Posts Tagged ‘John F Murray’

No sure things guaranteed in NFL draft

The Kansas City Star – April 22, 2011 – Kent Babb – Bobby Parrish remembers a skinny kid with his future unwritten, an athlete determined to prove that football could carry him out of southwest Alabama’s poverty and despair.

JaMarcus Russell was a freshman quarterback when Parrish took the head coaching job at Williamson High in Mobile, and Russell never missed a practice in four years. Parrish says Russell wanted to make something of himself, and even after he left Mobile and became a star at LSU, it was clear Russell was persistent — chasing a carrot that, if he reached it, would reward him with fame, riches and success.

All those financial struggles would be behind him, if he could only reach that carrot.

Then he did, becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft. The Oakland Raiders signed Russell to a contract that guaranteed him $32 million. He had made it. After that, Russell wasn’t the same.

“We try to say money don’t change you,” Parrish says now.

The skinny kid that Parrish remembers swelled to more than 300 pounds, and the work ethic that carried Russell through the amateur ranks was deflated. He went 7-18 as a starter before the Raiders released him last year. No team has re-signed Russell, and nearly four years after that draft, he is out of the NFL — known as one of the biggest busts in league history.

Russell’s story is common among kids who grew up poor. They spend years dreaming of that life-changing payday, when all the work and sacrifice will be rewarded. If only they can reach the NFL, everything will be different.

For some, though, they can never again match the motivation once fueled by the notion of financial security. Some see reaching the NFL as a finish line; after they cross it, sports psychologist John Murray says, it’s difficult to re-establish new goals. And these days, when rookie contracts set records each year, pro teams have a difficult responsibility: Who is not only worthy of perhaps $50 million in guaranteed money — but who won’t be satisfied by it?

“When they get their money,” Murray says of some players, “things change.”

Some of the reasons are geographic. Of the states among the top-10 per-capita producers of NFL players, five — Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Texas and South Carolina — also are in the nation’s top 10 in highest poverty rate. Money is a motivator, but perhaps more so in places where a player’s friends, neighbors and relatives live below the poverty line.

Russell grew up in a place like that, and Parrish says the player’s family was on the lower end of Mobile’s financial spectrum.

“Your role is to get there,” Parrish says of the NFL. “You want to do everything you can: ‘I’m gonna bust my butt.’ Then once you get there, you receive that money. … Some people still have that motivation to keep going, to make even more money. And then there are some that are like, ‘Well, I’ve made it.’ ”

During the first four months of each year, NFL teams invest time, money and resources to try to separate the players who want to be great from those who only want to be rich. The Chiefs are among several teams that elevate character and background on a par with talent, and if there are signals that a prospect is interested only in money, some teams back off — regardless of that player’s upside.

Others, though, aren’t so willing to distance themselves.

“Sometimes talent wins out,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper says. “You talk yourself into liking this player.”

Players become busts for plenty of reasons: poor work habits, the inability to adjust to the NFL game, bad fits within a system. But none seem to foretell a collapse more than how that player reacts to his first taste of wealth. Players often take out huge loans before the draft to make their first major purchase: a car, a home or clothing — or all of it.

“If a guy pulls up to a predraft visit for a football team in … an S600 Mercedes with 21-inch rims and he’s got a $300,000 watch on,” Hall of Famer Howie Long says, “I’m checking him off my list.”

The challenge, of course, is finding players who want more than millions. The Chiefs have said often that they target players who desire greatness, regardless of how much money they make.

Former Chiefs player Bill Maas, who was the No. 5 overall pick in 1984, suggests that perhaps as few as five of each year’s 32 first-round picks are interested as much in fulfilling their potential as money. He says the Chiefs seemed to find one of those players last year, when they selected safety Eric Berry with the fifth pick. Berry signed a contract worth a guaranteed $34 million, but that didn’t stop him from becoming one of the team’s most well-known bargain hunters and, more than that, the Chiefs’ first rookie in more than two decades to reach the Pro Bowl.

“You’ve got to go figure out what kind of guy you’re getting,” Maas said. “If you’re going to spend that kind of money, you’ve got to find the right guy.”

Players such as Berry can help unite a locker room. Those such as Russell can divide it, and the Raiders are still trying to overcome that bad pick.

“If that guy is going to become a rich bum,” analyst Cris Collinsworth says, “then you’ve got problems. It’s going to permeate within the whole team.”

The problem is that there is no scientific way to predict who might react like Berry and who might respond like Russell. Parrish says teams in 2007 performed all the research; he was interviewed, along with Russell’s friends and family to try to properly vet the player before he was drafted and handed his millions. Parrish says he told teams that Russell was a hard worker with plenty left to prove. His fall, Parrish says, was as much a surprise to those close to him as the outsiders who watched a talented player become an example of what not to be.

“You think you know,” Kiper says. “You really don’t. … There’s no failsafe way.”

Another of Parrish’s former players, defensive tackle Nick Fairley of Auburn, is expected to be a top-10 pick in next week’s draft.

Parrish says Russell still comes around Mobile, attending Williamson basketball games and talking to players about their futures. The coach says Russell talks sometimes to the school’s current players, and occasionally, he has a message.

“We just try to show them,” Parrish says, “not everybody is going to make it.”

I hope you enjoyed this perspective of the NFL draft and also some sports psychology.

Scott Hall’s ex: ‘Done 4 Life’

Charleston Post & Courier – May 8, 2011 – Mike Mooneyham – Sometimes it’s better just to let go.

Dana Hall, ex-wife of pro wrestling star Scott Hall, says she’s finally come to the stark realization that closure doesn’t come to all.

She recently made what she called a last-ditch effort to reach out to Hall, who has battled substance abuse for a number of years, in an attempt to reconnect Hall with their two teen-aged children.

Hall, 53, has been hospitalized several times in recent months, and last year had a pacemaker and defibrillator implanted in his heart.

She has publicly pleaded with friends and family to intervene on Hall’s behalf.

But in light of recent events, she says, nothing short of a miracle will “save” the wrestler.

“I know now my prayers will not be answered as I had hoped,” she says.

Dana Hall, 49, said a recent phone call from her ex-husband gave her a brief glimmer of hope. That hope, however, was short-lived.

“I could barely understand him, but finally heard him say he was sorry for his behavior, and after wrapping his head around it, he knew he was going to die, didn’t have much time left, and wanted me and the kids to be with him in the end.”

She says Hall, however, hung up when she started to talk and would not answer when she called him back. Not knowing what his condition might be, she says she called 911 to meet her at Hall’s home 10 miles away in case he needed help.

“He sounded like he might be dying,” she says. “I was freaking out because he sounded really bad.”

Emergency medical technicians were already on the scene and climbing through a bedroom window when she arrived.

When she got to the front porch, she says, Hall was pushing an EMT out of the door.

“It was nothing short of a scene from ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ meets ‘The Shining.’ This is no exaggeration … I wish it was,” she says.

When he saw her, she says, Hall “went into a rampage against me, telling them to get this (expletive) off his property.”

“He was threatening to beat them all up, doing the crotch chop thing to them, making a fool of himself, ranting and raving like a crazed mental person,” she says.

She claims Hall, who was wearing a T-shirt and boxers, spat in her face as he yelled obscenities.

“I had my hands out to him and was crying, and he could have cared less. He just went on with his ranting,” she says. “He at one point held his hand up to strike me, and they moved me away. There were like eight paramedics and six officers. I told him goodbye. This would be the last time I would come see him.”

Now in hindsight, she says, she feels foolish after years of trying to mend fences and help her ex-husband.

“I feel like such a fool for falling for it again. There was nothing behind his eyes but hate and evil. He made his bed … now he has to lie in it.”

The incident was just the latest chapter in the sad saga of a one-time pro wrestling superstar whose fall from grace has been dramatic and painful to watch.

Noted sports psychologist Dr. John Murray says the situation is a delicate one that should be carefully handled.

“Scott’s condition is obviously a very sad one that is played out all too often in our society,” says Murray. “He is seriously trapped by his addiction, and it is going to kill him unless he makes a 180-degree change soon.”

The difference, says Murray, is that Hall is a very public sports figure, and his drama is being played out for all to see.

“This probably makes it even more difficult for him to recover and more painful for his family.”

Hall was one of the highest-paid performers in the wrestling business during the ‘90s when he headlined as Razor Ramon and later as a member of WWE’s Kliq (with Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, Triple H and Sean Waltman) and WCW’s NWO (with Nash and Hulk Hogan). But his professional and personal life spiraled out of control due to a string of drug-related incidents, and the self-proclaimed “Bad Guy” became a problem child and liability that lost favor in the business.

“A very long nightmare” is how Dana Hall describes their rocky relationship.

The two had been acquaintances and had first met at a bar where they both worked when she was only 17 years old. But they went their separate ways and didn’t meet again until nearly eight years later at another Orlando-area nightclub.

By then Dana was divorced with 5-year-old twin boys. The two dated and lived together for about two years before marrying in February 1990 in Winter Park, Fla., where Hall was based while working for Dusty Rhodes in small towns throughout the Southeast.

“We had a very strong attraction to each other, and pretty much that was the basis of our relationship for the entire time,” she says.

Things were different in the beginning, she says, as the two traveled together during a two-year stint in Germany and the Caribbean.

“We used to go to the gym twice a day and train together, go on bike rides, beach, sun. We used to joke and say we were living the ‘Muscle and Fitness’ lifestyle.”

She says she never envisioned that their lives would take such a dramatic turn.

“There were many red flags in the beginning which never really stopped, and I guess I chose to ignore them. I was ‘in love’ and thought I could change him like a lot of woman make the mistake of doing. I thought the attraction would get us through.”

She says she never thought Hall would achieve the success he later did in the business.

“He was working for Otto Wanz those first two years, and we traveled to Germany and Austria for months at a time, and lived in little caravans behind the building. Martha and Owen Hart were our neighbors.

“I never even thought he would get famous. We’d watch WWF on TV, and Scott would say that he was going to be like that one day. I didn’t think it was ever going to happen, but little did I know that it would become our worst nightmare.

“It wasn’t until Scott started with the first alter ego, The Diamond Studd, then Razor Ramon, that things started to go really bad, and it hasn’t stopped. The more fame, the more out of control he was. And the more our marriage and family crumbled. All I can say is that whatever good memories there might have been, they are now overshadowed by more bad ones. His dream to become a pro wrestler became our nightmare.”

Dana says Hall at first denied his drug abuse and tried to hide his addiction. Perhaps it would have been better had he chosen another line of work, she says, but he always loved the wrestling business.

