Researchers: Overtraining fatigues endurance athletes’ brains

ultra marathoner
A runner competes in the Grand Raid de la Reunion ultramarathon race (also called La diagonale des fous) on Oct. 18, 2019 in the Cirque de Mafate caldera on the French Indian ocean island of La Reunion. (Photo by RICHARD BOUHET/AFP via Getty Images)

Overtraining for endurance sports can fatigue the brain, resulting in diminished performance, a new study says.

New research funded by the French anti-doping agency AFLD and compiled by the journal Current Biology shows that the brain doesn’t make the same decisions during overtraining as it would with proper rest.

Overtraining syndrome is a dangerous reality for endurance athletes, and a reminder about the value of proper rest.

And it determined Overtraining Syndrome (OTS) — a form of burnout that often affects endurance-sports athletes such as ultrarunners and long-distance triathletes — shares neural underpinnings to the fatigue that affects the cognitive control brain system during prolonged intellectual work.

OTS often leads to sudden, and otherwise unexplained, decrease in performance among athletes which may be accompanied by a sensation of prolonged fatigue even after extended rest, as well as depression, anxiety, insomnia and more.

It is believed to be caused when athletes train too hard and too long without proper rest and recovery.

And it can be devastating.

In Outside magazine, reporter Meaghan Brown tells the story of Montana ultrarunner Mike Wolfe’s experience with the syndrome. Prior to competing in the Transvulcania Ultramarathon, a 74-kilometer race with more than 8,000 feet of elevation gain on the island of La Palma in the Spanish Canary Islands, Wolfe was plagued by constant hunger and difficulty sleeping during his long training weeks prior to the event.

The race was Wolfe’s debut as a full-time professional, after he had set a course record at the Wyoming’s Bighorn 100 in 2010 and won the North Face Endurance Challenge Championship in 2011.

But Wolfe faltered in the race, eventually finishing 13th, and he didn’t know what had gone wrong.

“It was like my body just shut down on me,” he said.

It was a familiar refrain to those who have studied OTS.

 “OTS is one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen in my 30-plus years of working with athletes,” David Nieman, a professor of health and exercise science at Appalachian State University, told Outside. “To watch someone go from that degree of proficiency to a shell of their former self is unbelievably painful and frustrating.”

The new study may provide some answers.

In it, researchers found a ‘significant’ difference in brain activity and behavioral performance between overtrained and properly rested athletes while performing choice tasks.

Tests were performed on the two groups of athletes after three weeks, inducing a mild form of overtraining for one group and proper training for the other. Through magnetic resonance imaging, researchers saw signs of fatigue in areas of the brain related to decision-making in the overtrained group. 

After training, the two groups were put through a two-day testing period. On the first day, the participants were rode on a cycle ergometer to determine their post-maximal power output (MPO) compared to their pre-MPO, which corresponds to the maximum workload the subjects could sustain when physiological measures reached exhaustion criteria.

The second day consisted of two separate MRI scans sandwiched around a 45-minute cycling session aiming for acute, intense exercise over a long-term-exercise effort level. The researchers tested for neural and behavioral markers of cognitive-control fatigue.  

“Our results … provide causal evidence for a functional link between enduring physical exercise and exerting cognitive control,” the researchers wrote. 

That link might be a step toward better understanding OTS, which has been a mystery to endurance athletes for years.

Nieman told Brown that he began receiving letters from distressed endurance athletes as early as 1992 in which they described a sudden “loss of ability,” chronic dehydration, anemia and more. 

One famous case of OTS involved Alberto Salazar, the since-suspended head of Nike’s Oregon Project and a former American running star. Now 61, Salazar suffered from exercise-induced asthma and depression due to his obsessive exercising, later attributed to  OTS.

Experts say that preventing OTS is as simple as getting more rest before its onset. Convincing competitive athletes to take a break is the hard part.

“These athletes are so defined by their workouts that forcing them to rest leads to a full-blown identity crisis,” Jeff Kreher, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, told Outside.

Former Alaska ultrarunner Geoff Roes described the advice he got from fellow ultrarunner Kyle Skaggs when he was having symptoms of OTS and didn’t know what to do about it.

“If he had any advice at all, it was to get away from the whole scene,” he said. “In time your body will feel better, and you’ll be able to just run however it fits into your life.”

TJ Mathewson is a senior sports journalism student at Arizona State University

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Midnight marathon final doesn’t ease grueling IAAF worlds conditions

IAAF World Championships. Doha, heat, marathon
Svetlana Kudzelich from Belarus tips a water bottle over her head after the marathon world championship in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images)

The IAAF World Outdoor Track and Field Championships are underway in Doha, Qatar amid horrendous weather conditions for runners. While sprinters, long jumpers, and hurdlers  compete inside the climate-controlled, open-roofed Khalifa International Stadium, marathon runners enjoy no such luxury.

The average high temperature in Doha was over 100 degrees in September, with a heat index – which includes humidity – above 110 degrees. Those are tricky conditions for a 26.2-mile race outside. 

Despite the midnight start of the marathon at the IAAF world championships, nearly a third of the women’s field droped out because of the heat. Experts say running at the high temperature and humidity at that time is not healthy.

However it hasn’t stopped the event. The women’s race was contested Sept. 27, 2019 and the men are scheduled to run Oct. 6, 2019. 

To avoid sweltering temperatures, the IAAF scheduled the men’s and women’s marathons for midnight in Doha. For the women, the temperature dropped down to 90 degrees by race time and 105 with humidity. Extra water stations and medical personnel were added, but that didn’t make the race any less grueling. 

“Probably the hardest conditions I’ve ever raced in,” American runner Roberta Groner told the New York Times. Groner finished in sixth place.

Ruth Chepngetich of Kenya took home the gold medal, but of the 68 runners that started the women’s marathon on Sept. 27, just 40 finished.  

Retired Ethiopian running great Haile Gebrselassie spoke out against the IAAF’s decision to hold the World Championships in the sweltering Qatar weather.

“It was a mistake to conduct the championship in such hot weather in Doha, especially the marathon race. As someone who has been in the sport for many years, I’ve found it unacceptable,” he told the Associated Press.

“God forbid, but people could have died running in such weather conditions.”

Road Runners Club of America, which promotes the growth of running and the value of health, recommends avoiding running in temperatures above 98.6 degrees or when the humidity is above 70 percent, while emphasizing proper hydration. The organization’s website notes a runner can lose between six and 12 ounces of fluid for every 20 minutes of running. 

And high humidity slows the process of sweat evaporating off of the body, which prevents the body from properly regulating its temperature which can cause overheating.

