games or championships) or exchanged for tickets to games later in the season (baseball, basketball, football). It’s not often that refunds are offered, let alone given.
Purchasers of Monday Practice Round tickets will be sent refunds in May, and will be guaranteed the opportunity to purchase 2015 Practice Rounds tickets. Further information will be included with the refund.
“We are disappointed that our patrons could not enjoy today’s practice round, however safety must be our first concern. We look forward to seeing these patrons next year,” said Billy Payne, Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament.
So because of today’s rainout, purchasers of tickets not only get refunds but also access to purchase tickets next year. Of course, this policy isn’t applicable to ticket prices from scalpers or hotel room buys. Sorry, folks.
Augusta National Golf Club puts the fan experience and safety all ahead of financial rewards. Is it any wonder that this place is so beloved?
Last year at the American Society for Quality (ASQ) World Conference on Quality and Improvement I had the opportunity to record an interview about how Lean and quality can have an impact on sports organizations. The interview series is known as ASQ Quality for Life, and the series covers quality concepts having an effect on personal and professional lives.
- Similarities and differences between sports organizations and small businesses
- Value-added time vs. non-value-added time
- Technology implementation vs. process improvement
- Invisible costs and wastes beyond money incurred by fans
- “Lean is important because we waste less time doing non-value-added activities and (spend) more time selling!”
- Lean and waste reduction strategies that impact customer satisfaction
If you want to see the video live on the ASQ Quality for Life page and to check out the other interviews, check out the page here.
The Miami Marlins continue to demonstrate that they struggle with really understanding what matters to their fans. Sure, they’ve won some World Series titles in the last 20 years, but those peaks in interest are surrounded by valleys of lows. They practically gut their team of any high-salary players when they sign a bunch of free agents and try to force a peak in on-field success, and they treat their season ticket-buying fan base poorly. Now team president David Samson wants to see his team “play faster”. Um, why?:
“If we want to engage fans 18 to 49, we have to play faster,” he said. “We’re not going to put up with 3½-hour games. Our fans don’t want it.”
Why does “playing faster” matter? Well, it doesn’t. Here’s why it doesn’t.
- Baseball’s limiting/constraining resource isn’t time – it’s outs created. A game ends when both teams complete 27 outs and there is a difference in runs scored. Baseball has no time limit. A team can “play fast” all day and have a four hour game that is entertaining. I think the fans would be okay with a four hour game with a bunch of runs scored.
- Baseball’s “slow” problem is the pace of the game, not the time of the game. The delays between pitches, the lack of action, the inconsistent activity, all of which stem from the clock not being the constraining element – this is the issue.
So if Samson’s end goal is to wind up with a more action-filled game, playing fast is the wrong thing to measure. The game isn’t enforced against a clock.
However, he also thinks that fans care about a faster-paced game. They do, but they also care about being treated better by the organization and actually paying to see an organization put itself in the best position to win ball games. The Marlins have struggled to do either of those things based on their own internal decisions.
It’s clear that the Marlins are suffering because they are measuring the wrong things through using the wrong metrics, and they really don’t know their customers’ needs. They don’t know what success really is.
So what should the Marlins’ goals be and what kinds of metrics should they use?
- Safety: Maximizing a safe atmosphere for fans, players, and all individuals involved in the game or operations should be the top priority. Monitoring slips/trips/falls, injuries or incidents, or any kind of safety/health code violation would be a good start.
- Quality: Quality in the eyes of the customer would be based on a subjective level of entertainment relative to costs, but also no bad surprises like bad food or poor customer service. The quality of the team would probably be measured in winning percentage.
- Delivery: Providing what is wanted, when it is wanted, in the manner in which it is wanted. Related to quality, where did the Marlins fall short in their delivery of what the customers want? Did they have concessions or merchandise stockouts? Were there fan/customer complaints relative to safety and quality? Were the games actually too long or was the pace of play too long instead? What are the Marlins failing to provide that the fans have a reasonable expectation to receive?
- Costs: It’s important to keep costs/investments of resources in control, but it’s also been proven over and over again that slashing costs to the absolute bare minimum rarely ever works out to the customer advantage. A good Moneyball-related metric is payroll costs per win – the lower costs per win, the more productive the team is with its resources.
