30.11.11

MUTUAL ASSURED DESTRUCTION COMES TO COLLEGE FOOTBALL.

I remember nuclear disarmament advocates of the Cold War era, who noted that the big powers had enough megatonnage to "blow up the world eight times," and George McGovern's campaign suggested that the U.S.S.R. might have been looking to get out from under the burden of maintaining the arms race, and the current balance sheet of the U.S. government has at least one commentator suggesting that the current Nuclear Posture Review be occasion to reduce that blow up factor below five, or fifty.  But the dominant strategy in an arms race is to continue to build the stockpile.
"People assume [President Obama is] a novice," says Michael L. Baron, who taught Obama in a Columbia seminar on international politics and American policy. "He's been thinking about these issues for a long time." In fact, in a paper for Baron's class, Obama considered how a President might negotiate nuclear-arms reductions with the Russians. (He got an A.)

Twenty-six years later, as President, Obama has a chance to translate that vision into policy. And the President says his agenda is actually the best way forward in today's turbulent world.

"It's na•ve for us to think," he says, "that we can grow our nuclear stockpiles, the Russians continue to grow their nuclear stockpiles, and our allies grow their nuclear stockpiles, and that in that environment we're going to be able to pressure countries like Iran and North Korea not to pursue nuclear weapons themselves."

But critics say the United States will only weaken itself if it pursues a path to a nuclear-weapons-free world. "If the implications were not so serious, the discrepancy between Mr. Obama's plans and real-world conditions would be hilarious," says Frank Gaffney, who worked on defense issues for President Ronald Reagan. "There is only one country on earth that Team Obama can absolutely, positively de-nuclearize: ours."
Compared to nuclear proliferation, a discussion of college football might strike the reader as preposterous. But economic models are neutral as to the situation they are used to describe, and instead of the replacement of perfectly serviceable submarines and bomber aircraft with the next improvement, we have the firing of football coaches before their first recruiting classes finish their redshirt year (think of those second-year freshmen as the reserve being called up).
Three coaches fired after last weekend's games had been on the job two years, a development that leaves some observers wondering about fairness and finances.

Kansas' Turner Gill was dropped after going 5-19. Memphis' Larry Porter is out after a 3-21 record, and Rob Ianello's 2-22 mark at Akron led to an early termination.
The essence of an arms race, or any prisoners' dilemma, is that individual rationality leads to coordination failure.  A team that is making slow progress is still losing ground.  Never mind that speeding up the coaching carroussel incurs higher costs now for even higher costs later.  Coaching contracts now come with early-termination provisions, in which the university pays the coach to step out of line and disappear, while a successful coach pays the analogue of an exit tax to take a better offer before his contract expires.
According to their contracts, Gill is owed about $6 million, Porter $2.25 million and Ianello $900,000. Assistants under contract could also have to be dealt with unless they are retained or find other jobs.

Todd Turner, a former athletics director who is president of Collegiate Sports Associates, a consulting and search firm, is amazed that athletics directors and presidents are willing to take on the financial burden of paying off one contract and then hop right back into a super-heated marketplace to hire a new staff.

"It takes courage and patience to do the right thing and stick by a person according to the contract you drafted," he says.

Early firings and tearing up contracts are "a slippery slope," he added.
If Mr Turner understood his game theory better, he'd note that early terminations give the next coach hired an incentive to negotiate for more favorable early-termination terms, which an athletic director bent on improving the team's relative position will be disposed to accept.  Without a collegiate version of an arms-control treaty, the market for coaching staff inevitably gets hotter.

There's a sidenote to this story.  There's no good time to give a coach the bad news, but Mr Ianello was on the way to his mother's funeral when he got the word.

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