Historically, the average temperature in Doha at midnight on Sept. 27 is just over 85 degrees. However, that also is near the most humid time there. The muggiest part of the day is at about 10:30 p.m., 90 minutes before the women’s race began and the men’s event is scheduled to start. 

The forecast calls for a temperature near 85 degrees with humidity hovering near 50 percent for the start of the men’s event. 

Update: Lelisa Desisa took the men’s marathon with a time of  2:10:40. The temperature reported was just under 85 degrees with 48 percent humidity. Of the 73 runners that started the race, just 55 finished.

TJ Mathewson is a senior sports journalism student at Arizona State University

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Former aerospace engineer giving U.S. swimmers an edge

swim, championships
(Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics are less than a year away, and Americans are again expected to finish ahead of the competition in the pool.

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Utilizing advanced technology and analytics in partnership with a former aerospace engineer, USA Swimming is taking the high-tech route to preparing for the Olympics.

U.S. swimmers have dominated the podium at the Olympics on both the men’s and women’s side. Nine of the top 10 most decorated male Olympic swimmers in history are Americans, led by Michael Phelps with 28 medals. Six of the top 10 women are from the U.S., led by Jenny Thompson with 12 total medals.

One way Americans have gained a competitive edge is technology used in and out of the pool. For that, USA Swimming leans on high-performance manager Russell Mark, a former aerospace engineer who swam on three Atlantic Coast Conference championship teams at Virginia.

Mark uses technology, data analytics and video to give USA Swimming that edge. Dan Durden, coach of the U.S. men’s team, told the Washington Post in July that Mark is a huge reason for the team’s success. 

Mark told Sporttechie.com he is trying to fill the gap in the use of technology and data in swimming. Changes have taken place since he joined Team USA in 2002, including the ability to record video underwater to examine a swimmer’s mechanics.

“I would say the field of swimming mechanics is still evolving just because having a human in water is an unnatural state, an unnatural environment, and everyone moves through it a little bit differently,” Mark told SportTechie. “Even amongst the very best in history, there are some differences. So you’re constantly learning. I would say my job is to sort through what can apply to most people and what are the exceptions that make the best go.”

Mark utilizes a GoPro video camera during training sessions, using the camera underwater to record swimmers. The video is uploaded to an iPad, on which Mark can break it down immediately.

Five-time Olympic champion Nathan Adrian has worked with Mark since Adrian was 16.

“He has this eye – like a photographic memory for our strokes,” Adrian told the Washington Post in July. “He notices the smallest things.”

Despite innovations in technology, not all swim programs take advantage of it, Mark said. 

“I do get a lot of swimming technology that comes across my radar every year,” Mark told Sporttechie. “Integrating technology into swimming is really hard. This is what I tell people: the only technology that has stood the test of time is a stopwatch. There are so many programs and teams that don’t use video in general – not even analyzing video, but just taking it with your phone or an iPad or a video camera and watching it.

“There’s still a gap in technology and swimming. I think that’s partially kind of what brings me value is that I’ll show up to a team or a national team athlete, and I just have my camera. Let alone analyzing race data or taking measurements and analytics from a video – just to watch it subjectively is of huge value.”

Those little things include ideas Mark became familiar with in his previous profession as an aerospace engineer: physics, force production, fluid dynamics and fluid mechanics. They can make a big difference in performance.

When breaking down video, Mark and his team count the strokes manually to calculate a swimmer’s stroke rate (strokes per minute) and stroke tempo (the time it takes to execute a single stroke).

“Let’s say Katie Ledecky is swimming at a 1.15 or 1.20 tempo – so it takes her 1.2 seconds to move her arms in one cycle,” he told the Washington Post. “What’s crazy is, we’ll see that a difference from 1.20 seconds per cycle to an average of 1.22 seconds can change your speed by 10ths of a second. We’re talking 0.02 seconds, but over 20 cycles, that impacts your speed. So we’re thinking about ways we can get them to move their arms just a tiny bit faster.”

Swimmers have been trying to get ahead of the curve since the start of the 20th century, often through improvements in swimwear technology. Swimsuit material used to be wool, and suits covered swimmers, men and women alike, from hip to shoulders. 

Speedo’s introduction in 1928 of the Racerback swimsuit, with a cut similar to what competitive swimmers wear today, allowed for more movement in the arm and shoulder.

Adaptations to the swimsuit material followed. For example, Nylon swimwear, introduced in the 1950s, provided a smoother, less water-resistant option. 

In 2000, Speedo took swimsuit technology a step further. It introduced the Fastskin swimsuit inspired by shark’s skin. In 2008, the company introduced the LZR Racer, which was worn by Michael Phelps during his historic, eight gold medal performance in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

TJ Mathewson is a senior journalism student at Arizona State University

Burkini bans prevent Muslim women from health benefits of swimming

Burkini, swimming, Muslim women
A Muslim woman wearing a burkini enjoys the warm water in the Gulf of Mexico at San Marco Beach on Marco Island, Florida. In come locales, burkini-wearing women are banned from using the beach, keeping them from the healthful benefits of swimming.  (Photo by Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Traditional Islamic attire requires men to cover from their belly button to their knees and women to cover everything except their hands and faces, typically donning a hijab.

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Bans and the harassment of burkini-wearing Muslim women keeps them from enjoying beneficial exercise such as swimming.

Because these attire guidelines include swimwear, Muslim women don burkinis. A burkini covers a woman’s body, exposing the face, hands and feet, while being made of a light material that is suitable for swimming. 

However, Muslim women who wear the burkini have been harassed and kicked off beaches in Europe and the United States. 

The harassment, or the fear of it, keeps many Muslim women away from public pools and beaches and denies them the benefits of swimming.

“Your identity is so bound up in what you do, and if you are no longer doing that you have serious issues with loss of identity, loss of purpose, depression, anxiety, a confrontation of those big life questions,” ASU clinical assistant professor of history Victoria Jackson said. “Depending on the circumstances and situation of the individual, it can become quite overwhelming.”

Swimming is a great exercise. It works all of a person’s muscles without stressing joints or other body parts as running would. Swimming strengthens the heart and lungs while reducing the risk of death. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, swimming has been shown to lower blood pressure and control blood sugar.

The harassment and fear is not limited to Muslim women in any one country. Several places have banned the burkini at public swimming areas. A few years ago, numerous French towns banned the swimwear in light of ISIS terror attacks in France from 2015-2018.

The first town to issue this type of ban was Cannes, France, a town of 75,000 on the nation’s southeast coast. The town’s mayor, David Lisnard, stated he wanted to ban beachwear that was “ostentatiously showing a religious affiliation while France and places of religious significance are the target of terror attacks.”