The Marlins would become a more effective organization if it properly defined what it is their fan base expects and then began crafting their offering based on those expectations.
Instead, the organization provided poor customer service to those fans investing the most in the team via season ticket purchases, slashed the payroll to the bare minimum by trading away star players with high salaries, and drastically reducing the quality of offering to the fans purchasing tickets which drives those purchasers away. I bet that having game times less than 2:40 long is a pretty low critical-to-quality measure or expectation.
The Mount St. Mary’s men’s basketball team’s season record is 16-16 – had they not won the NEC Tournament (and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament) they would not have been selected to go to the NCAA Tournament starting with the play-in games tomorrow in Dayton. However, they won their NEC Tournament quarterfinal game because they had six defenders on the court in the closing minute that led directly to a come-from-behind victory.
Because neither the officials nor St. Francis, their opponent for this quarterfinal game, noticed the extra player there really wasn’t any recourse to be taken. Mount St. Mary’s still had to then win their next two games in order to make the NCAA Tournament so there were other opportunities for other teams to keep them from making it.
However, because of the failure to confirm that there were no illegally-participating players on the court, the 2014 NEC Tournament will live on in infamy. The NEC has acknowledged the officiating error.
But how could this have been prevented? It appears that the teams were coming out of a time out or a stoppage in play, so an issue with communicating players checking in or out may have happened – the player checking in for MSM may not have informed the player checking out to go to the bench so that player just assumed he was still in the game.
In the NFL and in college football you can sometimes catch kick/punt return players counting the number of players on the field to confirm all the proper substitutions have been made legally, and the officials will do the same after every play. Maybe basketball could do the same if they aren’t doing so already.
Whether there is a technological error-proofing solution to the problem (RFID tags on jerseys for example) or a process improvement (officials counting players prior to handing the ball to the inbounding player to resume play), knowing there are the right number of legal players on the court needs to be the first priority before the game should resume.
Despite being a two-time NBA Coach of the Year and winning four NBA championships, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is still underrated. He doesn’t grab the SportsCenter highlights or cause waves to get attention, and his players are generally not caught up in drama. The three best players during his Spurs tenure – Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker – are quiet superstars. The core of the Spurs continues to age but the team just keeps winning.
In a meeting with the media before last Tuesday’s game, Popovich shared a little-known fact about how he sometimes handles timeouts and setting in-game strategies.
“Sometimes in timeouts I’ll say, ‘I’ve got nothing for you. What do you want me to do? We just turned it over six times. Everybody’s holding the ball. What else do you want me to do here? Figure it out.’”
Most coaches during timeouts in late-game critical situations will grab a dry-erase board and design a play or set a strategy with their players. While such activity gets the team prepared to work together, it takes the decisions about what’s best to do to win out of their hands. The play is the play, and to deviate from that plan is to run the risk of execution failure.
But not Popovich. He has been with the core group of veterans long enough to trust that they know their plays and strategies and that they’ll figure out what will work best and bring a successful result. He puts the impetus of execution and making decisions based on what the defense allows in the hands of his players.
By giving his players the creative freedom to do what they think is best to correct their mistakes or react to what the defense gives them, Popovich empowers them. This mindset is a far cry from the typical do-as-I-say coaching mentality of the NBA and NCAA.
“I think competitive character people don’t want to be manipulated constantly to do what one individual wants them to do. It’s a great feeling when players get together and do things as a group. Whatever can be done to empower those people.”
Sure, Popovich will call plays or impress strategies on his players when necessary (such as when he wants some nasty), but his empowerment makes players accountable for their own success or decisions.
We can make a great distinction here between a genuine coach versus a dictator. Coaches teach and work together with those who are executing the activity in order to maximize the opportunity for success. Most coaches (in name) are actually dictators in that they tell the players how to act or behave and expect it to be done.
True leaders don’t always have the solutions. Sometimes everyone knows the answer and it simply comes down to execution, where the responsibility for execution belongs to those who have the ball in their hands.
Last week Dr. Frank Jobe, the orthopedic surgeon who pioneered the “Tommy John surgery” that has revived and extended the careers for hundreds of MLB pitchers and athletes in other sports, passed away. The surgery is named after Tommy John, the Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher who was the first recipient of the experimental procedure – after the surgery and rehabilitation process, John went on to play 13 more seasons and win 164 additional games.