“He was just sucked into this fantasy life,” she says. “He probably would have still been addicted, but I don’t think it would have gotten this far out of control. He wouldn’t have been able to do some of the things he has done and gotten away with as much.”

The two divorced in May 1998 after eight years of marriage, tied the knot again in March 1999, and divorced for the final time in October 2001. They have separated and gotten back together several times since then.

The fame, fortune and big homes, she says, didn’t make up for the dysfunction.

“All the money in the world could not make up for all that was lost to gain it,” says Dana Hall, who now cleans other people’s homes for a living. “Scott used to always say he was doing this for us when I would complain about how often he was gone, but what he was doing for us only ultimately destroyed us — and him. How could all the money in the world be worth that? Be careful what you wish for.”

She says her latest attempt to reach out to Hall will be her last.

“I tried like hell. I lost. He is lost. When I was staring into his eyes for the last time, there was nothing in there. I cannot waste any more of my time and tears on Scott Hall. I have to save myself and our kids from any more direct hurt from this man. The indirect hurt is more than enough.”

She says she had been praying that Hall would make amends with his children.

“My last hope was that he would get in a safe place, get his brain cleared out enough to where he could make amends with the kids. But I know that’s not going to happen now. That was my last prayer and dream and wish … that there would be some kind of happy ending … that he could die with his family around him and on good terms with me and the kids.”

Their two children, 16-year-old daughter Cassidy and 19-year-old son Cody, are the real casualties, she says.

“They hold it in. They hate to talk about it, but they accept that they don’t have a father or a normal life.”

Now, she says, any possible reconciliation will have to happen without her.

“That was all I needed to see to convince me. I saw him for the last time as I had wished. It didn’t go as I had planned, but when does it?”

She recently reached out to WWE, which had helped Hall in the past, regarding the company offering Hall another chance at rehab.

She says the organization is looking into the possibility, but is concerned that there are not many facilities that can deal with his level of addiction as well as his mental and heart issues.

Kevin Nash, she says, would be the likely intermediary since Hall has limited his interaction with other friends.

“Kevin and I have both approached Ann Russo-Gordon at WWE about possibly offering more help to him. They have not said yes, nor have they said no. Finding some place that is qualified to deal with Scott’s magnitude of issues is proving to be difficult. They, of course, have been burned by Scott many times in the past and I don’t blame them at all if they completely shut the door at this point. I had to ask for him at least one more time, but after seeing him, I know he doesn’t even want the help.”

If Hall declines this time, she says, that door would probably be “closed for life.”

“As well it should be,” she adds.

Nash said recently that his friend’s problems go beyond substance addiction. Hall’s issues, he claims, are based on events that happened before his wrestling career, and his only coping mechanism has been turning to drugs and alcohol.

“Drugs and alcohol aren’t the problem; to Scott they are the solution,” says Nash.

The problem, both agree, is that Hall, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, doesn’t seem to want the help he desperately needs.

“Scott has made it very clear he does not want help,” says his ex-wife. “Scott made it clear that he does not want his family, nor his kids in his life in the end, more than he wants alcohol, drugs, sickness and his last enablers. He has no intentions of making amends to his children in the time he has left.”

She recently had advocated more drastic measures — a possible staged intervention on Hall’s behalf.

“Scott appears at this point to be unable to monitor and control his actions responsibly, and any attempts at a staged intervention as a last resort need to be extremely carefully planned and executed,” says sports psychologist Murray. “It might be the best hope for him at this stage. His ex-wife needs to do whatever she can to first protect the children and then try to facilitate help for him without endangering herself.”

Dana Hall, however, says she no longer entertains any desire to intervene.

“I am not going to facilitate any more help for Scott or endanger myself. Scott has not had any visitation rights with the kids since before 2004, and he lost parental rights and visitation in 2005.”

She describes her ex-husband as “a train wreck in progress.”

Hall showed up intoxicated at an appearance at an independent show April 8 in Massachusetts. He had to be helped into and out of the ring before being hospitalized for several days in Rhode Island where he was treated for cardiac issues.

“He is oblivious. He doesn’t even realize what he did at that show,” she says. “He doesn’t realize anything that’s happened since then. He has been in and out of the hospital this whole time. He called Kevin one day and suggested opening a wrestling school. He can’t relate to anybody unless it’s about wrestling. He’s completely out of touch with reality.”

She says he hasn’t seen their daughter since last August and, until she convinced her son to go with Nash to visit Hall at the hospital two weeks ago, he hadn’t seen his son in nearly two years. She says she fears her children have suffered irreparably from the family dysfunction.

“As long as he is not in treatment at least trying to get sober, any kind of a relationship concerning our kids is impossible, as they have suffered enough disappointment and hurt in their lives in regards to their father. His mental state is unpredictable and out of control to put it mildly. No one should have to be subjected to what he is spewing … least of all our kids. I could not trust this would not happen after what I witnessed that day. Besides being severely addicted, bipolar and depressed, he seems to be exhibiting multiple personalities, and none of them are nice.”

She says she appreciates Nash’s involvement in attempts to get Hall help, but that even he is feeling the strain of trying to assist someone who apparently doesn’t want it.

“Kevin is the new conductor for this crazy train, for as long as he can take it,” she says. “He is pretty much at his wit’s end as well.”

As for Dana Hall, she says her battle is over.

“I am officially done. That’s the last time that man will hurt me. I’m wrapping all of this up and getting on with it. I guess it was the closure I needed. It was not the closure I had imagined, but the closure the kids and I will have to accept.

“I have tried everything humanly possible to get through to this man for way too long. I have yelled, screamed, begged, pleaded and made enough of an ass out of myself too many times for someone who could care less. You can’t save someone with your love … my bad.

The decision to give up, she says, was not her own in the end.

“I am at peace with letting him go … I have no choice.”

I hope you enjoyed this difficult but important article from the world of clinical and sports psychology.

These are among the worst of times to be a sports fan in L.A.

LA Daily News – May 9, 2011 – Jill Painter – 05/09/11 – We are not a proud sports town today.

How bad is the L.A. sports scene? Let us count the ways.

The Dodgers and Lakers, our two most storied and prideful franchises, are in turmoil.

The Lakers were embarrassed Sunday after being swept by the Dallas Mavericks. More disgusting than the Lakers’ pathetic defense was the cheap shots that caused the ejections of Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum.

Frank McCourt bought the Dodgers in a highly leveraged deal in 2004. His pockets are so empty he can’t pay his employees at the end of the month and Major League Baseball, already having taken control of the team, might force a sale.

Los Angeles once was one of the best sports cities in the country, even without an NFL team.

“Let’s call a spade a spade. You shouldn’t be proud of the Dodgers and Lakers right now,” said John F. Murray, a Florida-based sports psychologist and author of “The Mental Performance Index.”

“They need to make changes so this happens less frequently …”

It’s a good lesson learned, for those who considered our sports successes and championships to be more than just entertainment and fun. If you’re taking these teams too seriously, you shouldn’t.

Bostonians and New Yorkers and even Clevelanders surely think we’re a joke. The joke once was how
Hollywood and fickle fans were, arriving late and leaving early. Now, it’s that we’re no longer competent and have no sportsmanship. In October, “The Sporting News” named Los Angeles the third-best sports city behind No. 1 Chicago and Boston.

In 2003, Los Angeles was named the top sports city.

At this rate, Los Angeles will be on the worst sports cities list, alongside Detroit, in 2011.

The Lakers were at an all-time low Sunday after losing in the Western Conference semifinals in their quest for a third consecutive NBA title. Bynum gave a forearm shiver to guard J.J. Barea, who already was in the air and in a vulnerable position, and was ejected. It was dirty and ugly.

Odom had been ejected earlier for a cheap shot against Dirk Nowitzki.

It was a classless display for a once classy organization. Where was the sportsmanship? Imagine the poor parents who had to explain why the Lakers were such poor losers.

Bynum shred his Lakers jersey as he walked off the floor. With all of his antics, including postponing knee surgery so he could attend the World Cup, injury-prone ligaments and bones, there’s no need to ever see him put on the purple and gold anymore. Trade him. It is the same scenario for those thinking about throwing on their Kings hockey jersey.

“These people are role models, and they set examples for society,” Murray said. “We need to keep sports as healthy and clean as possible. Kids need ideals to look up to. It keeps them focused on being the best they can be.

“It seems ridiculous that sports have to hold some moral standard, but they do. Kids look up to them. Even adult kids. Everyone loves sports.”

The Clippers should be a better ticket than the Lakers. After the Lakers showed their true, ugly colors Sunday, perhaps we should get behind the other NBA team in L.A. They have cheaper tickets and Rookie of the Year Blake Griffin, who’s also known as the human dunk machine. He’s exciting to watch.

The Dodgers are not. McCourt’s sordid divorce and revelations that he was using team money for his personal gain was upsetting. He’s so broke – reportedly $500 million or so in debt – he had to take out a personal $30 million loan last month to pay his employees.

This storied franchise, that flourished under the ownership of the O’Malley family for nearly five decades, has come unglued.

Angelenos are so downtrodden that everywhere Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban went here in town last week, fans were begging him to buy the Dodgers … while the Lakers were playing his team.

And on Opening Day, there was the brutal beating of San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow, who’s still in a medically induced coma.

That’s much worse than any divorce drama or McCourt bank statement.

The Angels have Jered Weaver, who’s from Simi Valley and won his first six games, and former Dodger Mike Scioscia managing. But what a drag to have to drive to Orange County to witness a good team with a credible owner. I know they’re called the Los Angeles Angels, but that’s only a name.

The fun even has been taken out of our college sports. USC football was on probation and ineligible for a bowl game.

USC basketball coach Kevin O’Neill ruined a solid season with a public tirade against an Arizona booster in a hotel across from the Pacific-10 Conference Tournament at Staples Center. As if USC wasn’t in enough trouble.

UCLA isn’t doing anything to brag about, either. Rick Neuheisel had another pedestrian football season at 4-8 in his fourth year. He ran out Norm Chow, but hired a new offensive coordinator while Chow still was on staff. Neuheisel then took an eternity to hire a defensive coordinator.

Bruins basketball is trying to get back to the glory days and made progress this season, but then lost two players to the NBA. UCLA even has to play at the Sports Arena, on USC’s campus, while Pauley Pavilion is being renovated.

Everything is turned upside down.

The best thing going at UCLA was women’s basketball coach Nikki Caldwell, and the Bruins couldn’t keep her. She left for LSU, where she’s making $700,000 a year over five years. She’s bright, articulate, a philanthropist, a fashionista and a brilliant coach and recruiter.

And after three years, she’s gone.

It was understandable as she’s closer to her family in Tennessee and is making a much better living in a place that adores women’s basketball. But this one hurts UCLA.