Other towns in France, such as Villeneuve-Loubet, declared the only clothing allowed was “(clothing that is) respectful to morality and secular principles, and in compliance with hygiene and safety rules.”

A tribunal upheld the ban, ruling it was “necessary, appropriate and proportionate to prevent public disorder.” 

Similar issues have arisen in the United States, ranging from controversy over concerns pool sanitation  by lifeguards and other poolgoers to straight-up harassment.

The Huffington Post spoke to numerous Muslim women across the United States who described incidents of harassment, including one where a burkini-wearing Muslim mother was approached by staff members at a waterpark in Toledo, Ohio, who questioned her outfit.

Before Manar Hussein, a 27-year-old Muslim woman living in New Jersey, began wearing a hijab as a teenager, she spent hours on end at a local pool. One day she witnessed a burkini-wearing Muslim woman being harassed at the pool; people demanded she get kicked out because her clothing was unsanitary.

This was one of the reasons that caused Hussein to avoid the pool for many years, scared by the fear that she could be the victim of this public humiliation.

“A woman playing a sport and using her body for her own pleasure and power is transgressive. Historically, a woman doing this, especially if it falls into public space, has been met with resistance. Violent, verbal, all forms of resistance.” – Victoria Jackson, sports historian and clinical assistant lecturer of history at Arizona State University.

According to the Lifesaving Society, an organization whose mission is to promote safe interactions with water to prevent drowning and other injuries, a burkini is an acceptable and hygenic article of swimwear.

Burkinis and rash guards are examples of acceptable alternative swimwear as face and neck are uncovered and fabric is tight-fitting enough to do not interfere with swimming skills. Hands and feet can move freely and there is an additional element of hygiene if hair is covered,” the site states.

Muslims are not the only religious group whose beliefs impose restrictions on their swimwear. Both Orthodox Jews and Mormons wear swimwear that covers much of their bodies, similar to the burkini. However, only the burkini ignites a significant and widespread backlash.

“A woman playing a sport and using her body for her own pleasure and power is transgressive,” Jackson said. “Historically, a woman doing this, especially if it falls into public space, has been met with resistance. Violent, verbal, all forms of resistance.”

Jackson draws the parallel to when women first started playing sports in the 19th century.

“There was a basketball craze, women were playing basketball in high numbers, and the greater public didn’t know what to do with it,” she said.

Jackson described how women’s dress in the 19th century bears similarities to what Muslim women wear now. It was marked by long dresses, sleeves and corsets. Much like the burkini today, the general public(in this case men) didn’t know how to react to the situation.

“It makes it easier for the community to learn when they know that they can be in a pool where they don’t have to worry about wearing a scarf. They can wear whatever they want in the pool, as long as the windows are covered. We have a female instructor, a female lifeguard. It’s great.” – Zahara Hassan of  Fairview Health Services

“Oftentimes, they play in closed-off areas where men couldn’t watch because of the fear of what men would do when they saw an exposed ankle,” Jackson said.

It took the public a while to embrace the image of women playing basketball in the early 20th century, and some places have taken steps to familiarize the public with the image of a burkini. 

Sports Illustrated featured its first burkini-wearing model in the magazine’s most recent swimsuit edition, Halima Aden, a 21-year-old Somali-American model originally from Kenya.

“Embracing all cultures, and those cultures finding ways to promote and support women in sport is awesome, and especially in the U.S. or in other countries where that might be seen as something that is not as typical or something that you would see regularly if you were to go to the beach,” Jackson said.

“To put it in such a mainstream national publication like that means Sports Illustrated is thinking about its place in the world and promoting and advocating for more women and girls to play.”

There are places that try to give opportunities for Muslim women to get in the pool. Zahara Hassan of the Minneapolis non-profit Fairview Health Services works to make opportunities available to Muslim woman and girls, according to MPR News. The organization offers free swimming lessons to them once a week, with no men allowed.

“It makes it easier for the community to learn when they know that they can be in a pool where they don’t have to worry about wearing a scarf,” she said. “They can wear whatever they want in the pool, as long as the windows are covered. We have a female instructor, a female lifeguard. It’s great.”

TJ Mathewson is a senior journalism student at Arizona State University

California lawmakers unanimously approve bill allowing college athletes to make endorsement deals

Basketball court with NCAA logo on it and basketball players running by
(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

This story has been updated on Sept. 11, 2019

In the wake of California Senate Bill 206, also known as the Fair Pay to Play act, receiving almost unanimous approval (15-1) from the California Assembly Appropriations Committee, the College Athlete Advocacy Initiative (CAAI) released its first public service announcement highlighting the restrictions on college athletes and their inability to profit off their names and likenesses. Athletes ranging from LeBron James to Josh Rosen support the bill. 

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While the NCAA continues to examine paying student athletes for their name and likeness, state legislatures are taking up the cause, supported by athlete advocacy groups. Sooner or later the NCAA will need to address the equity issues for athletes.

On Sept. 10, the act cleared the State Assembly by a vote of 72-0. A version of the bill has already cleared the Senate. Once the two state chambers work out any differences, the legislation will be sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign and would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2023.

The NCAA released a letter to the governor on Sept. 11 that called the act “untenable.” In the letter to Newsom, the NCAA argued: “If the bill becomes law and California’s 58 NCAA schools are compelled to allow an unrestricted name, image and likeness scheme, it would erase the critical distinction between college and professional athletics and, because it gives those schools an unfair recruiting advantage, would result in them eventually being unable to compete in NCAA competitions. These outcomes are untenable and would negatively impact more than 24,000 California student-athletes across three divisions.

“Right now, nearly half a million student-athletes in all 50 states compete under the same rules. This bill would remove that essential element of fairness and equal treatment that forms the bedrock of college sports.”

SB 206 would allow NCAA student athletes in the state of California to profit off their names and likenesses. Currently, under NCAA bylaws, athletes are not allowed to receive compensation or profit off of their name and likeness. The NCAA made nearly $850 million off the 2018 NCAA men’s basketball tournament alone in the 2017-18 fiscal year, and the athletes are looking to get a slice of the pie.

The PSA details a trio of high school athletes on their signing days. As the three students put their future schools’ hats on their heads and sign the letter of intent, their faces go blurry, as if to remove their identity, symbolizing them giving away their name and likeness as they sign with a school.

According to the CAAI news release, former college stars Rosen and Nigel Hayes sent letters, in conjunction with CAAI, to the California Legislature in support of Fair Pay to Play.

