The John M. Olin Center

Paper Abstract

819. Alma Cohen, Nadav Levy & Roy Sasson, Termination Risk and Agency Problems: Evidence from the NBA, 04/2015.

Abstract: When agents face a risk of termination by the principal in the short term, they may under-invest in projects whose results would be realized only in the long term. We use data on decisions made by NBA coaches to study how risk of termination by the principal affects the behavior of agents. Because letting a rookie play produces long-term benefits on which coaches with a shorter investment horizon might place lower weight, we hypothesize that higher termination risk might lead to lower rookie participation. Consistent with this hypothesis, we find that, during the period of the NBA’s 1999 collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and controlling for the characteristics of rookies and their teams, higher termination risk was associated with lower rookie participation and that this association was driven by important games. We also find that the association does not exist for second-year players and that the identified association disappeared when the 2005 CBA gave team owners stronger incentives to monitor the performance of rookies and preclude their underuse.

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