Let’s not forget hockey. The Kings had one of the best starts in franchise history and stumbled late but managed to make the playoffs.

Then they squandered a 4-0 lead at home in Game 3 against the San Jose Sharks and lost three home playoff games and the series, 4-2.

What’s up with that?

We couldn’t even get back on the horse in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. Of the entrants with Southern California connections, the highest finish was Twice the Appeal, in 10th place.

Guess there’s always the Galaxy and the return of Candace Parker to the Sparks.

“Sports are a great diversion and great entertainment,” Murray said. “There’s a lot worse things we could be doing. They are a healthy pursuit physically and a challenge. When things go bad there, like they are now, there needs to be change in order to make improvements and realize what they have is delicate and precious.

“They better improve their management or they’re going to lose it.”

L.A. fans might lose it if we don’t get our sports teams back in shape.

I hope you enjoyed these insights from the world of sports psychology.

New Book will Shake up the Sports World

March, 2011 – Palm Beach, Florida – Dr. John F. Murray’s new book is out in paperback, kindle, and nook formats with more to come. It is called “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History” with Foreword by Tom Flores, Epilogue by Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductee Lesley Visser, and Coaching Contribution by Don Shula (World Audience, 2011). The combined toughest/most versatile player in Miami Dolphins history, Jim “Crash” Jensen, says about this book. “Everyone is gifted, but not everyone opens the package. Open this package and you will understand the secret advantage that helped keep me in the NFL for 12 years.”

To order the book, below is a link to the link. The book is much more than numbers. It is about a shocking scientific discovery in sports, the politics working in pro sports, people and ideas inspiring Dr. John F Murray to become a sports psychologist and develop the first scoring system in team sports that includes a mental component, the need for mental skills in all sports, and so much more including the ranking of all teams to ever play in the Super Bowl based on the MPI introduced here for the first time.

This book signals a major paradigm shift in sports and the findings that mental performance is indeed crucial to success can no longer be ignored by those wishing to remain in the game.

Do Midseason Coaching Changes Work?

Newsday – November 17, 2010 – John Jeansonne – Years of scholarly research and psychological interpretation can assure Islanders fans that this week’s reboot – firing of coach Scott Gordon and replacing him with AHL call-up Jack Capuano – may work. Or may not.

“I think back to the New York Yankees and Billy Martin,” said sports psychologist John Murray, who has worked with coaches and athletes in all professional sports, “and the brief effects of the incredible passion he would bring. He’d win a while, then they’d start losing and he was gone, then he’d come back and they’d start winning again.”

A 2007 article in the International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching – “The Effect of Mid-Season Coach Turnover on Team Performance: The Case of the National Hockey League (1989-2003)” – found that teams that resorted to such methods boosted their point totals from .35 to .45, a slight improvement, during their transition season, and continued to improve to .51 the following year.

But the same study indicated, similar to the Billy Martin anecdote, that the change was relatively short-term.

As far back as 1963, an analysis by Oscar Grusky – examining managerial changes in baseball – demonstrated a “negative correlation” between replacing the team’s skipper and its won-lost record. Grusky’s interpretation, cited in a 1995 Journal of Sport Behavior paper, was that the manager/coach replacement process for a struggling team “is also disruptive to the organization. The uncertainty associated with a new leader with a different agenda and new ideas may result in ever poorer sport team performance.”

That hardly is encouraging news for the Islanders’ rescue plan, with the team on a 10-game winless streak and the season in danger of slipping away altogether.

The same Journal article, however, offered opposing fact-finding by Gamson and Scotch, published in the mid-1960s, arguing that Grusky had not given sufficient credit to the “meaningful impact” of coaches and managers on team performance. Gamson and Scotch contended that “a change in leadership provides fresh ideas, new perspectives, and a rejuvenated atmosphere. …”

Murray agreed. “Novelty in human behavior is something that is extremely salient,” he said in a telephone interview. “It’s like, if you want your dog to come, you use a different tone of voice. It may be questionable how effective it can be early in the season. It’s difficult to predict. But it might be an effective psychological

Not surprisingly, these mid-season searches for a master locksmith – attempting to free what possibilities might not have been realized on a stumbling team – have become increasingly common. According to a researcher named Dodd, the rate of turnover among managers and coaches in professional sports in North America jumped from 15.3 to 20.6 percent from the mid-80s to mid-90s, with coaching tenures dropping from an average of 2.48 to 2.44 years.

With any disappointing team – the Islanders and Dallas Cowboys being the most obvious current examples – there clearly are factors beyond any coach’s command. Player talent. Injuries. Deteriorating confidence. Still, the time-honored coaching shake-up, often presented as a call for accountability, can fall on deaf ears if read by players as holding only the coach accountable.

“I do believe there are benefits to novelty,” Murray said. “But you can’t substitute quality. I would think, that unless it’s an extreme, extreme case, you can always improve a team with good mentoring. Take anybody: There’s a range of behavior from good to bad. A good coach can inspire his players; that’s what I do for a living. You try to get the maximum out of each person.”

So, the Islanders’ sacrifice of Scott Gordon may work. But only if expectations are based in reality.

“You don’t control the outcome in sports,” Murray said. “You control performance. Don’t think about winning. Don’t think about statistics. Think about performance. Don’t think about outcome.”

Don’t think about the Stanley Cup just yet.

I hope you enjoyed this article from the world of sports psychology.

A Sneak Preview of and Football Psychology

Note: Publisher Jim Martz writes a great column on football at CaneSportMagazine, an online and print publication dedicated to the University of Miami. In the not-yet-published upcoming issue, he spoke with Dr. John F Murray about the letdown teams experience after success, and about real versus artificial enthusiasm. Below is the raw and unedited version of Jim’s contribution, re-printed here in its entirety with his permission. Those interested in the University of Miami football should subscribe to this terrific publication and all the great contributions at I hope you enjoy the below article as an example of quality of writing you will find there.

By JIM MARTZ – CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA. – It sounded like New Year’s Eve here Saturday afternoon. Every time Virginia scored, the band would strike up “Auld Lang Syne.” And they did it often, much to their surprise and delight. They change the words, of course. It’s not about “Should auld acquaintance be forgot?” For the Cavaliers’ fans it’s a celebration song, and it was party time on this cool, sunny day.

Virginia’s football season had been practically down the toilet going into the game. Now the University of Miami’s season is on the brink of being down there. It’s anything but party time.

Virginia’s stunning 24-19 upset victory over 22nd-ranked Miami marked the third time in the last four games that the Hurricanes seemed flat for much or all of a game. How can that happen Saturday on a team that controlled its own destiny toward a BCS bowl? On a team that finally had the schedule in its favor?  Who’s to blame: coaches or team leadership? Or both?

“Tough loss,” said coach Randy Shannon. “You can’t win a game when you have six turnovers (it was five) like we did. We moved the ball offensively but when you have six turnovers there’s no way you should win games. “We played well in the fourth quarter and got a chance to win it. Defensively we hung in there the whole entire time, just didn’t come up with the third down play to get off the field and give the offense another shot at it.”

The Hurricanes can still reach the ACC Championship game in Charlotte but they’ll need help. Someone will have to knock off Virginia Tech, and, of course, the Hurricanes will have to defeat the Hokies at home Nov. 20. And, obviously, the Canes will have to defeat Maryland at home this Saturday and win at Georgia Tech on Nov. 13. And they may have to do it with their fourth-string quarterback, true freshman Stephen Morris.  “We’ve got to bounce back,” Shannon said. “We don’t control our destiny any more. We’ll bounce back and get ready for Maryland next week.”

Does Saturday’s setback alter the goals? “No, we still have to win each game one by one and just keep going from there,” Shannon said. Each year lately the Hurricanes tease you, make you think they can play for the ACC title. Then they break your heart. Yes, the loss of Jacory Harris early in the second quarter was huge. But against a 3-4 Virginia team that had been blown out by Florida State and North Carolina, the Canes should have been able to win without him. They should have been able to win by just pounding the ball. The Cavaliers ranked 114th in the nation in rushing defense, for heaven’s sake. Georgia Tech ran for nearly 500 yards against them. I thought the backs for the most part ran hard, but they didn’t have many holes. If someone had said to me before the game that Virginia would intercept five passes, I would have said that’s impossible because you don’t need to throw a whole lot to win that game.

Lots of unanswered questions, such as: Why didn’t Lamar Miller didn’t touch the ball until the fourth quarter? During the too-little-too-late comeback, why was Stephen Morris throwing deep so often when the Canes were finally getting big chunks of yards on the ground? Why are there so many dropped balls by receivers still at this stage of the season? Zero sacks by a Hurricane defense that was second in the nation in tackles for loss? Only one turnover for a defense that also ranked among the best? Unacceptable against a team the caliber of Virginia, especially with all that was at stake. Twelve penalties costing 95 yards? Unacceptable against anyone.

It’s hard to offer answers when questions can only be posed to the head coach and four players after a game. That’s all that was made available to the media after Saturday’s game. The media used to be able to go in the locker room and interview – if you hustled – a dozen players and two or three assistants. Now, since the locker room has been closed in recent years and assistants have been off limits, only Shannon and a few players are brought in to an interview room. A few more players are available at the Tuesday press conference but no assistants, and a few players, sometimes assistants, are available after early week practices.

My point: Access to UM football players and coaches has never been this limited going back to the 1970s, perhaps even longer. So, when fewer answers are available, even more questions are raised and unanswered. And just when you thought the Canes’ stellar play in the romp over North Carolina a week ago had quieted the critics, the negativism now will soar on the talk show and chat rooms. It won’t stop unless the Hurricanes run the table and get some lucky help.

Even that probably won’t quiet things because this question will remain: Why are the Hurricanes so inconsistent mentally and physically? Allow me to offer this, and it’s not an excuse: College football has never been more fluid than it has been the last five seasons. It becomes moreso every year. How else do you explain all the wacky scores, like undefeated fifth-ranked Michigan State trailing 30-0 at the half against Iowa.? Or Virginia Tech losing at home to James Madison, or was it Dolly Madison? Or Texas getting stomped on at home by UCLA and Iowa State but knocking off undefeated Nebraska on the road? Or the Florida Gators returning most of their team but losing three in a row? The list goes on and on.

I asked Shannon if the team was excited or flat before Harris was injured. “We were still excited no matter what,” he said. “Any time you lose somebody it’s going to go down a little bit. Like I said, we bounced back and the guys responded.” With all these ups and downs, maybe the Hurricanes need some psychological help. Sports psychologists are more involved in working with athletes and teams than ever. Some old school coaches see it as a sign of weakness; others embrace it.