In his letter, Rosen wrote: “Universities use college athletes as vehicles for marketing, fundraising, and endorsement opportunities. Yet, athletes cannot use their own name, image or likeness for profit. … This is not only morally reprehensible, but I find it unacceptable that we allow our institutions of higher education to engage in this type of blatant exploitation without consequence.”

LA Lakers star  James and NFLPA Executive Director Demariuce Smith are others to voice their support of SB 206.

CAAI plans to continue to release content regarding the inequalities of college athletes.

“The NCAA has manipulated public perception with misleading and inaccurate information for years while they hide the disturbing realities of this business,” CAAI Executive Director Tim Nevius said. “Our advocacy campaigns will leverage social media and use creative means to expose the truth and empower people to take action, including college athletes themselves.”

After the bill passed the California state senate earlier this year, NCAA president Mark Emmert said California schools could be barred from competing in NCAA Championships.

“We recognize all of the efforts that have been undertaken to develop this bill in the context of complex issues related to the current collegiate model that have been the subject of litigation and much national debate,” Emmert said in a letter to the chair of the two California State Assembly committees.

“Nonetheless, when contrasted with current NCAA rules, as drafted the bill threatens to alter materially the principles of intercollegiate athletics and create local differences that would make it impossible to host fair national championships. As a result, it likely would have a negative impact on the exact student-athletes it intends to assist.”

According to the New York Times, similar bills are under consideration in Washington and Colorado.

TJ Mathewson is a senior journalism student at Arizona State University

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How young is too young to play professional sports?

Lucy Li, golf, LPGA
Lucy Li of United States watches her shot during day 5 of Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games. Li is the youngest golfer to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open when she was 11.  (Photo by Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images)

How young is too young to become a professional athlete?

Pro sports leagues around the world have age limits for participants. The NFL requires athletes to be at least three years removed from high school (usually 21 or 20 years old). The NBA requires athletes to be 19. The NHL’s age minimum is 18 years old. Major League Baseball has an 18-year-old minimum for U.S. players and 17 for international players.

What age is the right age for an athlete to go pro? What could a too-early start mean for the athlete and their career?

Other team or individual sports have varying policies. And athletes, or their families, push the limits of how early they can become a professional. Take 13-year-old American soccer prodigy Olivia Moultrie for example. The Canyon Country, Calif., native announced on Feb. 25 she had signed with a sports agency, Wasserman Media Group, and signed a multiyear deal with Nike.

In late February, Moultrie relocated to Portland, Ore., to join the Portland Thorns F.C. developmental academy. Moultrie appeared in her first professional action in a preseason match against the U.S. Women’s National Team.

Moultrie became the youngest girls soccer player to accept an athletic scholarship two years earlier when she accepted one from the University of North Carolina at the age of 11. Now the barely-teenage prospect is the youngest girls soccer player to forgo her scholarship and turn pro.

Even though Moultrie is technically a professional, she has to wait five years before she can sign with a professional team. The National Women’s Soccer League (N.W.S.L.), the top pro women’s soccer league in the U.S., doesn’t allow players to sign a contract until they are 18. FIFA rules will not allow Moultrie to sign with a foreign club until age 18 either.

Moultrie’s route to the pros is much more common among boys than girls. According to the New York Times, only two current members of the U.S. women’s national team skipped college and went straight to the pros: Mallory Pugh and Lindsey Horan.

American girls’ soccer players, for the most part, follow the traditional path through youth teams to powerhouse Division I soccer programs such as Stanford and North Carolina. They are subsequently drafted into the N.W.S.L via the league’s draft in January.

Debuting too early in sports can have its consequences. While some might find success, others struggle to adjust to the top leagues at such a young age. Some examples of players who made pro debuts around Moultrie’s age?

 

Freddy Adu

Freddy Adu, D.C. United, MLS
Freddy Adu of D.C. United runs on the field in his pro debut against the San Jose Earthquakes in Washington D.C. on April 3, 2004. (Photo by Joe Murphy/MLSNETImages)

Freddy Adu became the youngest American to sign a pro contract when he signed with D.C. United after being selected No. 1 overall in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft at age 14.

Adu’s career started well: He scored 11 goals in 87 matches over his three-year stretch with D.C. United. He made the MLS All-Star in 2005 and 2006.

However, Adu had trouble sticking with one team. After spending his first three professional seasons with D.C. United, the midfielder bounced through 13 more soccer clubs, starting with a trade to Real Salt Lake following the 2006 season, over the next 11 years. Adu last played for Las Vegas Lights FC of the USL and was released following the 2018 season.

Matthew Briggs

Matthew Briggs, Fulham FC, Premier League
Matthew Briggs, Fulham (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)

In the English Premier League, Matthew Briggs became the youngest player in a Premier League game when he made his debut for Fulham F.C. at 16 years and 86 days old in May 2007. That was younger than Izzy Brown, who made his debut with West Bromwich Albion in 2013 (16 years and 117 days old) or Aaron Lennon, who made his debut with Leeds United in 2003 (16 years and 128 days old).

After Fulham, the teenager played for nine clubs in lower-tier leagues over the next 11 years, scoring six goals in 140 appearances as a defender. Briggs is a member of Maldon & Tiptree F.C. of the Isthmian League, a semi-professional league in England.

Lucy Li

While the PGA Tour requires golfers to be 18 to join (with some exceptions for 17-year-olds), that doesn’t stop golfers at USGA events from lowering the age bar. A pair of 10-year-olds, Michelle Wie in 2000 and Lucy Li in 2013, each qualified for the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links.

Li is the youngest golfer to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open, doing so in 2014 at age 11. Through two rounds, Li shot a 156 (+16) and missed the cut. After spending 2015 out of the national spotlight, Li won the Junior PGA Championship and was a part of the winning team of the 2016 Junior Ryder Cup.

Recently, Li made the cut at the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open as one of seven amateurs participating. She finished with a 299 (+11) and finished 55th. Li is the seventh-ranked amateur women’s golfer in the world per World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR).

Joe Nuxhall

The youngest pro baseball player to appear in a Major League Baseball game came in 1944 while numerous MLB players were fighting in World War II, Joe Nuxhall made his debut on the mound in the ninth inning for the Cincinnati Reds in a game against the St. Louis Cardinals. He was 15.

The teenager lasted two-thirds of an inning. He allowed five runs on two hits and five walks. One of the hits was by Hall of Famer Stan Musial.

After the outing, Nuxhall did not return to the majors and the Reds until he was 23. He went on to have a 16-year career with more than 2,300 innings pitched and a 3.90 career earned run average (ERA).

