How the AP analyzed football players' weight gain

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 31, 2012 at 5:33 pm •  Published: December 31, 2012
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For a sport with rabid fans, historic rivalries and trivia buffs, college football does not have a single, official repository of historic rosters. Each school prints its own rosters and is responsible for its archives.

To analyze changes in weight over time, The Associated Press obtained official rosters from 2001 to 2012 from all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision schools, the big-time teams that make up what used to be known as Division I-A. School rosters have been recognized by peer-reviewed scientific journals as a legitimate source for studying athletes.

For some schools, the AP already had media guides. Other schools published their media guides and official rosters online. In many cases, reporters asked schools for their historic rosters. In some instances, when a school did not have a roster readily available, the AP used cached versions of the school's official football website, capturing the roster as it was published by the school at the time.

From there, the AP studied more than 61,000 individual athletes whose name appeared on rosters for the same teams for multiple years. The AP did not attempt to track transfer students.

The AP tracked each player's change in weight over each year and over his career. The AP also calculated each player's yearly body mass index, which calculates the ratio of height to weight. A gain of 20 pounds is more significant to a 5-foot-8-inch athlete than to a 6-foot-6-inch athlete. In such cases, comparing BMI is useful.

For decades, scientific studies have shown that anabolic steroid use leads to an increase in bodyweight. The weight gains observed in the studies varied depending on the type of drug, the sport and the duration of use. In 2004, two Dutch doctors analyzed all the research and concluded that short-term steroid use typically helped athletes gain 4-11 pounds. Some athletes reported gains of 20-33 pounds, but that was outside of well-designed clinical studies, the authors wrote in the journal Sports Medicine.

Kathy Turpin of the National Center for Drug Free Sport, which conducts testing for the NCAA and about 300 schools, said that rapid, significant weight gain is something her organization considers a potentially suspicious indicator.

Changes in weight and body mass do not prove steroid use, and the purpose of the AP's analysis was not to prove that individual players were doping. The analysis was one part of a larger effort to test the question: Does the NCAA's incredibly low rate of positive steroid tests — it was .64 percent in 2009 and as low as .26 percent in 2006 — accurately reflect a near absence of steroid use? Former drug testers, players, dealers and trainers said otherwise.

In its study, the AP conducted several tests.

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