Quicken Loans’ $1 billion bracket challenge set to find more mortgage customers

Your odds of winning $1 billion from Quicken Loans for having a perfect NCAA bracket are really low – and the company will get great free data on potential mortgage customers.

To register for the contest, you have to sign up for a Yahoo account—a boon in itself for Yahoo, on whose site the contest is run. Then you’re asked to enter your name, address, email, birthday, and the answers to several questions about your home mortgage situation. All of this information goes to Quicken Loans, the fourth-largest mortgage-lender in the U.S.

It’s no coincidence that this information—where do you live? Do you want to buy a home? What’s your current mortgage rate?—is exactly what you need if you want to sell someone a home loan…

It’s not uncommon for companies like Quicken to pay between $50 and $300 for a single high-quality mortgage lead, Lykken says.

Quicken says the info-gathering is not intended for lead generation. Instead, the company says it’s building a base of relationships with people who may want home loans in the future. “The people that are playing the Billion Dollar Bracket kind of fit our demographic,” says Jay Farner, Quicken’s president and marketing chief. “But for the most part, unless they’ve opted in and said ‘please call me,’ it’s not a mortgage lead for us.”

This is the magic of the Internet for companies: users are willing to trade their information for some good. On Facebook, it is a trade of ongoing personal information for social interaction. In this bracket challenge, it is the trade of personal information for the chance to win both (1) $1 billion and (2) the ultimate bragging rights of having a completely correct bracket when millions of others couldn’t do it. Instead of having to make broad appeals to all consumers, companies can instead target specific consumers.

The argument in this article is that the particular trade here is not good for the average player: with the odds at “a 1 in 8,500 chance that anyone wins,” it is not worth giving up personal information. But, this is the sort of calculation that all Internet users must make all the time with all sorts of sites. Do I want to give up information about my music tastes to Spotify if they can use that to sell me targeted ads? What happens when Amazon gets information about hundreds of products I like? What if Google can see all of my searches? These trade-offs are harder to calculate and to avoid making them, the average user won’t be able to do much online.

NCAA Scholarly Colloquium: ideology versus “In God we trust; everyone else should bring data”

The Chronicle of Higher Education examines how much criticism of the NCAA will be allowed at its upcoming annual Scholarly Colloquium and includes a fascinating quote about how data should be used:

The colloquium was the brainchild of Myles Brand, a former NCAA president and philosopher who saw a need for more serious research on college sports. He and others believed that such an event could foster more open dialogue between the scholars who study sport issues and the people who work in the game.

Mr. Brand emphasized that the colloquium should be data-based and should avoid ideology. “Myles always used to joke: ‘In God we trust; everyone else should bring data,'” said Mr. Renfro, a former top adviser to Mr. Brand.

But as Mr. Renfro watched presentations at last year’s colloquium, which focused on changes the NCAA has made in its academic policies in recent years, he did not see a variety of perspectives.

“I was hearing virtually one voice being sung by a number of people … and it was relatively critical of the NCAA’s academic-reform effort,” he said. “I don’t care whether it was critical or not, but I care about whether there are different perspectives presented.”

This is a classic argument: data versus ideology, facts versus opinions. This short bit about Myles Brand makes it sound like Brand thought bringing more data to the table when discussing the NCAA would be a good thing. Data might blunt opinions and arguments and push people with an agenda to back up their arguments. It could lead to more constructive conversations. But, data is not completely divorced from ideology. Researchers choose what kind of topics to study. Data has to be collected in a good manner. Interpreting data is still an important skill; people can use data incorrectly. And it sounds like an issue here is that people might be able to use data to continue to criticize the NCAA – and this does not make the NCAA happy.

Generally, I’m in favor of bringing more data to the table when discussing issues. However, having data doesn’t necessarily solve problems. As I tell my statistics classes, I don’t want them to be people who blindly believe all data or statistics because it is data and I also don’t want them to be people who dismiss all data or statistics because they can be misused and twisted. It sounds like some of this still needs to be sorted out with the NCAA Scholarly Colloquium.

What should have happened earlier today at Penn State

Coming into the Penn State-Nebraska game that took place earlier today, a number of commentators said the game should be played. The current players aren’t responsible for any of the problems and so should not be punished and the football game itself could start the healing process. The ceremonies before the game, including a mid-field prayer with both teams participating, were shown live on ESPN.

Here is what I think should have really been done today at Penn State: the Penn State players and coaches should have come out onto the field like they would for any game. However, when the game was just about to start, all of the players and coaches should stop the action, kneel, and refuse to play. They could then issue a statement that would read something like this:

“Today is not a day for a football game. Our campus has experienced a tragedy and we are embarrassed since this involved a number of men that we thought were leaders and whom we respected. Although we were not personally involved, we realize that life is much bigger than football. The world will keep turning if this game is not played today. We need time to think, reconnect, and build up the trust for which this campus was once well renowned. We will play football again when these important matters have been taken care of.”