TJ Mathewson is a junior journalism student at Arizona State University

Donation aims to eliminate U.S. soccer pay differences

United States forward Christen Press (23) dribbles through Brazil traffic during the She Believes Cup match between the USA and Brazil on March 5, 2019 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fl (Photo by Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

In the wake of the U.S. women’s national team’s lawsuit against U.S. Soccer for gender discrimination, a third party is stepping in to help the team gets its fair share.

LUNA Bar is doing its part to close the wage gap with its donation to USWNT.

LUNA Bar announced a donation of $718,750 to the U.S. women’s national team program in honor of Equal Pay Day on April 2. The money will be used to eliminate the difference in roster bonus size between the men’s and women’s team ($31,250 difference) in 2018.

The donation’s origins trace to before the team filed its gender discrimination suit when LUNA Bar representatives reached out to Becca Roux, the executive director of the USWNT Players Association. LUNA representatives wanted to know what they could do to “support the women in their quest for equal pay,” Roux said in an interview with espnW.

“After that, it all went extremely fast.”

LUNA’s donation is a small step toward equalizing pay between the men’s and women’s national teams. Each member of the men’s team makes a base salary of $100,000, compared to $72,000 for the women, according to Business Insider. The women receive bonuses only for wins ($1,350). The men’s team earns a $5,000 per game bonus as well as a $3,166 bonus for every win in the 20-game slate per year.

The women get $50 per day for travel expenses to games in the U.S. and $60 per day when playing internationally. The men get $62.50 and $75 per day, respectively.

Winning the FIFA World Cup is a big deal for the players and for their bank accounts. When the USWNT won the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, each member of the team received a $75,000 bonus. If the U.S. men had won the 2018 FIFA World Cup (the team did not qualify)? Each member of the USMNT would have received $390,625.

 

TJ Mathewson is a junior journalism student at Arizona State University.

Colombia women’s national team accuses FCF of discrimination, neglect

Colombian footballer Natalia Gaitan (center) speaks during a press conference of the Colombian women’s national football team in Bogota, Colombia, in March 2019.  Gonzalez Puche and players of the Colombian women national football team accused the Federation of Colombian Futbol of sexual discrimination. (Photo by Diana Sanchez/AFP/Getty Images)

The Colombian women’s national team accused the Federation of Colombian Futbol (FCF) of sexual discrimination and receiving inferior benefits to their male counterparts, according to BBC.

The U.S. women’s national soccer team is not the only one fighting a battle against gender discrimination. Colombia’s team is in a state of neglect.

The accusations come on the heels of the top-ranked U.S. women’s national team filing a lawsuit against U.S. Soccer alleging discrimination.

The American women accused U.S. Soccer of “institutionalized gender discrimination,” and relegating them to second-class status behind the men’s team, which has had nowhere near the success as their female counterparts on the international stage.

According to the lawsuit, the team is being paid significantly less than the men’s team, as little as 38 percent of pay per contest.  

This lawsuit comes months before the U.S. sets to defend its World Cup title in France in the 2019 FIFA World Cup.

Colombia doesn’t have a head coach following the firing of coach Nelson Abadia in June 2018.  The players have not been getting paid their normal fixed sum of 60,000 Colombian pesos (about $20) per day. The team has also accused the FCF of not paying for international flights to attend team training camps, which in more than one occasion had year-long gaps in between them.

Melisa Ortiz and Isabella Echeverri have been at the forefront of the accusations.

Ortiz said the FCF treats the women’s squad with “no respect,” adding: “They’re treating us like second-class citizens and not giving us the respect we deserve. They have a ‘machista’ mindset.”

“I demand they respect and value us, not only as people, but as footballers. It doesn’t matter whether we’re male or female,” Ortiz told BBC.

These accusations have produced rousing support from members of the Colombian men’s national team, who called, in a Twitter statement, for an investigation.

According to Ortiz, the team went more than 400 days without a coach or training session following the 2016 Rio Olympics, and 745 days without a coach or training session following the 2012 London Olympics.

The team doesn’t have any games scheduled. Colombia failed to qualify for the 2019 FIFA World Cup in France after finishing fourth in the Copa America Femenina.

It’s not just the national team the federation fails to support. The top flight women’s league in Colombia, Liga Aguila Femenina, is in danger of losing funding and support. The league has a three-year funding commitment from CONMEBOL (the South American football governing body), DIMAYOR (which runs professional football in Colombia), and FIFA (the international governing body).

However, the commitment is set to end following the 2019 season, and, according to The Equalizer, there isn’t a whole lot of confidence the league will continue to be supported.

After Colombian club Atlético Huila won the Copa Libertadores Femenina in December, star Yoreli Rincon posted on social media that the team would never see the $55,000 for winning the competition. That and the viral video of the team being forced to sleep on the airport floor following their championship victory highlight just a small part of the problem.

TJ Mathewson is a junior journalism student at Arizona State University

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MLS Sounders pledge to go carbon neutral

Seattle Sounders fan holds up a scarf before the MLS regular season match between FC Cincinnati and Seattle Sounders on March 2, 2019, at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, WA. (Photo by Joseph Weiser/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Seattle Sounders have done something that makes them unique in the MLS. The team pledged to become carbon neutral for 2019, making it the first soccer team in North America to do that according to the Sports Sustainability Journal.

Reducing carbon footprint can lead to a healthier environment and endear a business or team to environmentally conscious fans.

“The Sounders have always been committed to investing in our community, and that includes recognizing the immense responsibility we have as environmental stewards,” team owner Adrian Hanauer said.

The Sounders, partnering with Seattle firm Sustainable Business Consulting, will calculate greenhouse gas emissions with an effort to reduce the unneeded carbon emissions and offset the unavoidable emissions (player travel).

When calculating its emissions, the team will take into account activity related to the operations of its business offices in Pioneer Square, training facility operations, air travel for the team and scouts, fan travel and energy use at its home stadium, CenturyLink Field.

The team plans to offset the unavoidable emissions by partnering with non-profit organizations to conserve nature and wilderness in the pacific northwest.

That non-profit, Forterra, will plant a tree for every five tons of carbon. The team chose a plot of land in Point Rediscovery on Hamm Creek in Burien, Wash. to plant trees.

The Seattle club launched its offset program at the plot Feb. 24 when it invited the public to help the players and coaches plant 370 trees.

The Sounders join the likes of UK football club Forest Green Rovers as the two of the only carbon-neutral football clubs in the world.

TJ Mathewson is a junior journalism student at Arizona State University.

Spring training a $1.3 billion boon to Florida, Arizona

Spring Training Game at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, AZ
Spring training game at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Az. (Photo by Bill Hill/GlobalSport Matters)

Professional sports leagues in America have ways of getting ready for the regular season —  training camp for the NFL, NBA and NHL, and spring training for MLB. Unlike the training camps, MLB spring training takes place in two states, Arizona and Florida, as teams look to escape the cold winter weather.