I talked to prominent sports psychologist Dr. John Murray of Palm Beach about ups and downs. He had a poignant message: “It’s so easy after success to have a letdown,”he said. “After success you’ve really got to focus on making your game even better. Immediately get in there and set another goal to make it even better than it was before. Number two, you need to have a sense of urgency. There’s always room for improvement. Three, keep doing what you do best. And finally, walk the walk. If you want to improve, just don’t talk about it.”

Then there’s the matter of genuine enthusiasm (is that what we saw in the North Carolina game?) and false enthusiasm, such as the day at Louisville a few years ago under Larry Coker when the Canes stomped on the Cardinals’ midfield logo before the kickoff, then got stomped on themselves by Louisville.

“Real or genuine enthusiasm is the sincere overflow of hard work, effort, and a long-term focus on a worthy goal,” Murray said. “It is a no holds barred passion that shows that a person’s past history or team is invested fully in what they are doing, and that they are going to give 110% effort to accomplish the task they are focused on no matter what happens or no matter how long it takes. “When I think of real enthusiasm I think more of great performances than cheerleading. I think of Kellen Winslow (Sr.) in the 1981 playoffs for the San Diego Chargers, who looked like he had been pulled off the battlefield five times and just kept on going back out. I think of Marcos Baghdatis continuing to play despite a terrible cramp. I think of Dan Marino and the Dolphins preventing the Bears in ’85 from stealing their immortal accomplishment in ’72 of going undefeated and beating the Bears in front of a national audience.

“Artificial enthusiasm is when a player or team gets excited when things are going well, but then goes flat when there is adversity. Artificial enthusiasm might also have less of a focused or enduring or patient or persistent quality than real or genuine enthusiasm. Vince Spadea coming back from the biggest losing streak in the history of pro tennis by grinding for two years in the middle of nowhere until his ranking was decent enough to return to the sport he loved even more after the effort – that is real or genuine enthusiasm. It is also more characterized by a team or player’s desire to do well themselves rather than to put down another team or player. In other words, genuine enthusiasm is focused on performing well and realizing a long and hard-fought desire or goal. It has neither time nor interest in putting others down or stomping on logos, for goodness sakes. It is a more healthy selfish quality of affect that is oblivious to the opponent and how ugly they might be or how much that rival is despised.”

The Canes don’t stop on logos any more. Fans wish they’d stomp on opponents more often like the teams of the 1980s and early 90s. Dream on, you’re not going to see that again at UM. But a team can strike a balance between the taunting days of old and false bravado. The 2001 national champion Hurricanes had that balance. They had big-time swagger and class. The current Canes have class. The swagger seems to make cameo appearances.

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the world of Miami Hurricanes football and sports psychology.

Top 25 Articles by Traffic 2009-2010

Sports psychology is a growing profession and science and below are the top 25 most popular articles on the website of Dr. John F Murray over the past 1.5 years.

1. “The Field and Science of Sports Psychology” by John F Murray, 2009

2. “Offsides Beyond the Game: The Pre-Game Speeches” by Brett McMurphy, Tampa Tribune, January 31, 2010.

3. “Earl Morrall Shares Wisdom with Sports Psychologist” by John F. Murray, June 6, 2009

4. “Visser Set to Become First Female NFL Analyst on TV” by John F. Murray, September, 2009

5. “Sports Psychology in Sports Illustrated” by Mike McNulty, Sports Illusrated Work in Sports, October 14, 2003

6. “Best Books Survey Results” by John F. Murray, November, 2007

7. “NFL Teams Examine Minds of Potential Draft Picks Too” by Kent Babb, McClatchy Newspapers, April 19, 2009

8. “Wanted: Insane Tennis Parents” by Huan Hus, Slate Magazine, June 2, 2009

9. “Concentration is Crucial in Football” by John F. Murray, September 7, 2009

10. “Mind Game: Crossword Craze Hits Devil Rays’ Clubhouse” by Roger Mooney, Bradenton Herald, May 15, 2005

11. “Games People Play” by Richard Pagliaro, Tennis Week, October 22, 2008

12. “What is Real Sports Psychology” by John F. Murray, 2005

13. “Baseball’s Most Ejected Managers” by Monte Burke, Forbes, June 22, 2009

14. “Dr. John and Vince Spadea on Social Facilitation” by John F. Murray, 2008

15. “Hall of Fame NFL Quarterback Warren Moon: Psychology Helped Me Achieve Greatness” by Bob Glauber, Newsday, September 7, 2009

16. “Little Kangeroo Hops into Tennis All the Way From Australia” by Lesley Visser, CBS Sports, December 9, 2009

17. “Bending the Rules: Shady Ethics Deeply Ingrained in Baseball” by Harvey Fialkov, Sun Sentinel, November 3, 2005

18. “The Psychology of Missed Field Goals: Was Nate Kaeding’s Performance Part of Choking Outbreak?” by Ian Yarett, Newsweek, January 22, 2010

19. “NFL is Number One on SportsPro Ranking of World’s 200 Most Valuable Sports Properties” by John F Murray, 2009

20. “Gold: Coaches Go From a Scream to a Whisper” by Jon Gold, Los Angeles Daily News, March 14, 2009

21. “Badri Narayana Talks Out about Sports Psychology: Letter from Tennis Coach in Salt Lake City” 2008

22. “Michael Jackson Fame is Dangerous” by John F. Murray, 2009

23. “Simple Formula Fuels UFC’s Appeal” by Adam Hill, Las Vegas Review Journal, July 9, 2009

24. “Ground Strokes Canada Cover Feature of Dr. John F. Murray, Author of Smart Tennis” by Lin Conklin, Ground Strokes Canada, December, 2009

25. “Knowing When to Stop Key in Sports” by George Diaz, Orlando Sentinel, July 12, 2005

I trust you enjoyed this contribution from the world of sports psychology.

Motivation is a key part of Fisher’s job

The Tennessean – October 18, 2010 – Jim Wyatt – Sports psychology feature – Coach has used several methods over the years.  The night before their game in New York last month, the Titans got an emotional lift. They heard a speech by Will Jimeno, a Port Authority Police officer who survived being buried under World Trade Center rubble for 13 hours on 9/11.

A couple of days before their game against the Cowboys last week, the Titans got a kick in the pants. They heard an expletive-filled tirade by their usually mild mannered head coach, who questioned their readiness to play.

Over the years — 17, for those counting — Jeff Fisher has used a variety of methods to motivate the grown men who call him coach. He’s inspired them, challenged them, insulted them, and made them laugh.

Judging from his longevity, it’s working. Fisher has lasted longer in his job than any other active NFL head coach, and he ranks third among active coaches in career wins (144), trailing only Bill Belichick (166) and Mike Shanahan (157).

While X’s and O’s and developing players have a lot to do with a coach’s success, Fisher has shown an uncanny ability to keep other things fresh, from his teaching methods to his handling of players and what’s needed to stimulate their collective psyche.  And he knows how to pick his spots.

“Until you’ve sat in that head coach’s chair in the National Football League you really don’t understand what all it entails and how all encompassing it is,’’ said Titans linebackers coach Dave McGinnis, a 37-year coaching veteran who was Cardinals head coach from 2000-03. “All of the different things you have to be able to juggle, from the mental aspect of the game and the temperament of your football team and when to press a hot button and when to press a cold button, when to pull them together.

“That is the biggest thing that separates head coaches from guys who have head coachingpositions. To be honest, there are guys right now that have head coaching positions in this league that have no business being head coaches. But a real head coach gets it, and Jeff Fisher is at the top of that list.’’

The Titans head into tonight’s game against the Jaguars with a 3-2 record. A year ago they were 0-5, on the verge of crumbling as talk about Fisher’s job security rose well above a whisper. Then the Titans won eight of their last 11 games.

Fisher’s personality never changed during the trying start or the strong finish, his players said. Jaguars Coach Jack Del Rio once put an axe and a big block of wood in the locker room to enhance a “keep chopping woodâ€? theme, only to have his punter hurt himself with the axe.

Fisher’s motivational methods have been equally creative — no word if he’s placed calls to any Chilean miners recently — but from every indication he really hasn’t had one backfire.

“Jeff always had something new up his sleeve,’’ former Titans punter Craig Hentrich said. “And there’s a method to his madness every time he does something.’’ The night before the Sept. 26 game against the Giants, the Titans watched a clip from the 2006 film World Trade Center. Seconds later, Jimeno walked in and shared his story of perseverance.

Before a 2003 playoff game against the Steelers, the Titans watched a clip from Remember The Titans. Then the high school coach who was the inspiration for the film, Herman Boone, made a surprise appearance.
Fisher also likes week- and season-long themes. One was “212 Degrees, The Extra Degree,â€? that included posters tacked up around Baptist Sports Park and a movie. “At 211, water is just hot water,’’ safety Donnie Nickey said. “But that extra degree gets it boiling and changes the physics of it. The message was to get that extra degree, and see what we get. It was a challenge to us. It was unique.’’

Fisher once had all 53 players place a small stone into a pile in the LP Field locker room. The message: Here’s how big you can grow working together. Once he sensed that players needed a laugh the night before a game. He stunned them by having “Office Linebacker Terry Tateâ€? of TV commercial fame come out of nowhere to tackle strength and conditioning coach Steve Watterson, whose cell phone had “accidentallyâ€? gone off during a team meeting — one of Fisher’s pet peeves. It broke the tension in a hurry.

In 2008, Fisher risked life and limb for the sake of motivation, jumping from a helicopter with the 101st Airborne Parachute team and landing on the practice field as astonished players looked on. “We were 10-0 and the pressure was mounting and we were getting tight, not wanting to lose,â€? linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. “That was his way of loosening things up.’’

The Titans lost the following Sunday, “but Coach Fisher is very clever with what he does and that is a credit to him and how long he has been around,â€? Tulloch said. “And players have a lot of respect for him.’’

Fisher, 52, is a big practical joker, but during last Friday’s practice he unleashed a darker side. The Titans looked lackadaisical. Two players began chirping at each other, which escalated into pushing and shoving as others joined the jawing. Fisher charged in with a rare show of anger and harsh language. “It was necessary,’’ defensive back Vincent Fuller said. “He knew that we couldn’t get what we got done in Dallas done if we weren’t together, if we weren’t as a team.’’ Immediately after practice, Fisher apologized to a female reporter who witnessed the tirade.

The flash of fury was not planned, Fisher said. The Titans entered the game as a seven-point underdog, but won 34-27. “There is no manual, that is probably the best answer,’’ Fisher said of his methods. “I reacted (that day) to an accumulation of things. But I am not one to circle a date and say, ‘This is the date you’re going to do it.’