Imagine what sort of message this would send. In the midst of tragedy, this would be a statement that the billion-dollar (NCAA-wide) football machine plus its incredibly popular culture wouldn’t run roughshod over lives for a few hours. Football would be put on the backburner, which is arguably the primary issue here anyway.

I wonder what would have happened if the players would have really wanted to do this.

The civil rights argument against NCAA Division I football and men’s basketball

The cover story of the latest Atlantic, The Shame of College Sports,” is provocative and fascinating. The article is mainly about a series of court cases involving the civil rights of “student-athletes” and procuring a share of the NCAA’s football and men’s basketball profits for these “student-athletes.” After reading the full argument, it is difficult to feel much goodwill toward the NCAA.

College athletes clustering in a few majors, including sociology

I’ve written before about sociology being considered an “easy major” by athletes. A new report looks at some notable schools and considers how clustered male athletes are within majors:

Since the NCAA invented the APR [Academic Progress Rate] in 2003, critics have worried that it would discourage athletes from choosing difficult majors or from changing course once they started down a given track. Some have anticipated a “clustering” of athletes in certain majors, such as sociology or communication, and others have expressed concern about the creation of broad programs such as general studies with athletes in mind.

A 2008 analysis by USA Today found that clustering happens at most institutions, and of the three sports programs Shalala compares, Miami football is most questionable, with 62.5 percent of the team studying one of two majors. While clustering on a small scale isn’t necessarily unusual, researchers who study the phenomenon say the 25-percent mark is where things start getting fishy.

A full 37.5 percent of Miami’s junior and senior football players were majoring in liberal arts in 2008, and 25 percent in sports administration. The same 37.5 percent of Stanford’s junior and senior softball players were in one major — but it was human biology — and 36.8 percent of baseball players majored in sociology. Notre Dame athletes didn’t cluster at all, according to USA Today’s analysis.

While this report by Donna Shalala, president of Miami, seems tied to troubles their football program has with violating NCAA regulations, the USA Today 2008 analysis offers more insights. While sociology is lumped within the social sciences, you can mouse over the graphics and while the most clustering seems to happen in the social sciences, the sociology clusters are numerous.

Alas, this collected data is still limited:

Assisted by sports information and other school offices, USA TODAY obtained the majors for about 85% of the athletes in the study. For most of the rest, no major was listed. Primary or first-listed majors were used in the cases of students with multiple majors.

Initially, part of the intent was to compare the percentages of athletes in a major with those of the student body as a whole. That is, if 30% of baseball players are in sociology, is 30% of the entire student body enrolled in sociology? However, short of getting athletes’ private records and the federal reporting code of each athlete’s major, large-scale comparisons are unreliable because some schools have multiple versions of some majors.

The NCAA collects similar information, but does not release it and has no current plans to study it.

Hmmm…I wonder why the NCAA has no interest in analyzing this data.

If President Obama kicked teams out of the NCAA tournament for low graduation rates

The discussion over the graduation rates of men’s basketball players on NCAA tournament teams has grown in recent years. One columnist wondered what President Obama might say if he addressed the issue:

“While nine of every 10 white players graduate on the top-32-seeded men’s teams, only five of every 10 black players graduate. As an African American, I am personally outraged that 21 of the 68 men’s teams have black player graduation rates ranging from 44 percent down to zero.

“Thus, beginning today, I will do my bracket with this new stipulation: I will not write in your team if either your team or black player graduation rate is under 50 percent.

“This decision is not an easy one to make for a basketball purist. It leaves out nearly a third of the teams, including prestigious programs that account for 10 of the last 21 titles. It is with regret that I will leave blank spots for Syracuse, Indiana State, Missouri, Southern Cal, Michigan State, Tennessee, Florida, Nevada-Las Vegas, UC-Santa Barbara, Michigan, Morehead State, Kentucky, Georgia, Temple, Connecticut, Alabama-Birmingham, Texas, Washington, Arizona, Kansas State, and Akron…”

If Education Secretary Arne Duncan already made a similar suggestion, why not the President, who is an avid basketball fan and fills out men’s and women’s brackets on TV?

This is a complex issue that the NCAA doesn’t seem to want to talk about. Instead, they would rather run commercials (one example here) saying that “most [college athletes] go pro in something other than sports.” This may be true in many sports but there are racial gaps in a number of schools in both men’s basketball and football (read about troubles at Auburn here), the major revenue-generating sports.