Tuesday, March 16, 2010

USA! USA! Chanted by Brits in the UK

I report on the following since it was likely under the radar of most sports fans in the U.S.

A little over a week ago in the Barclay's Premier League match between Everton and Hull City, Landon Donovan came off the bench in the second half, scored one goal and set up another one. He has been on loan for the past 10 weeks and is now leaving Everton to return to the LA Galaxy. After his performance again Hull City, Everton fans began chanting "USA! USA!..." to show their thanks to Donovan.

Now, many of you know that I am not one that likes the "USA!" chants that spring up at the Olympics or other international competitions since they usually strike me as a manifestation of blind nationalism. But this chant was a sign of respect for an American player in the place that invented soccer.

For once the "USA! USA!" chant was classy.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Dancing is to Sport as Politics is to Science...

From Scott:

I attended a youth dance competition yesterday and the big banner draped across the Marriott Center was "Dance Sport."

There seems to be a prestige attached to the concept of "sport" that marginal athletic activities are trying to tap into. Kind of like the word "Science" in academic disciplines: where the word needs to be used we can suspect little of the substance advertised.

Will we soon see: Curling Sport, Figure Skating Sport, Bowling Sport ?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Celtics vs. Lakers in the 80s and Race

Today, I was struck by an editorial by ESPN.com journalist Howard Bryant, an African-American who grew up in Boston's violent civil rights crucible of Dorchester when racial tensions were at their peak. His take on the new HBO documentary based on the Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird rivalry: race is the dog that didn't bark. Very interesting and well-written piece; read here.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Nestle and Jenny Craig: Making Money on Both Ends

I was reading the French newspaper Le Figaro this morning and came across an article outlining Nestle's attempt to get into the weight loss market in France. "Nestle is trying to break into the overweight market with a weight control program personalized for Jenny Craig clients." Here's the link to Jenny Craig in France.

It is troubling that Nestle, who may contribute as much as McDonalds to obesity, is making money via weight loss plans for the very people to whom they vigorously market Baby Ruths and Gobstoppers.

I suspect they are better at fattening us up than at slimming us down.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Luge = Skill; Baseball = Luck?

From guest contributor Sven Wilson:

I had the question of whether the very small differences that separate winning scores from non-winning scores in events like luge are due to randomness or skill? My hypothesis going in was randomness.

However, I got data for the men’s luge on all four runs in the Vancouver games. Using a simple variance-decomposition model, 75% of the variation in run time across the four runs is due to differences between riders and only 25% is due to variation within riders. What that statistical jargon means, essentially, is the 75% of the total variation in run times is due to skill (or possibly equipment), and 25% due to random noise. I was shocked by this. Fortunately, we happened to be talking about just this type of analysis in one of my classes, so I was able to justify spending time on this for legitimate pedagogical purposes.

How well do you think this analysis would hold across other sports? I have argued for some time that in baseball, most of the observed variability is just randomness. In MLB, really good hitters have a .300 percentage and not very good hitters have a .200 percentage. What this means is that for a given at-bat, whether or not a hitter gets on base is mostly determined by the random component, not the skill component. (Note, this is comparing major leaguers to each other, not to ordinary people—in which case the skill component would be relatively more important).

Sven E. Wilson, Associate Professor of Public Policy, Brigham Young University