“Every game is different and no game we play over the course of however so many years is similar. It’s a different set of circumstances each week and you adjust. What I try to do is get a sense from the players, from their preparation habits, commitment, and what is required going into a game.’’

John F. Murray, a sports psychologist from Palm Beach, Fla., said a coach has to keep his messages from getting stale if he’s going to survive with one team as long as Fisher has. Of course, Fisher also benefits from an ever-changing roster, a new batch of players to motivate each year. “By varying the presentation, no matter how you do it, people will pay attention,â€? Murray said.

I hope you enjoyed this article on the topic of sports psychology.

Energy Bracelets Turn Athletes to Stars, If Only in Their Heads

Bloomberg – October 5, 2010 – Mason Levinson and Tom Randall – Philadelphia Phillies pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs says he has no idea whether energy-enhancing jewelry that’s being worn by athletes from Little Leaguers to basketball icon LeBron James really works.

Yet, for the last month, Dobbs has worn a different brand of energy bracelet on each wrist. “I want to stay impartial,â€? Dobbs said with a chuckle. “Maybe my left side will feel better than my right side.â€?

As Major League Baseball’s postseason opens tomorrow, each contending team is likely to field several players wearing some type of energy-flow bracelet, necklace or apparel.

Sales of the accessories have tripled in the U.S. since 2008, according to research group SportsOneSource. Closely held Phiten Co. said its worldwide sales topped $200 million last year. Bracelets made by Power Balance LLC have been spotted on soccer star David Beckham, Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez and Hollywood celebrities Robert De Niro and Sean “Diddyâ€? Combs.

The jewelry’s makers say their products use processed titanium and holograms to improve balance, energy, recovery time and flexibility. Critics say the sellers are perpetrating a scam older than professional sports itself.

“This is utter nonsense,â€? said Steven Nissen, head of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic. “There’s absolutely no scientific reason why this would work. Unfortunately, we’ve not done a good job as a society in keeping people from selling snake oil.â€?

Placebo Effect

Nissen, an advocate for evidence-based medicine who has helped shape U.S. regulations for pharmaceutical companies, said the main reason for the popularity of the jewelry is the medical phenomenon known as the placebo effect.

“If you come in to see me as a patient and tell me that you have a terrible headache, and I give you a placebo sugar pill and tell you that it’s going to relieve your headache, there’s a 35 to 40 percent chance that it will relieve your headache,â€? Nissen said in a telephone interview. “That’s called the placebo effect. It’s very powerful, and that’s what allows quackery to exist.â€?

Erica Jefferson, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said none of the bracelets have been approved for medical use, and any claims to reduce symptoms or treat a condition must be backed by scientific evidence and reviewed by impartial scientists.

“The agency encourages consumers to report side effects, product defects or health fraud to the FDA — which may include complaints that these products don’t work, Jefferson said.

Shaquille O’Neal

Power Balance, of Laguna Niguel, California, counts among its endorsers 15-time basketball All-Star Shaquille O’Neal and Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, the top pick in the 2009 National Football League draft. The company’s corporate partners include Rawlings Sporting Goods, a brand subsidiary of Jarden Corp., based in Rye, New York, and the TaylorMade unit of Adidas AG of Herzogenaurach, Germany.

Power Balance’s wristbands and pendants use a secret hologram technology “designed to interact with your body’s natural energy,â€? said Josh Rodarmel, 26, who co-founded the company with his brother, Troy, 36. Troy discovered the technique of treating holograms with “certain frequenciesâ€? through “trial and error,â€? Rodarmel said.

“As far as studies, we haven’t really commissioned a ton of them because we’ve been using testimonials as our backbone,â€? he said in a telephone interview. “We just let our customers tell the story.â€?

So, has Power Balance commissioned any studies on its holograms?

“No, we haven’t,â€? Rodarmel said. “We are going to probably begin to, but at this point we have not done any studies.â€?

‘Tricking Your Mind’

Nick Swisher, a right fielder for the New York Yankees who wears a Power Balance bracelet and a variety of Phiten apparel, said he doesn’t care if it’s just the placebo effect making him perform better.

“If you are tricking your mind, you’re winning half the battle,â€? Swisher said. “I don’t know if it provides any energy. I don’t need any energy, bro.â€?

Phiten’s titanium products, which range from $25 to $85 for a necklace on the company’s website, are made by dissolving metals and infusing the mix into fabrics. The processed metals “regulate and balance the flow of energy throughout the bodyâ€? and generate “more relaxed muscles leading to less stress and greater range of motion,â€? according to the website.

Phiten, based in Kyoto, Japan, has funded four studies in mice and humans, said Lisa Oka, a spokeswoman.

Improved Joint Range

One completed study of 14 athletes, published in April in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, found soccer and hockey players wearing titanium-treated clothes didn’t play significantly better. Players wearing Phiten garb did show improved joint range of motion, though the texture of the particular garments may be partly responsible for the benefit, the authors wrote.

Phiten is the market leader in sports energy accessories according to SportsOneSource in Charlotte, North Carolina. It has licensing agreements for its titanium products with Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the U.S. PGA Tour. Endorsers include pitchers Josh Beckett of the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees’ Joba Chamberlain, golfer Sergio Garcia and Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony.

Phiten sells a pure titanium bracelet for $230, as well as titanium-infused athletic tape, lotions and a $170 pillow.

Balance Demonstrations

Demonstrations of balance and flexibility are used to win over leery customers to Power Balance and EFX Performance Inc., another hologram bracelet maker, as well as “As Seen on TVâ€? bracelet seller iRenew Bio Energy Solutions LLC. The performances, which include tests without and then with the jewelry on, may be skewed by administrator bias and muscle memory, the Phillies’ Dobbs said. Still, they’ve made believers of many, including the Philadelphia team’s manager Charlie Manuel.

“I put these on and I noticed the next morning when I woke up, my hands were kind of freeâ€? of chronic arthritis pain, said Manuel, 66, about Power Balance bracelets after taking a balance test. “I’ve been wearing them ever since.â€?

John Murray, a sports psychologist in Palm Beach, Florida, who has worked with professional athletes, said he wouldn’t necessarily advise his clients against wearing the jewelry.

“There’s an old quote, ‘Don’t turn good faith into bad faith,’â€? Murray, 48, said in a telephone interview. “So I’m not going to go around telling people that they’re full of it or they don’t need it if it helps them, but I’m going to promote a more rational approach.â€?

No Scientific Tests

EFX, in Mission Viejo, California, relies on demonstrations to prove its products’ effectiveness, said President Jim Ruschman. The 1-year-old company, whose bracelet is worn by golfer Phil Mickelson, hasn’t conducted any clinical studies.

“We look forward to and embrace testing with anyone,â€? said Ruschman, 52, in a telephone interview, agreeing that the company’s balance tests are unscientific.

A telephone message left for iRenew through its customer service center went unreturned.

Wearing exotic substances to improve health is nothing new; magnets for therapy have been worn for centuries, attracting patients with their unusual properties, according to the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland.

Third-century Greeks wore magnetic rings to treat arthritis. Doctors in the Middle Ages used magnets to treat gout, poisoning and baldness. In the U.S., magnetic hairbrushes, insoles and ointments were widely used in rural areas following the Civil War.

‘Snake Oil’

Studies of magnetic jewelry haven’t shown demonstrable effects on pain, nerve function, cell growth or blood flow, according to the U.S. alternative medicine center.

Power Balance endorser Shane Victorino, a Phillies outfielder, echoed many players’ sentiment when he said: “You’ll never know unless you try it.â€?

“That’s basically what a snake-oil salesman would say in the 1800s,â€? said Bruce Berst, from Casper, Wyoming, who portrays snake oil salesman “Dr. Dumassâ€? in historical re- enactments of life on the frontier. “If you are suffering and can’t find relief, what do you have to lose but a dollar a bottle?â€?

‘Fashion Thing’

Phillies catcher Brian Schneider called energy-flow products a “gimmickâ€? and pitcher Roy Oswalt tabbed it a “fashion thing.â€?

Cole Hamels, the 2008 World Series Most Valuable Player, began wearing an EFX bracelet after taking their balance test in late August. He won his next five starts, the best streak of his career.

“If it’s something that allows me to do something helpful — legally — then I’m all for it,â€? said Hamels, who didn’t know whether the bracelet or his new Phiten socks had helped.

The craze reminds sports psychologist Murray of the film “The Wizard of Oz,â€? when each character sought something symbolic of human success.

“One got a heart, one got a brain,â€? Murray said. “That was all bogus. A guy was behind a curtain. The power, folks, is within us.â€?

I hope you have enjoyed this story from the world of sports psychology.

Are For-Profit Colleges Evil?

Editorial – – I was given this interesting article by a colleage at a for-profit college in which I serve as an adjunct professor, Argosy University (Sarasota campus) in the EDMC umbrella. It’s interesting because so many take shots at for profit schools these days. I attended two great and well respected universities, Loyola University for my undergraduate work in psychology, and the University of Florida for all my graduate studies in becoming a clinical and sports psychologist. Still, I see the extreme value of education wherever and whenever you obtain it. Sometimes a for profit school is the best or only bet for an eager adult learner, so why knock it? Sometimes this avenue offers much more than at traditional institutions of learning. I personally developed three sports psychology courses, for example, for EDMC, and they now offer a rare opportunity to students at their programs that teach it. Since I teach a psychology class each semester at Argosy University, I’m also biased in believing that students are getting much more than they ever would gain at Harvard or Yales (wink! 🙂 … now I did not like how this article took a little pot shot at Washington State University for their large hot tub that holds 50 students in their deluxe athletic facility, and the slam on sports is not fair as sports provide so much to the excitement of a university, but overall I think you will enjoy the arguments put forth below, arguments in defense of for-profit learning. John F Murray, PhD
Author: Matthew Greenfield
I used to be a bit of a snob about for-profit colleges. O.K., more than a snob—I was arrogant, narrow-minded, and misinformed. Before I became a hedge fund manager, I got a Ph.D. in English at Yale University and taught at Bowdoin College and the City University of New York (CUNY), all venerable academic powerhouses. I remember the first time one of my CUNY students told me she was transferring to a for-profit technical college. This student, whom I will call Laura, is a remarkable woman who had been given a very unpromising start in life. After being horribly abused by her parents, she had run away in her early teens and grown up homeless, suffering in ways I could scarcely imagine. In her twenties, after having a child, she had become serious about education, gotten her G.E.D., and shown up in college.

