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08/09/2013

How 'Game Theory' helps explain why using PEDs is a safe play

130117085107-lance-armstrong-single-image-cut.jpgNever met Mr. Berno Buechel of the University of Hamburg, but if you are unfamiliar with his work you should brush up on the studies about professional sport.

He and his colleagues figure the cheaters in sports aren't dummies. They are merely playing the percentages. No matter what baseball boss Bud Selig says, the chances are very low these guys are going to get caught. And even if they are, they're not going to get fried.

I picked up the latest issue of "The Economist" (look how smart I is!) and came across this article: "Athlete's dilemma: Sportsmen who take drugs may be prisoners of a different game". Click here for the link.

The crux of the story is on Buechel's work that focuses on an area of math called "Game Theory", and the two components involved in sports, plus a wrinkle he added.

It says the best thing for the two parties is to not cheat. That way everything is clean. But since no one can trust the other the best alternative is to assume your opponent is cheating, so you must in order to even the playing field. This is the thought process behind Lance Armstrong's Tour de France success - they're all doing it.

CruzIn this equation is the "inspection figure", i.e. the leagues, USADA, et all. Their respective presence should eliminate, or at least deter, such behavior. Alas, as we've seen with the likes of Texas Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz, New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez and others, an inspection figure does not guarantee elimination.

Now, Buechel adds, a third component to this scenario and that is you - the customer.

The people who pay for all of this - fans, sponsors, TV, etc. - are far too great of an influence on the "inspection figure" to genuinely enforce the rules as stated. The cost alone to rigorously test these athletes is enormous, which often acts as the biggest reason why testing is so sporadic. Or predictable. 
To increase testing, and expose the results from weed use to PEDs, could threaten the money supply.

Buechel states it is better to test sparingly, so every now and then you find the Cruz, A-Rod and others. To expose a few rotten eggs is better than to show that every single egg in the crate is fueled with irregular additives. It maintains the appearance of a clean game we all idealize from our youth.

Knowing this, the players roll the dice and take the syringe, or pill. They may get caught. They may not. The percentages say it's worth the risk.

By following this practice MLB boss Bud Selig, NFL boss Roger Goodell and the rest can easily sell that they are doggedly trying to protect the integrity of the game. If, as Buechel's research and math states, they were to really spend the money and expose all of the tests and results the evidence suggests their players are so stuffed with banned substances it would further alienate their fan base.

@MacEngelProf
tengel@star-telegram.com
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