Concentrating training to two states helps the bottom line for Florida and Arizona during baseball spring training.

The movement of the league to these two states draws a massive influx of fans and media to the two states. How much exactly does that boost the local economies of those two states?

Across the 200-plus games in each of the two spring training leagues, hundreds of millions of dollars are generated for the local economies and distributed as wages. According to the Seidman Research Institute in the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, the Cactus League in Arizona had a total economic impact of $644.2 million in the spring of 2018. The Grapefruit League in Florida produced a $687.1 million overall impact according to the Florida Sports Foundation. A majority of the money flows in from out-of-state residents, who make up more than half of the attendance for each league (52 percent in Florida, 60 percent in Arizona).

TJ Mathewson is a junior journalism student at Arizona State University.

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TV is biggest driver in global sport league revenue

Both rookie and veteran NFL players want less contact because it can be damaging to their bodies
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton is sacked by the Denver Broncos in a 2016 game. The NFL is the global leader in revenue. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

An enormous amount of money was poured into the professional sports market in 2018. One-hundred and six sports franchises worldwide are valued at more than $1 billion each and profit millions of dollars every year.

Here’s where that revenue came from:

National Football League

How leagues make their money says a lot about their growth, viability and future

No league tops the NFL when it comes to bringing in revenue globally. The league generated $13 billion and has 29 of the top 50 most valuable sports franchises in the world.

The Dallas Cowboys, according to Forbes, are the most valuable sports franchise in the world with an estimated worth of $4.8 billion. That number is up 14 percent from 2017, tied for the largest jump amongst the top-50 most valuable teams.

Much of the revenue for the NFL is generated by its TV contracts.

According to Statista, the NFL will collect $54.6 billion from TV contracts with FOX (runs from 2014-2022), CBS (2014-2022), NBC (2014-2022), ESPN (2014-2021) and DirecTV (2015-2022).

The networks pay the NFL so much money for the TV rights because people, in an era of declining TV ratings,  still watch football in the United States.

The Super Bowl is the most-watched TV program annually in America. According to Nielsen, the top-eight most watched programs in history were Super Bowls, led by Super Bowl XLIX between the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots on Feb. 1, 2015. The Super Bowl is 18 of the top 20 programs.

With so many people watching the Super Bowl, the networks command ever-increasing ad rates for 30- and 60-second commercials. For Super Bowl LII, NBC charged $5 million for a 30-second commercial spot and exceeded $1.4 billion in ad revenue. For Super Bowl LIII, CBS charged between $5.1 and $5.3 million for a 30-second spot.

The massive viewership and ad revenue allow the networks to pay for the NFL TV rights.

Fantasy football is another factor that contributes to the NFL’s position above other pro leagues in terms of revenue. Fantasy football creates interest in games that wouldn’t normally attract the casual fan, prompting them to tune in out-of-market games and prime time games every week. That is a big reason DirecTV pays the NFL $1.5 billion a year to stream NFL Sunday Ticket.

Major League Baseball

The second-highest grossing league in the world is Major League Baseball, which grossed a little more than $10 billion in 2017. The league became the second sports league to exceed that threshold.

Major League Baseball can’t match the NFL in its number of valuable franchises; only six place on Forbes’ list of 50 most valuable sports franchises. However, MLB’s most valuable franchise, the New York Yankees, ranks fifth on the list at $4 billion, greater than every NFL franchise except the Dallas Cowboys.

A big difference between the NFL and MLB is the use of regional sports networks. Baseball teams collect millions of dollars each year from regional TV networks. However, not all teams are big winners in their regional TV deals. One franchise sets the example of how to profit big off of the deals.

Globe Life Park, home of the Texas Rangers. (Photo by Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images)

After signing a new television deal in 2014 with Spectrum Sportsnet LA worth $8.35 billion over 25 years, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are the majority owner of the regional sports network, made $204 million in revenue off of TV money alone in 2016.

Only one other team, the Los Angeles Angels, collected more than $100 million ($118) in TV revenue in 2016. The after-effects of these types of contracts are massive.

The Angels signed their deal in 2012, tripling the TV revenue they received from their 10-year, $500 million contract that expired in 2011. Since more TV revenue tends to lead to a bigger payroll, the Angels shelled out a combined $331.5 million to top free agents Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. Five of the top 10 TV revenue teams also rank in the top 10 in payroll.

Attendance is a major revenue stream for Major League Baseball. Attendance dropped four percent in the 2018, creating the lowest overall league attendance since 2003. Seventeen of 30 teams had an attendance decrease, leading to $93.7 million in lost ticket revenue.

The average MLB ticket price has risen every season since 2006 and the average price was $32.44 in 2018. It is unclear how much the cost of attending a game is affecting the attendance numbers. The decrease in attendance also affects concessions sales. Based on the attendance decline, the league estimated almost $50 million in concession sales was lost.

National Basketball Association

The NBA is the third-highest grossing league in North America. The association brought in $7.4 billion in revenue during 2017, which represents a 25-percent increase from the previous season.

For the first time, every NBA franchise is worth at least $1 billion according to Forbes. The New York Knicks are the most valuable franchise ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors and Chicago Bulls. The Knicks are worth an estimated $3.6 billion and generate $426 million in revenue.

The NBA’s national TV deals generate $2.66 billion annually for the league. The contracts run through the 2024-25 season. ESPN/ABC holds the rights to 100 regular-season prime-time games, 44 postseason games, the draft and draft lottery coverage. TNT airs 67 prime-time games during the regular season and holds the rights to All-Star Weekend, which includes the Rising Stars Challenge, Skills Competition, Three-Point Contest and Dunk Contest.

Raptor the mascot of the Toronto Raptors holds a sign at center court imploring fans to make noise. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

NBA teams also have local TV deals to add to the revenue stream. The Los Angeles Lakers get the most revenue from their local TV deal. The contract with Time Warner Cable is for 20 years and $4 billion, which means the team earns, on average, $200 million a season.

Unlike baseball, fans have been filling seats in NBA arenas like never before. The league set attendance records, including total attendance, average attendance and sellouts, for the fourth straight season. More than 22 million fans attended games in the 2017-18 season, and it was the first time attendance filled more than 95 percent of arena capacity.

Merchandise sales set new marks in the 2017-18 season, increasing 25 percent from the previous year. Finally, NBA League Pass subscriptions increased 63 percent.

National Hockey League

The NHL generated $4.43 billion during the 2017-18 season.