Somehow, despite going nowhere near a classroom for most of her teens, Laura had become a dazzling writer, as good as the best I had taught at Yale or Bowdoin. Her cool, deadpan, yet fiercely moral prose reminded me of Joan Didion’s; she wrote unforgettable portraits of the monsters, saints, and lunatics she had encountered in her travels. Her very first college essay was good enough for Harper’s or the New Yorker. I
encouraged Laura to publish her work, but she was too busy raising her child, organizing for the New York Public Interest Research Group, and getting her degree. She would have made a fine candidate for the Rhodes Scholarship if she had any interest in it—and if she hadn’t already been over the age limit. But Laura’s academic career then took a new and unexpected twist: she told me she was leaving the CUNY system and starting the computer science program at a for-profit college. I was baffled. But Laura had a clear sense of what she was doing. What follows is the story of my own learning process, my education about for-profit education.

I could have understood Laura transferring to Columbia University. But why would she leave for a for-profit school? The CUNY system offered almost infinite opportunities and despite all its flaws had educated
numerous Nobel Prize winners and captains of industry. For-profit schools, on the other hand, were the bottom of the academic pecking order, weren’t they? I thought of the grubby storefront campuses of
some small technical schools, and the ads in the subway cars, alongside the ads for Dr. Jonathan Zizmor, dermatologist (“Are you suffering from acne, scars, or discoloration?â€?).

Why would Laura take on more debt to pay a higher tuition bill? And what about her writing? Had they tricked her in some way? That didn’t seem very plausible. Laura had fewer illusions than anyone else I knew, and after her years on the street she could detect any kind of dishonesty instantly, as if it were lit up in red neon. I tried to talk her out of leaving, but Laura had a clear, well-reasoned set of arguments. She said the for-profit would fit her schedule better, let her get her degree in half the time, probably also prepare her better for her first high-paying job, and definitely provide stronger job placement services. For-profit schools target the job occupations most in demand, work closely with employers, and develop new curricular materials (unlike the Yale professor who in the late eighties was still teaching a machine code course using a microprocessor from Zilog rather than one from Intel). For-profits are doing some impressive innovation in areas like multimedia online textbooks and medical simulation software. The for-profits use practitioners as teachers, and each teacher is thus also a career coach and unofficial placement officer. The for-profits offer rolling course starts every six weeks, so Laura didn’t have to wait for the beginning of a new semester to start a course. For-profits have streamlined, easy-to-use administrative processes, and they monitor the progress of their students closely. After a single absence, a for-profit school will probably follow up to see whether a student needs any help. I hadn’t known that the for-profits had so many positive qualities, but I was worried that Laura’s degree would be less credible and prestigious than a CUNY degree. Laura was
quite unconcerned with prestige. She wanted to know how to do things, and she thought my focus on the reputation of an institution was a little, well, quaint.

I have spent a lot of my life doing things that are prestigious, but I am starting to understand Laura’s point of view. I don’t regret any part of my wonderful education, but I am starting to wish that I had also pursued more knowledge of other kinds. And Ivy League institutions do have a rather narrow definition of what constitutes knowledge. When I learned from my CUNY students what it takes to manage a large construction project or to modify a car engine, I developed a higher degree of humility about my own
particular skill set. I now understand that the things I do seated in front of a computer do not involve a type of cognition that is more demanding or more admirable than that of the plumber or the electrician (for a fascinating elaboration of this point, see Mike Rose’s The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker). And I now look in a different way at diplomas from for-profit institutions: instead of seeing something that is not prestigious, I see something earned by the stubborn, disciplined, even heroic persistence of a working adult.

In the years since that conversation with Laura, I have learned that almost all of my ideas about for-profit colleges were wrong. I was suspicious about the idea of a for-profit corporation educating students, but it turns out that non-profit schools have aspirations and goals that are fully as dangerous as the profit motive. I also thought that, as some hedge fund managers have recently charged, the for-profits were soaking up a
disproportionate amount of government money. But it turns out that for-profit schools cost the taxpayer a lot less than the alternatives, and many for-profits educate students while actually generating a profit for taxpayers. I thought that the drop-out rates at for-profits were too high, but then I learned that for students with similar demographics, the for-profits did better than the non-profits.

I will share some facts and figures later, but first I want to tell you a story about the origins of modern corporate for-profit education. I was surprised to learn that John Sperling, the founder of the Apollo Group and its University of Phoenix subsidiary, was an ardent socialist, a labor organizer too radical even for his fellow California college professors. Sperling, who grew up during the Great Depression, had a tough childhood
and youth, with frequent beatings, horrible medical problems, and severe social isolation. He had great difficulty with books until his teens, but when he joined the merchant marine he suddenly found himself with nothing to do but read. Many of the sailors were educated men and most were ardent socialists, and they talked about politics all day long. Almost overnight, Sperling transformed himself into a high-caliber intellectual. After graduate school at U.C. Berkeley and Cambridge University, he ended up in a teaching
post at San Jose State University. He also discovered that he had a talent for organizing, took over the Californian higher education branch of the American Federation of Teachers, and led a fierce but unsuccessful strike (see Sperling’s autobiography, Rebel With a Cause; I have checked facts with several people who know Sperling, and the book seems generally accurate, except that it may not give enough credit to some of Sperling’s colleagues for their contributions).

Sperling was also a wild and experimental teacher, one who stood out even in the sixties. One class project of his provoked a nationwide debate in the media, and a denunciation by Governor Ronald Reagan. To celebrate Earth Day in 1969, Sperling’s students decided to bury a brand-new car. The students earned money, bought a yellow Ford Maverick, designed the post-interment landscaping, negotiated with various
authorities, acquired all of the requisite permits, and performed a burial ceremony. This project was an example of what Sperling calls “action pedagogy.â€? Several of the students from this program went on to work with Sperling at the University of Phoenix.

Sperling also participated in an innovative program that had been funded to find ways of reducing juvenile delinquency. Sperling focused on teachers and the police, bringing small groups together first for discussions with experts and then for the implementation of a real-world delinquency reduction project. These adult learners loved the course and insisted that Sperling try to put together a full continuing education
program for them. They were unhappy with existing adult education programs.

Sperling never intended to become an entrepreneur. He just wanted to start an adult education program. But the administration of San Jose State was not interested. That was how, at age 53, the car-burying, strike-organizing, pot-smoking, quarrelsome socialist professor started what was to become a multi-billion-dollar corporation at the center of what was more or less a new industry. Initially Sperling ran a consulting firm
that operated adult education partnerships with traditional universities. After three years Sperling decided to try to start his own college.

From the moment it was founded and applied for accreditation, the University of Phoenix has had powerful enemies, much like the infant Hercules. While Hercules was still in his cradle he was attacked by two snakes sent by the goddess Hera. In the case of the University of Phoenix, the attack came from three powerful local deities: the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, and Northern Arizona University. They
didn’t wait to see what kinds of programs the University of Phoenix would develop or how well it would implement those programs: instantly, the three established colleges denounced the University of Phoenix as a “diploma millâ€? and began to lobby the legislature and the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the accreditation body that licensed schools in Arizona, to shut down the University of Phoenix. But the
North Central Association proved unexpectedly receptive to for-profit education. The traditional schools then went to plan B, asking the legislature to kick the North Central Association out of Arizona and replace it with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), the accreditor of schools in California. WASC was notorious for its fierce hostility to for-profit education. Meanwhile, some unknown party even made an
anonymous accusation of bribery and persuaded the FBI to initiate a RICO investigation of Sperling and his associates, as if they were the Russian mafia instead of a group of socialist educators who had accidentally become entrepreneurs.

When I read this history, I was initially puzzled. The University of Phoenix is a large and powerful firm today, but it started in 1976 with eight students. Why did the traditional universities want so badly to kill it? Why would they put such an enormous effort into lobbying against UOP? Even the most powerful schools have a finite amount of political capital to expend. Denouncing someone to the FBI can easily backfire. And
for the three traditional universities in Arizona to attack their own accreditor was an incredibly risky move: generally even the most venerable universities will do almost anything to avoid irritating their accreditors. Could the traditional universities foresee how successful UOP would be? Or was it just that they were convinced that, even if UOP attracted only a small number of students, it would deliver such a terrible education at such a high cost that it would do all of its students irreparable harm? How could the
traditional universities be so sure that Sperling would do awful, evil things to his students? Didn’t he have strong progressive credentials and a history of successful educational innovation? Didn’t he seem to actually care about working adults? Why did the traditional universities greet the University of Phoenix the way cobras greet a mongoose?

Similar attacks on for-profit education have continued from 1976 to the present moment, waxing and waning at different times and in different regions. Today’s for-profit universities are complex institutions with strengths and weaknesses. At some of these schools there are abuses—misleading and aggressive recruiting practices, curricular weaknesses, and excessive tuitions. No one would argue that these offenses should not
be punished. Non-profit colleges, of course, commit similar offenses, and they should be punished in the same ways. It is unfair to generalize about either for-profit or not-forprofit institutions, and there is something feverish and disproportionate about the current attack.

There is an educational atrocity taking place in this country: we are ruining the lives of millions of innocent, infinitely promising children. But this atrocity is taking place not in colleges but in primary and secondary schools, not in for-profit institutions but in public ones. I wish I could believe that attacks on for-profit education were motivated by concern for students. But the evidence is pretty clear. Few politicians seem
to care about low-income minority students while they are being grievously injured by public institutions staffed by politically powerful unions. Only when some students are being injured by a for-profit institution do we begin to hear wrathful denunciations. And the wrathful denunciations are generally rather sloppy with their facts. The paragraphs that follow are chunky and packed with statistics, for which I apologize. But I am
attempting to present a balanced, accurate picture of a complex issue.

