Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday sports page 

[] Having fumbled health care reform out of bounds, Obama's next play call is safely to the populist center of the field, sending the Justice Department out to tackle college football's Bowl Championship Series.

In a letter sent to Senator Orin Hatch of Utah -- who was upset that his undefeated University of Utah team didn't make the BCS last year (and who is a Republican, making this a fully bipartisan call) -- the Department writes...
"The administration shares your belief that the current lack of a college football national championship playoff with respect to the highest division of college football ... raises important questions affecting millions of fans, colleges and universities, players and other interested parties"... [AP]
So our nations' political leaders want to spend their efforts on college football, rather than on anything that matters. Every time I think how bad that is, I think it might be good.

[] Passing the time waiting for the Super Bowl to arrive, Football Outsiders is presenting a new "stat of the day" ... daily! For instance: the most unbalanced NFL teams in the last 17 years (as far back as their play-by-play data go):
Entirely Defense: 1998 San Diego Chargers, 2nd on defense, 30th on offense. With Ryan Leaf as your quarterback you can go 5-11 with the second-best defense in the league.

Entirely Offense: 2008 Denver Broncos, 2nd on offense, 31st on defense. This year, 2009, the Broncos hired Dick Nolan as their new defensive coordinator, he improved them to #7 -- the second greatest one-year improvement by any defense in those 17 years -- and they fired him.

Entirely Special Teams: 2005 Buffalo Bills, 1st on special teams, 30th on offense, 26th on defense. It was lonely out there on that punt coverage squad.

[] More on randomness in baseball pitching results. Data from "Pitch f/x cameras", which record the nature and location of every pitch in a game, indicate that pitchers throw as well when getting shelled by batters as when shutting them down.

Yes, some pitchers are better than others, as their full-season records show. But after the ball leaves the mound all the results come from the batter, umpire, fielders, and the luck of the bounce of the ball off the bat and around the field -- producing big random variance in results by inning and game.

(Oddly, fans seem to recognize the influence of luck with batters but not pitchers. If a batter goes 5 for 5, it's "his lucky day" -- nobody expects him to continue like that. But if a pitcher gives up 5 hits in a row, it's "get him out now, he's got nothing", everyone thinks he will continue that way. )

Phil Birnbaum expounds and links to the original research.

[] Have baseball's last 15 years really been "the era of the steroid-powered home run"? Maybe not so much.

[] Is Title IX hurting women's college sports?

The argument: Too many scholarships are given out to women relative to the level of talent. Women actually receive more scholarships than men -- for instance, in NCAA basketball there are 9,285 scholarships for women to only 7,177 for men; women's college teams have 15 scholarships, men's teams only 13 -- even though at the high school level only about 40% of athletes are women.

With a smaller pool of talented players and yet a larger number of scholarships per team, the few best women's college teams are able grab all the best players, while the talent is much more evenly spread out among men's teams.

Result: The University of Connecticut's women's basketball team has been ranked #1 for 18 months while winning 58 straight games -- during which time more than a dozen men's teams have risen to and fallen from the #1 ranking. And it is even worse in other sports. The longest undefeated streak in men's soccer is the University of Indiana's 46 games. In women's soccer, North Carolina set a record 103-game streak, then lost one, then went on another 101-game streak.

Do you know what they call a sport in which the general quality of play is poor, and a just few teams win everything in sight? "Boring." "Unpopular." "Unattended."

[] So this week we were able to see more of the NBA's Greg Ogden than the world needed to see. The old cell phone picture admiring one's full-frontal self while stepping out of the shower, then transmitted to a impress a "friend", and winding up on the web. (No, I'm not providing the link, my mother might read this.)

These kid pro athletes today make so much money that they now have professional personal business managers, personal trainers, personal nutritionists, and so on, all to protect their careers. Maybe they should start hiring professional personal stand-in Dads to smack 'em in the head when they are about to do something stupid.