None of the 31 NHL franchises rank in the top 50 of the most valuable sports’ franchises in 2018 by Forbes. Only four NHL franchises were valued at more than $1 billion in 2017. The New York Rangers were valued at $1.5 billion in 2017, making the franchise the league’s most valuable. That is $450 million behind 2018’s 50th most valuable franchise in sports, the Cleveland Browns, which were valued at $1.95 billion.

Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators celebrates during the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

With six franchises in Canada and 25 in the United States, the NHL splits its TV contract between both countries, doubling the amount of revenue possible. However, the league is working under the oldest contract of North America’s four major pro sports leagues.

In 2011, the NHL signed a 10-year, $2 billion deal with NBC (network) and Versus (cable) for the exclusive national broadcasting rights in the United States, showing 100 regular-season games plus playoffs.

In 2014, the league signed a broadcasting agreement with Rogers Communications for Canadian TV rights. The deal is worth $5.232 billion Canadian ($3,932,504,039.99 U.S.) over 12 years and runs through 2025-26 season. It is the most lucrative media rights real in the history of Canadian television.

These TV revenues are split between all 31 teams in the league.

English Premier League

The Premier League, the top pro football league in England, is another league benefitting from an influx of TV money.

It ranks as the third-highest grossing league globally, raking in $5.3 billion (U.S. dollars) in 2016. It generates almost double the revenue of the next closest top professional football league (Germany’s Bundesliga, $2.8 billion). European football leagues have massive international followings, which boosts the amount of money that can be made.

Paul Pogba of Manchester United is one of the biggest stars in the global league.  (Photo by Matthew Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images)

The Premier League’s TV contract, agreed to in 2016, runs through the 2019 season and is worth £10.4 billion ($13.6 billion), which is distributed among the 20 member clubs. In that deal, £5.3 billion is for domestic TV rights. The rest is from overseas rights.

Unlike Major League Baseball, the Premier League hasn’t struggled with attendance. Since 2009, the average attendances numbers for Premier League clubs rose from 34,215 in 2009 to 38,495 in 2018 and are the highest cumulative attendance in Europe.

Indian Premier League

In its 11th year, the Indian Premier League (cricket) is the fastest growing in the world. Its rapid revenue growth can be attributed to cricket’s popularity in India. The top-10 most-watched television broadcasts of all time in India are cricket matches.

Though the league consists of eight teams that play 60 matches during a 47-day period plus playoffs, the league is valued at $6.3 billion. That figure represents a 19-percent increase from 2017.

Rishabh Pant plays a shot during IPL match between Delhi Daredevils and Mumbai Indians in 2018. (Photo by Pankaj Nangia/India Today Group/Getty Images)

A significant part of the increase in value came from a global media rights deal with Star India worth $2.55 billion kicking in. It runs through 2022. Under terms of the deal, the league’s matches will be televised in six languages. Each match is valued at approximately $8.5 million.

The league’s previous deal, which went into effect in 2015, was for $45 million.

The media rights deal was a response to the IPL matches drawing 1.25 billion viewers during the 2017 season, a 22.5-percent increase. Those ratings contributed to the league’s broadcaster, Sony Max, being the most-watched channel in the country that year.

Attendance numbers are also among the top sports globally. The IPL drew more than 32,000 fans per match in 2015, more than Major League Baseball and La Liga (the top tier pro football league in Spain).

Tickets range anywhere from 400 rupees ($5.51) to 26,000 rupees ($358.05).

Australian Rules Football

Australian Rules Football draws some of the biggest crowds in the world, bringing in an average of 36,687 fans per game during the 2018 season. The clubs combined for $240 million in seating revenue, nearly a fourth of all total revenue.

The AFL collected $998.13 million ($720.25 million U.S. dollars) in 2017. Each team averaged about $55 million ($36.69 million U.S.) in revenue. The top teams, such as Collingwood Football Club and Hawthorne Football Club, brought in more than $70 million in revenue.

In 2015, the league signed a TV rights deal that runs from 2017 to 2022 worth $2.508 billion. The deal brings in $418 million a year, a 67 percent increase from the previous broadcasting rights deal. All matches except the AFL final are broadcast on Foxtel.

T.J. Mathewson is a junior journalism student at Arizona State University.

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How do basketball players go pro in different countries?

Jordan Brand Classic Away Team forward Darius Bazley (55) during the second half of the Jordan Brand Classic on April 8, 2018, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The NBA G-League recently announced a new option for potential NBA prospects coming out of high school, offering a select one-year $125,000 contract to “elite” prospects who can play in the G-League before they reach the minimum NBA draft age requirement of 19. These select contracts add a viable pro option to college for American players.

Giving male basketball players a route to a pro career without going to college is not unusual around the world. It could completely change the collegiate game.

The NBA has a number of players who reached the league through different routes, whether straight out of high school, through college or from the international ranks.

How have players in different countries turned pro?

UNITED STATES

Most American college basketball players want to play in the NBA. The number who actually do, however, is small.

According to the NCAA, just 1.2 percent of NCAA athletes make it to the NBA and just 0.03 percent of high school seniors that play basketball eventually get drafted by NBA franchises.

Under the NBA collective bargaining agreement (CBA) introduced in 2005, prospective players have to be at least 19 years old and one year removed from high school graduation for Americans to qualify for the NBA draft.

These players can spend a year in college and play college basketball. They can play in the G-League, play pro overseas or spend the year training.

A majority of American players choose to stay stateside and spend a year in school. The best players go to blue-chip programs such as Kansas, Duke and Kentucky. These schools offer top-of-the-line facilities, expert coaching and training staffs and a quality education.

With more than 97 million people in the U.S. and 180 countries worldwide tuning into the NCAA tournament, the college route is a high-profile option.

However, by NCAA rule, players cannot profit off their names or likeness in any way.

Darius Bazley, a former McDonald’s All-American and Syracuse commit, decided to skip college and accepted a shoe contract and “internship” at New Balance.

After decommitting, the 6-foot-9 forward signed with agent Rich Paul and Klutch Sports, who also represent NBA stars such as LeBron James, John Wall and Ben Simmons.

Bazley is guaranteed $1 million from his New Balance contract even if he never plays a minute in the NBA, and he can make up to $14 million if he achieves all of the incentives in the deal, which includes winning NBA rookie of the year honor, finals MVP award and being named an All-Star in each year of the deal.

Outside of training for the NBA draft in the June, Bazley is working with the New Balance marketing department and shoe design team.