Dr. Jobe is a shining example of using the Kaizen mindset, to challenge the status quo and try something that hasn’t been done before and realize rewards and success resulting from taking such a chance. Without it, there are thousands of athletes whose careers would have been cut far shorter than they turned out to be.
So how did his original Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) replacement surgery process unfold? If you think about it, it’s very PDSA.
- When pitchers would tear a tendon or ligament in their elbow prior to 1974, their careers were effectively over. Dr. Jobe thought there could be a way to fix the damage.
Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax had his career cut short by a similar elbow injury in the 60s and he was out of baseball by 30 years old. His story of being forced to leave the game due to injury was not unique. In 1968 Dr. Jobe became the Dodgers’ orthopedic doctor.
After John tore his UCL in July 1974 and had his elbow in a cast, Dr. Jobe saw that proper healing through rest was not going to occur and that something drastic would have to happen for a full recovery.
He had assisted other doctors on ligament transfers in patients prior, such as ankle ligaments with patients suffering from polio, but had never done one for a baseball pitcher. Baseball players being the athletes they are, it would be a challenge to find a suitable tendon to use that did not take away the ability to run or throw. Fortunately he found one – an unused/unneeded tendon in the opposite wrist (the glove hand) of a pitcher.
- Using the research he had done with surgeons from other walks of life, he crafted the plan that offered the best chance of short-term success with limited resulting damage and performed the surgery.
Since Tommy John was a left-handed pitcher, he would transfer a ligament from his right wrist to his left elbow to replace the torn UCL. In September of 1974 he performed the surgery.
“Would it stay there? Would it receive blood vessels? Would it become part of his elbow? We didn’t know,” he says. “That’s why I told (John) he had about a one in 100 chance, and (John) said, ‘Well, if I don’t do anything, I’ve got zero chance.’
“And then he came in about a week later and said, ‘Let’s do it,’ and those words pretty much changed sports medicine.”
That’s something often forgotten with taking chances. You might have low odds of success when taking a chance, but you might have zero chance of success by not taking the chance at all.
- He and John controlled the rehabilitation process, monitoring how well the replacement tendon was grafting to the new elbow location.
Being in uncharted medicine waters, Dr. Jobe and John worked together to monitor whether the surgery would create the short term grafting effects they had hypothesized. Physical therapy was also facilitated by the team trainer. It was rigorous and closely checked and studied.
The short-term effects of the tendon grafting properly were confirmed. The long-term effects, however, were still unclear. Would John ever be able to pitch again, and if so for how long?
- Because he wasn’t sure how well the surgery would hold up long-term, he didn’t perform another UCL surgery until a couple years after seeing the amazing success Tommy John had post-surgery.
On April 16th, 1976, Tommy John made his first appearance in MLB since the surgery. He would go on to throw 207 innings in the majors that year with no side effects from the surgery. He would pitch until 1989 when he retired at age 46. The long-term success of the surgery were clear and has since been duplicated time and time again by other doctors.
Thanks to Dr. Jobe and his Kaizen thinking, elbow injuries are no longer the death knell of baseball careers. In fact, Tommy John surgery helps undo a lot of past damage and reinforces the elbow to be stronger and more effective prior to injury. It’s almost like a fountain of youth for pitchers.
In a recent post in his blog A View From The Q, soon-to-be-retiring American Society for Quality (ASQ) CEO Paul Borawski gave a quick evaluation of the results from this past year’s ASQ Manufacturing Outlook Survey. He cited 65% of surveyed manufacturers expecting revenue growth and saw the current state of the United States economy as being a significant challenge to that growth (along with a lack of skilled workers). Sports industry manufacturing, however, has a series of much different types of challenges.
Manufacturing for the sports industry exists within a small group of categories that tend to cross over one another: sports merchandise, sporting equipment, licensed products, and other smaller items related to sponsors, advertising, and promotion.
The sports industry itself comes with very uncommon types of costs and challenges that traditional manufacturers don’t really endure: expensive rights fees, non-commodity products, licensing fees, heavy investments in marketing to stay in front of pop culture and fads, and continuous technology improvements that are, quite literally, game-changers. All of these, too, are tied together and cross over.
Let’s take a look at some of these challenges and how they impact those categories of sports manufacturing.