There has been a lot of discussion of how for-profit colleges overcharge. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (, four year public institutions charged tuition and fees of $6,400 for in-state students and $15,100 for out-of-state students; private non-
profits charged $21,100; and for-profits charged an average of about $15,700. And these are just tuition costs. Public institutions actually have a much higher cost basis than for-profits, but taxpayer subsidies allow them to charge students tuition fees well below their actual costs. At public colleges tuition accounts for just 17% of revenues, versus 85% at for-profits. For-profits are also increasing their tuitions at a slower rate than non-profits. In the last three years, public tuitions grew at 9.1% for in-state and 7.5% for out-of-state
students. Over the same period, private non-profit tuitions grew 6.6% and for-profit tuitions grew 5.2%. If one focuses on total costs rather than tuitions, the differences are even more striking. In 2006-7 the total cost per student per year at public four-year colleges was $33,670; at private non-profit four-year colleges, $42,256; and at for-profit four-year colleges, $12,880 (in looking at these figures, one needs to remember that for-profits do a lot more online educating, which is less expensive than the traditional classroom). For two-year institutions, the cost differences are smaller: at public two-year colleges, $11,609; at private non-profit two-year colleges, $19,498; at for-profit two year-colleges, $13,848. Community colleges, which are by far the most efficient nonprofit post-secondary schools, have a slight cost advantage over their for-profit competitors (

It is unjust and counter-productive to generalize about either for-profits or not-forprofits: both groups contain extremely diverse populations. I agree with Senator Richard Durbin that it is obscene for a culinary trade school to charge $27,000 per year for a two-year program. But I also find it alarming that there are now at least 58 non-profit colleges and universities that have fees for tuition, room, and board over $50,000 per year, and the list includes not only Columbia University and Johns Hopkins but also less prestigious institutions like Lafayette College and Dickinson College. Meanwhile, NASDAQ-listed for-profit American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) charges $7,500 for the equivalent of a year of full-time bachelor’s coursework and, because of a recently formed partnership with Walmart, offers a further 15% discount to Walmart employees.
APEI has not raised its undergraduate tuition since 2000, a record probably not matched by any other U.S. post-secondary education institution. APEI management’s decision not to raise tuition might have sound business reasons as well as altruistic ones, but it certainly is good for students. For-profits have also managed to lower many ancillary educational costs. Textbooks frequently cost over $150 per course, which is over $1,500 for the equivalent of a year of full-time instruction (although this is somewhat mitigated
by the resale value of the textbooks). APEI gives students textbooks for free, and Bridgepoint has cut textbook costs in half. Also, since when pursuing online degrees, working parents can avoid transportation and possibly childcare costs.

There has also been considerable discussion of how for-profits waste taxpayer money. Accurate figures here are hard to come by, but it is abundantly clear that just the opposite is true. The University of Phoenix estimates that each UOP student costs taxpayers $1,509 per year, versus $4,509 for the average for-profit school, $7,051 per student at private non-profits, and $11,340 at public postsecondary institutions.
Interested or skeptical readers can check their analysis on pages 20-21 of their white paper “Higher Education at a Crossroadsâ€? ([1].pdf). I think the University of Phoenix has substantially over-estimated the cost to taxpayers of for-profit schools, and their figure for the cost of defaulted debt includes the unpaid accrued interest as well as the principal amount.

Former University of Phoenix president Jorge Klor de Alva, an academic who also taught at Berkeley and Princeton, estimates that for regionally accredited, four-year for-profit schools, the for-profits that most resemble traditional universities, the cost to the taxpayer per student per year is slightly less than zero: the taxes paid by the corporation balance out the cost of government tuition assistance, including grants and
loan defaults (see pp. 5-6 and associated footnotes of Klor de Alva’s presentation at Although I cite several reports from for-profit schools and organizations friendly to them, they are using raw data mostly gathered by the Department of Education). Klor de Alva also estimates the total cost to taxpayers of education at elite traditional institutions: for the 68 colleges that charge more than $50,000 per year, the cost to the taxpaers is $11,392 per student per year. At Yale, the figure is $52,113 of taxpayer money per student per year; at Princeton, $52,508; and at Harvard, $68,319. A significant portion of these enormous sums is not direct cash
subsidies but tax revenue lost because donations to college endowments are tax-deductible. But the numbers are still shocking, at least to me. These figures do not include the amount of government money spent on research at these schools, just the taxpayer resources directly devoted to education, housing, and recreation. This taxpayer subsidy is in addition to the portion of tuition paid by the parents.

I will leave it to you to decide for yourself whether this subsidy of elite institutions and affluent students is a good use of taxpayer money. What is indisputable, though, is that the current system funnels much more taxpayer money per year of study to affluent students than to poorer students. Many students at elite colleges do not come from wealthy families, but average family income is still far higher than at a community
college or a for-profit. Any reduction in the flow of funds to for-profit colleges also further reduces the percentage of education subsidies flowing to the poor and to working adults. At the same time, access to public universities is being severely constricted. For example, because of a budget cut, the California State University system, nominally committed to open admissions, will be forced to reduce its enrollments by over 40,000 qualified students even as it raises tuition and furloughs employees ( And non-profit schools simply do not have enough slots in high-demand specialties like nursing. If this nation is to train the workers it needs, for-profit schools are increasingly necessary.

There have been complaints by politicians, journalists, and hedge-fund investors about the cost to the taxpayer of student loan defaults. But a loan default is not necessarily a loss. Interestingly, even on defaulted loans the government on average recovers 102% of the value of the original loan (see the 2011 Presidential budget, table 3: Direct Loans; spreadsheet downloadable at The University of Phoenix seems to feel that the 102% number is gross rather than net and does not include collection costs. I have as yet been unable to determine whether they are correct. But even if the government continued to have high loan collection costs, they would be more than balanced by the corporate tax payments of for-profits. The government gets an excellent return on its investment in for-profit college education. In fact, if one uses hard measures like salary increases and tax receipts, the government gets a substantially higher return on investment from for-profits than the hedge fund industry has delivered to its investors. So short-seller Steven
Eisman’s characterization of for-profit colleges as “the new subprimeâ€? is rather misleading ( If there is a waste of taxpayer money, it is not primarily at the for-profits. I recommend to Mr. Eisman that he take a closer look at not-for-profit universities before condemning the for-profits. I also recommend that, before continuing his jihad, he try a little harder to find an accurate figure for the amount the government recovers on defaulted loans. Rather than looking for the facts, he looked at the loans extended to students by two atypical for-profits, Corinthian and ITT, noticed that they had reserved for 50-60% losses on those loans, although they had not yet experienced such losses, and then blithely assumed that the government would collect less than this hypothetical 40% recovery. In fact, the government is an extremely effective and efficient collector of bad debt. The government’s figures are extremely complicated, and different documents seem to contradict each other, but the president’s budget seems to make the calculation in a reasonable manner. If I am wrong, I would be grateful for further information. Obviously, UOP and Klor de Alva are interested parties, but they clearly articulate the basis for their calculations, and their results concur with those of other studies like the
Delta Project ( Unlike Steve Eisman’s presentation, the UOP and Klor de Alva white papers admit their biases openly, present their case in a balanced and reasonable manner, document their sources, and invite further dialogue.

Another accusation is that for-profit colleges aggressively recruit students who do not belong in college and saddle them with big debts. There are definitely institutions that recruit too aggressively, and these should be punished. But for-profits do not accept all applicants: on average, they reject 25%, a number only slightly smaller than the 31% rejected by public colleges and the 35% rejected by private not-for-profit schools. When Senator Harkin wrote to the Government Accountability Office, asking for statistics on recruitment standard violations by for-profit schools, the GAO failed to tell a story of rampant misbehavior. In the years from 1998 to 2009, the GAO recorded violations at a total of thirty-two schools out of over 2,800 (Harkin, clearly unhappy with this result, was inspired to commission his own highly selective GAO sting operation; see Like Harkin’s sting, many of the news stories about recruiting abuses have been built to order. A Bloomberg story about the recruitment of students at homeless shelters turns out to have been fabricated by a researcher working for a hedge fund ( It is possible that the
Department of Education was lax in its oversight. But it must be remembered that whistleblowers in successful suits against for-profit schools can potentially collect tens of millions of dollars. This alone provides a major incentive for for-profit schools to follow the regulations closely.

For-profit schools also have other strong financial incentives not to recruit students who cannot complete degrees and who default on their student loans. If a school’s cohort default rate stays above 25% for three years, that school can no longer obtain federal education grants or loan guarantees for its students, and the school is out of business. Enrolling large numbers of under-qualified students is a form of institutional
suicide. Delivering an inferior educational product is also at the very least extremely dangerous for a for-profit institution. In the words of Richard Ruch, a dean at Devry, “My years in the for-profit sector have taught me that the two factors above all others that drive profitability are educational quality and customer service. No for-profit college or university can survive without providing a reasonably high-quality educational
experience and a high level of customer service. If someone imagines that these institutions make profits merely because they offer a substandard education on a massive scale, they are largely mistaken. Student consumers, especially the more mature students typical of the for-profit providers, are knowledgeable and demanding customers who are not easily satisfied. They demand a substantive and rigorous educational experience for their tuition dollars, along with a high level of convenience and customer service. And if they do not find it, they will go elsewhereâ€? (See p. 17 of Ruch’s Higher Ed, Inc.: The Rise of the For-Profit University).

It is true that on average for-profit schools have lower graduation rates than not-for-profits. But this is because they serve different populations: for-profits are much more focused on working adults. If one wants to make an apples-to-apples comparison of graduation rates, one can look just at two-year schools, where public and for-profit institutions serve students with similar demographics. According to a study by the
Parthenon Group using Department of Education data, two-year for-profits have a graduation rate of 65% versus a graduation rate of 44% for public community colleges ( position%25204%25201%252010.pdf). Part but not all of the difference is that more students transfer out of community colleges than out of two-year for-profits. Students at community colleges take on an average of $8,300 in debt, while students at two-year for-profits take on $14,600 and pay an average of $162 per month to service that debt— roughly equivalent to a cable television bill, if one has a premium channel or two.

What about four-year institutions? Department of Education statistics show average debt loads at degree completion of $19,839 at public institutions, $24,635 at for-profits, and $27,349 at private non-profit schools. The majority of students at American Public Education, Inc., take on no debt whatsoever. Students at Bridgepoint’s Ashford University take on an average of $13,500 of debt. We do not hear senators denouncing auto dealers for selling people new cars, but the average debt levels for a four-year degree
are comparable to the $28,000 average cost of a new vehicle ( It is true that this comparison excludes the payments a student makes while completing a degree, but remember, the true cost of ownership of a car includes many expenses other than loan
repayments, and you don’t have to get a new bachelor’s degree every seven years.

Current University of Phoenix students—those still working on their degrees–have an average annual income of $56,000. They are entirely capable of paying several hundred dollars per month on their student loans.
One must also remember that colleges and universities cannot control how much student debt people take on or how they spend it. Students are free to take on student debt for living expenses and even entertainment. It is the government that sets annual limits for federally guaranteed student loans, and schools are not permitted to prevent students from borrowing up to the limit, even if the amount borrowed exceeds the cost of tuition, fees, and supplies. Currently, over-borrowing on student loans is an extremely seductive option for students: the terms of student loans are infinitely more attractive than those of credit card debt. It seems bizarre to punish for-profit schools for excessive student debt when schools have no control over the amount of debt that students take on.