Bazley had the option to play in the G-League, in which the maximum salary is $35,000 (prior to the new select $125,000 contracts for “elite” players being introduced). However, he will make more than 28 times as much by signing the deal with New Balance as opposed to playing in the G-League.

“There‘s just no upside for him (in the G-League),” Paul said about his client.

The G-League offers a higher level of competition then the NCAA, but that comes with drawbacks. The exposure is low, the venues are middling and there is a lack of access to top-flight gyms, nutritionists and everything else that is offered at top Division I schools.

Some players go overseas for a season. Terrance Ferguson, a former top-20 prospect and McDonald’s All-American in the 2016 class, backed off of his commitment to the University of Arizona in order to play overseas with the Adelaide 36ers of Australia’s National Basketball League. Ferguson appeared in 30 of 31 games for the 36ers, averaging 4.6 points and 1.2 rebounds in a little more than 15 minutes a game.

NBL teams have a soft salary cap of around $1.1 million (Australian dollars), and American imports make anywhere from $60,000-$100,000. Each NBL team can sign up to three American players.

After his season with the 36ers, Ferguson returned stateside and was selected 21st in the 2018 NBA Draft by the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The pioneer of skipping college to play overseas was former Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings. After being ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the country by both 247Sports and ESPN in 2008, Jennings, like Ferguson, backed off his commitment to the University of Arizona and decided to play in the EuroLeague instead.

Jennings signed with Pallacanestro Virtus Roma in the Italian Serie A, the highest level of pro basketball in Italy. The guard signed a three-year deal worth $1.65 million guaranteed, while pocketing a $2 million deal with Under Armour to showcase their apparel in Europe.

After a season full of ups and downs for Jennings, he returned to the U.S. after averaging 5.5 points, 1.6 rebound, 2.2 assists and 1.5 steals in 27 games. He was selected 10th in the 2009 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks.

SPAIN

The EuroLeague, which is the basketball equivalent of soccer’s Champions League, is the second-most popular basketball league in the world.

Liga ACB, the top-tier league in Spain, has much looser rules when it comes to players turning pro and entering the league.

Ricky Rubio of the Utah Jazz dribbles the ball against the Dallas Mavericks in November 2018. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)

In 2005, Ricky Rubio became the youngest player to make his Liga ACB debut when he played with DKV Joventut. Rubio was 14 years and 11 months old when he made his debut.

Rubio spent four years with Joventut until the 2009 season, when the Spanish guard was selected with the fifth pick in the 2009 NBA Draft.

With the rule in the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement preventing NBA teams from paying more than $500,000 toward a player’s buyout (which, for Rubio, was around $5.3 million at the time), Rubio was in a tough spot.

He stayed in Spain for two more more seasons, getting traded to FC Barcelona, which bought out his old contract (there were no restrictions for other Liga ACB teams) and signed him to a new six-year deal.

There was, however, an NBA clause in his contract after the 2010-11 season for a $1.4 million buyout.

After winning a EuroLeague championship in 2010 and a Liga ACB championship in 2011, Rubio joined the Minnesota Timberwolves ahead of the 2011-12 NBA season.

SLOVENIA

Luka Doncic was pretty much destined to play basketball from the start. Born to former Slovenian and EuroLeague basketball player Sasa Doncic, Luka seemed different from the other kids his age.

Doncic started playing organized basketball at age 7. When his father, Sasa, joined Union Olimpija a year later, Luka went with him and was invited to practice with the Olimpija basketball school team with kids his age.

Within 16 minutes of practice, Doncic was moved up to play with kids three to four years older, and he was added to the Olimpija selection team.

Doncic spent the next six seasons with the Slovenian club until September 2012, when, at age 13, Doncic joined Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid’s under-16 team.

At 16, Doncic joined the professional team in the Liga ACB. He became the youngest player in Real Madrid history to play in Liga ACB and the third-youngest player in league history.

In the 2017-18 season, at age 18, Doncic became the youngest player to earn the EuroLeague MVP honor after leading Real Madrid to EuroLeague finals victory.  

After the season, Doncic declared for the 2018 NBA Draft and was selected third by the Atlanta Hawks, although he was subsequently traded to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for former Oklahoma star guard Trae Young.

FRANCE

France is rich with basketball lore; it is home to the oldest basketball court in the world. Tony Parker, Boris Diaw, Rudy Gobert and Nicolas Batum are among the Frenchmen who have played in the NBA in just the past decade.

Frank Ntilikina is the most recent French player to jump to the NBA, getting drafted eighth by the New York Knicks in the 2018. Trying to follow the footsteps of Ntilikina is top 2019 draft prospect Sekou Doumbouya.

After being born in Guinea and moving to France at the age of 1, Doumbouya didn’t pick up a basketball until he was 12.

After joining the French National Institute of Sport, Expertise and Performance (INSEP) at age 14 and training for two years, Doumbouya signed his first pro contract with Poitiers Basket 86, a pro team that competes in the French Pro B league.

The French forward jumped leagues the following year, joining Limoges Cercle Saint-Pierre, a member of LNB Pro A, the top-tier league in France, to prepare himself for the NBA.

Doumbouya is a projected top-five pick in the 2019 draft.

CROATIA/YUGOSLAVIA

Despite having a population of 4.15 million, Croatia has been a hotbed for NBA talent, producing Dario Saric, Toni Kukoc and Bojan Bogdanovic among others.

None might be more influential than former New Jersey Nets guard Drazen Petrovic. The Croatian guard was considered a “pioneer” for European guards heading to the NBA by Petrovic’s childhood friend and current coach of Israeli EuroLeague team Maccabi Tel Aviv, Neven Spahija, as well as former NBA commissioner David Stern.

Before Petrovic came to the NBA in 1989, European guards were few and far between. When Petrovich came to the states, despite his dazzling numbers in the EuroLeague, he was an unknown quantity.

Petrovic began his basketball career at 13, playing for his hometown club team, KK Sibenik (or Sibenka), in Yugoslavia, and he made the professional team by age 15.

KK Sibenik was a member for the former Yugoslav First Basketball League, a league that disbanded with the breakup of Yugoslavia.

After Sibenik, Petrovic moved to former Yugoslav League and current Croatia League member KK Cibona. In his first year with the club, Petrovic led Cibona to the Yugoslav League championship and the club’s first European Cup.

In 1986, the Portland Trail Blazers spent their third-round pick on Petrovic, but the then-22-year-old guard decided to stay in Europe. A year later, he signed with Spanish power Real Madrid.

After a second-place finish in the Liga ACB and more impressive scoring numbers, Petrovic moved to America and joined the Portland Trail Blazers for the 1989-90 season.

TJ Mathewson is a junior journalism student at Arizona State University.

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