Game-changing technology improvements
For example, new high-tech synthetic fabrics are introduced frequently by performance-based apparel manufacturers such as Nike, adidas, and Under Armour. Taylor Made introduces a new driver every year that is more aerodynamic or controllable than the year before. Innovations make last year’s models of shoes, clothing, and equipment “obsolete”, just like last year’s models did to the models preceding it. Merging customer needs with scientific or technological discoveries in the form of innovation can be expensive (but not always).
Heavy marketing investment
Technology brings us the lightest soccer cleats, the fabric that wicks moisture the best, the irons with the most forgiveness on missed hits…and now manufacturing companies have to convince consumers that they need the best equipment in order to perform their best. The manufacturers want to be the brand you play and the brand you wear, and in no other industry are individuals or teams married to brands like they are in sports. Marketing investment begets awareness, awareness begets coolness and preference and vanity, and coolness and preference beget high price tags for consumers. Marketing investment, as a result, is high. Endorsement deals from athletes, airing commercials during high profile sporting events, and dedicated advertisements at specialty stores and points of purchase all build brand clout.
In other industries, multiple suppliers could be procured for components that are somewhat commoditized. In sports, however, manufacturers fight for individual licensing fees that are deliberately kept in limited numbers. Being the exclusive apparel supplier to a sports team or league comes with a hefty price. Not only must your products be of high performance caliber and capable of meeting the needs of the players, but how much you pay the league or team in the form of royalties is also a significant portion of whether you land the contract. Some leagues get paid upwards of 20% of revenues from licensed products - again, that’s revenues and not gains or profits – just on the sales of individual pieces, depending on the means of such sales. That’s not taking into account any sort of upfront fees or side agreements.
With authentic on-field gear, there is just one supplier and therefore one license. In the NFL, Nike has the license to make on-field player jerseys so your super-expensive authentic Andrew Luck jersey is made by Nike.
But think about the benefits of paying those licensing fees – your logos are all over television and in the faces of fans as they watch your products in use as a pseudo-demonstration (or failed demonstration) of the kind of performance that is possible with that gear.
Sports equipment, merchandise, and items generally have a short shelf life due to new technologies coming out every year, new concepts introduced, and players being traded or leaving teams. The market for sports equipment is also fairly small – so many color variations, so many teams with different players, so many customizations required – so high production runs are infrequent.
What does this mean for manufacturing of sports equipment?
Innovation of new products might occur stateside but because of the pressure to keep manufacturing costs low with short shelf lives and short runs, manufacturers of sports merchandise are loathe to bring manufacturing stateside. Under Armour does specialized production domestically but most consumer products are made overseas and imported. Easton-Bell, manufacturer of Bell helmets and Riddell helmets and Easton gear, has a number of management and supply chain operations stateside but their production mostly occurs in Asia. NFL jerseys for consumer and fan use are imported. Even shoe manufacturer New Balance claims a lot of “Made in the USA” products but their website says one in four pairs of shoes they sell in the USA is actually “made in the USA”. Louisville Slugger wood bat production is a rare exception in this high-tech high-vanity market.
There’s little pressure from the public to keep sports equipment manufacturing stateside. The leagues have demonstrated that maximizing profits through license fees and rights fees is the highest priority and they are fine with letting suppliers figure out what they need to do for themselves to remain profitable, even at the expense of American jobs.
The seasonality of sports helps manufacturers plan for rollouts of new product lines and scheduling of production in large runs at low individual unit costs overseas (but high inventories of overproduction and the necessary transportation for handling it all isn’t getting the attention it deserves). What manufacturers can’t predict is sudden spikes in demand for certain gear or player merchandise. (Amirite, Johnny Football and adidas?)
Just like with sports franchises, simply getting in the door to play the game is a huge mountain to climb for manufacturers and licensees. The front-of-mind brands are unlikely to consider heavy reinvestment in domestic production because, well, they’re on the top of the perch so why would they risk those benefits? It’s a sad truth on the state of sports equipment production.
I’m part of the ASQ Influential Voices program. While I receive an honorarium from ASQ for my commitment, the thoughts and opinions expressed on my blog are my own.