In fact, the Career College Association has begged the Department of Education to enact regulations preventing students from borrowing more than the cost of tuition and other academic expenses. Another common accusation against for-profits is that they deliver a weak education. This is a murky area, since outcomes assessment in higher education is still rudimentary. One can, though, make a general observation about the teachers who deliver this education: full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty do less and less of the teaching even at non-profit colleges and universities. Both public and private non-profit traditional universities are increasingly reliant on adjunct teachers. This is especially true for the divisions of non-profits that focus on working adults, like the Harvard University Extension School and NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study (both of these schools, by the way, are extremely profitable for their parent universities and indistinguishable from for-profits in almost every respect except, perhaps, for their avoidance of taxes and their superior branding). Often the very same adjuncts teach at both for-profit and non-profit schools. Research universities, of course, have another source of low-cost teaching labor: their own graduate students (for whom fewer and fewer tenured jobs wait at the end of the rainbow). In general, it is just a subset of graduate schools and liberal arts colleges where full-time instructors still do most of the teaching, and it is a still smaller subset of schools where those full-time instructors do their teaching exclusively in small seminars rather than partially in large lectures.

One common refrain in indictments of for-profit higher education is that online education is ineffective, an inferior substitute for the traditional classroom. But a Department of Education study which screened over a thousand research papers reached an unambiguous conclusion: “The meta-analysis found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instructionâ€?
( A mix of online and classroom instruction works even better than online alone. Particularly effective, apparently are tools or features that encourage students to reflect on their level of understanding and their learning process. The use of technology to individualize and personalize the learning experience also looks extremely promising (for a vision of the future of personalized learning at the primary and secondary level, see My own experience of mixed-mode classroom and online teaching supports the conclusions of the DoE study: classroom discussion can be a powerful tool on a good day, but there are many students who do not speak in class and yet will contribute extensively to online
discussions, and there are others who need to examine material at their own pace to assimilate it. And the tools for online teaching are still in their infancy.

What the DoE study does not say is that learning outcomes are much easier to measure in online programs, and online education providers are continually using these data to improve instructional methods. Over time, we can expect data-driven online programs to improve their edge over traditional classrooms (for a compelling vision of the future of assessment, see It is possible that some of today’s most prestigious universities are the Sperry Univacs or the Wang Laboratories of tomorrow, unable to adapt to a rapidly changing environment. Online education is a good example of what Clayton Christensen calls disruptive innovation. Stanford University will certainly continue to prosper, but over time there will probably be more and more functions that for-profit Capella University performs better (for physicist and former USC provost Lloyd Armstrong’s thoughtful take on this topic, see For-profit post-secondary schools have done a poor job of getting the message out, but they are innovating at a much faster pace than traditional schools. As someone who studied, wrote about, and taught Shakespeare for seventeen years, I have a keen sense of the value of tradition and
resistance to change. But innovative, flexible institutions are also necessary. Remember, for a long time institutions like Harvard and Oxford wanted to stick to theology and the classics: only reluctantly did they embrace flashy, unsound new disciplines like engineering, sociology, and modern literature.

It is inarguably true that for-profits do not graduate many students with degrees in the traditional liberal arts. But this neglect of the liberal arts is driven not by philistinism but by regulatory constraints. Since in order to survive for-profits must keep their job placement numbers high and their cohort default rates below 25%, they no longer have the ability to produce significant numbers of liberal arts graduates, whatever the student demand might be. Congress and the Department of Education have decided, for better or worse, that working adults should probably not major in comparative literature.

The current assault on for-profit education will have both good and bad effects. The Senate hearings probably will lead nowhere. I think Senators Harkin and Durbin have been displaying their indignation in order to improve the chances of their teammates in the midterm election. If Senator Harkin had any real intention of creating new legislation, he would have tried to get it passed before the elections. This is a partial
excuse for the biased, uninformative nature of Harkin’s hearings. Political kabuki theater requires broad, unambiguous gestures.

The Department of Education’s negotiated regulation process, on the other hand, will have a powerful and lasting impact on for-profit education. The DoE regulations will apply a new set of restrictions for eligibility to federal funds. The old regulations focused on the cohort default rate (the percentage of students who default on their loans within three years of the inception of the repayment period). The new “gainful
employmentâ€? regulations contain three tests of eligibility for federal funding. The second and third tests, which focus on debt service as a percentage of income, still remain somewhat nebulous. The first test focuses on the percentage of student borrowers who begin paying principal as well as interest. Unlike the old cohort default rate thresholds, this new test focuses on dollar amounts rather than numbers of borrowers. The draft regulations require that principal as well as interest be repaid on at least 45% of loans to students of any for-profit school. Schools that pass this “principal repaymentâ€? test will not be required to pass the second and third tests. For some schools, like Bridgepoint’s Ashford University and the University of Phoenix, the principal repayment figures were unexpectedly good. Others, like Grand Canyon Education and American Public Education, were expected to do well and did so. For some high-quality schools, most notably Strayer University and Capella University, the figures were much worse than anticipated. Strayer came in at 25%, a figure which they are disputing. It is worth noting that Harvard Medical School came in at 24%: their graduates aren’t defaulting, but they tend to use interest-only loans until they have finished their low-earning internships. This is just one little reminder of how regulations can have unexpected effects, some of them extremely undesirable. Harvard University Medical School is not in the regulatory cross-hairs at the moment, but Strayer probably shouldn’t be, either.

Many journalists, politicians, and, ironically, hedge fund managers seem to feel that the profit motive corrupts and dirties the educational process. They don’t seem bothered by the astonishing profitability of NYU’s Gallatin School or the Harvard University Extension School, and they maintain a touching faith in the purity of the motives of non-profit institutions. But if the for-profits worship Mammon, non-profit schools have their own violent, carnivorous hunger for something other than student success. What non-profits crave is prestige.

One aspect of academic prestige is luxuriousness. Non-profit schools are spending absurd amounts of money, in some cases the majority of their budgets, to brand themselves as luxury goods like Prada handbags and Juicy Couture tracksuits—the things the hyper-affluent must buy for their children as a proof of their love. In their quest for prestige, non-profit colleges and universities build monumental sports complexes and recreation centers that divert hundreds of millions of dollars away from teaching. Washington State University-Pullman’s 160,000-square foot student recreation center has a 50-person Jacuzzi, doubtless very helpful in raising Washington State’s standing among its educational peers. One excellent liberal arts college with 2,350 students has its own 18-hole golf course, a ski slope, a private beach, and a hockey rink with 2,600 seats. Numerous non-profit universities offer such recreational amenities as water slides, in-line
skating courts, juice bars, indoor waterfalls, climbing walls, massage tables, facials, golf simulators, and salt-water fish tanks. In the water park in the University of Missouri Columbia’s recreation center, students can watch large-screen televisions while floating on the “Lazy Riverâ€? or soaking in “the Vortexâ€? or the 20-student spa. The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh has leaped into the upper academic echelon by offering its students manicures and pedicures as well as massages.

Where athletic programs are concerned, it is not just the facilities that are costly. Some college football coaches make salaries of as much as $4 million per year. Do these athletic superstars pay for themselves? Not even close. The total cost for a Pac-10 athletic program? Don’t ask. Who can put a price on the glory of a winning NCAA division III team? Major athletic programs also have a high human cost. Many high-level athletes simply do not have time for real coursework: they are being used and injured for the glory of the school. Non-profit colleges also build rather swanky dormitories, with grocery delivery and maid service, and gourmet dining facilities. If, dear reader, you have a morbid curiosity about just how far universities will go in
marketing the superiority of their gourmet offerings, I highly recommend that you watch Boston University’s video about its visiting chef series ( Wild partying, vile fraternity misbehavior, and underage drinking are also essential selling points for many non-profit colleges.

Many commentators have complained that for-profit schools think of their students as customers. Well, yes, but at least the for-profits are thinking of their students as customers who are buying an education rather than a leisure experience. Capella University does not ask taxpayers to foot the bill for four years of beer pong, jello shots, bong hits, and recovery from hangovers. Non-profit schools also pursue various forms of academic prestige, some less healthy than others. Non-profits create new doctoral programs whose graduates are unlikely to find tenure-track jobs. They hire expensive academic super-stars for endowed
chairs with almost no teaching responsibilities, although this expense is trivial next to the recreational and athletic ones listed above, and is pardonable because it is so closely related to the task of educating students. Non-profit schools also divert precious scholarship money away from the poor and into the pockets of students with high SAT scores who come from affluent families (SAT scores correlate more closely with family income than with academic success, but SAT scores are what count for rankings like those of U.S. News and World Report).

Even notoriously lax ratings agency Moody’s, which entirely overlooked the housing bubble, has gotten off its La-Z-Boy to offer some mild disapproval: “we continue to see institutions borrowing heavily for projects that serve more to enhance an institution’s status rather than to advance its mission or to meet current pressing facility needs. These projects include mixed-use commercial developments, high-end residential facilities, research parks and lavish student recreation buildings and performing arts centersâ€? (the Moody’s quote and many of the colorful facts above come from a wonderful Bloomberg article by Liz Willen; see: Prestige is very, very expensive, and it would be difficult to argue that the quest for cash is more corrupting at for-profits than at non-profits.

When they aren’t pursuing prestige, non-profit schools have an unfortunate tendency to focus on what is best for professors and administrators rather than for students. In the years from 1993 to 2007, the University of Phoenix’s old nemesis, Arizona State University, has increased the number of administrators it employs by 94% while actually decreasing the number of instructors and researchers by 2% (of course, this
has something to do with the increasing burden of regulatory compliance). For some reason, school administrators across the nation seem to think of hiring more administrators as one of their highest priorities, regardless of the need. American research universities employ more administrators than teachers. In 2007 private nonprofit universities employed 53.6 employees for every 100 students, 11.3 of them full-time administrators and only 8.2 of them engaged in teaching, research, or academic service (see The figures for public universities are only slightly better. Creating a streamlined and usable interface for students is not a high priority: somehow, despite the presence of all of those administrators, students in search of answers still frequently get sent from one office to the next. Full-time faculty members have many goals, most of them laudable, but a crucial goal is to be left alone—in some cases, left alone to do research, and in other cases left alone to pursue other forms of self-cultivation.

Of course, despite all of these awful institutional malformations, the U.S. university system is probably still the most effective in the world. We are fortunate to have a diverse educational eco-system, one where innovations flourish and competition forces everyone to try a little harder. But make no mistake: for-profit schools are an essential part of this ecosystem. Disclosure: I believe that some but not all for-profit education companies do useful and honorable work, and my fund owns stock in American Public Education, Inc., Bridgepoint Education, Capella Education, and Grand Canyon Education. My family owns stock in these companies as well as Strayer University, privately held Post University, and several educational software startups. I have in the past shorted Moody’s.

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