The NBA Slam Dunk Contest has been a cornerstone event during the NBA All-Star Weekend for years – originating in the NBA in 1984, it celebrates captivating physical feats and showmanship through impressive dunks with flair. However, interest in the contest – from NBA stars and fans alike – has dwindled since the early 1990s. From Wikipedia (yeah, I know):
Initially, it was because many players lost interest in competing; some cited concerns of injuries, while others felt that the full repertoire of humanly possible dunks had already been exhausted. With most of the superstars – (Michael) Jordan, (Dominique) Wilkins, (Clyde) Drexler, etc. – choosing not to participate, lesser-known players began to compete, leading to either watered-down competitions or surprises.
Let’s assume those reasons (from the 1990s) are true. The NBA has changed the format of the contest over the years that only sometimes addressed the suggested causes of disinterest – they found ways to reduce the number of dunks needed to win (minimizing injury risk), they allowed unlimited dunk attempts to complete a round (a la Nate Robinson) so that new innovative dunks could be attempted, they created a tournament format with head-to-head battles, they allowed fan voting for winners via text messaging, and then this year they introduced a conference vs. conference format.
Well all these changes should continually make the event better, right? Well, it didn’t. Last night’s event, with the format consisting of three rounds – a battle round between conferences, head-to-head battles between players from each conference, then a final three-way battle between remaining representatives from each conference to determine which conference wins. Way confusing, and a failure in the fact that the three players from the Eastern Conference swept their second round matchups, making the third round unnecessary. (Fans used text message voting to select the dunker of the night, a title given to Washington’s John Wall.)
Enough about last night’s disaster that now makes everyone wonder what the NBA is doing with the Slam Dunk Contest. The NBA is probably asking “How do we fix the NBA Slam Dunk Contest?” and they’re likely missing the point. Each format change has been an attempt to drum up interest and participation, but the results haven’t been ideal because root causes of disinterest haven’t been addressed.
However, let’s look at this through a continuous improvement lens by asking some better key questions.
- What is the actual purpose of the NBA Slam Dunk Contest?
- What is/are the problem(s) the NBA should be looking to solve with the Slam Dunk Contest?
- What are the root causes of those identified problems?
Starting with the first question, I was unable to find a purpose statement online for the NBA Slam Dunk Contest. I’d like to think it is a contest for the best and most creative slam dunks possible. Format aside, who should be allowed to participate? Should the participation be limited to NBA All-Stars elected for the All-Star Game? Or should participation be opened up beyond the NBA? There are probably some great dunkers playing in Europe, China, or even on the playgrounds who are high-flying acrobatic athletes but aren’t good enough to play in the NBA. NBA teams are smarter these days – roster sizes are finite and greater priority is placed on other in-game skills such as rebounding and defense as opposed to dunking ability. Also bear in mind that this is a contest and not a 48-minute game that counts in the league standings. There are likely lots of people in the world who can dunk well but are bad at basketball – this is a competition in which they can excel!
Early suggestions about primary problems with the dunk contest include low fan interest and low star player participation. I would include sponsor interest in this list too, because reduced interest by stars and fans means that this marketing property is much less valuable. Also, lower fan interest is most heavily caused by low star player interest. So let’s say that the biggest problem with the NBA Slam Dunk Contest is low star player participation.
Now we look at the root causes for low star player participation. Injury risk is a top reason. NBA All-Star Weekend now lists a whole bunch of events besides the game itself – shooting competitions, skills competition, rookies vs. sophomores game, etc. Maybe those events are pulling star players away from the dunk contest. Other causes could be lack of valuable incentive (financial or otherwise), lack of creativity (we’ve exhausted all the permutations of propless dunks), too much creativity with use of props, odd formats, the need for a mid-season break from basketball activities, or even fear of embarrassment if stars don’t make their dunks.
Instead of directly addressing each of these root causes and even validating them by polling star players across the league (which they may have done but failed to address concerns), the league has fiddled with formatting that leave fans and players confused and takes away from the competition element.
Yes, the NBA Slam Dunk Contest is really a meaningless contest that has no effect on the NBA championship, but if the NBA is going to try to improve a big event it holds annually they should at least try to improve it properly.
Other fun NBA Slam Dunk Contest articles:
- SBNation’s coverage
- SI.com’s coverage
- Slam Dunk Contest at Wikipedia
- Deadspin’s coverage
- ESPN.com – new format leaves players, fans, and television confused
- ESPN.com – format overshadows great dunks