Archives for Sports



A Former NBA Coach Argues That Coaches Are Not Responsible for Outcomes

The coaching carousel continues to spin in the NBA.  In recent days, the Los Angeles Clippers – coming off the best season in franchise history – have decided not to bring back Vinny Del Negro as head coach.  The Phoenix Suns — coming off their worst season since they were in expansion team in the late 1960s – have decided to turn to Jeff Hornacek to lead their team back to respectability.   And the Atlanta Hawks – who were essentially average this last season – have turned to Mike Budenholzer to lead the team next year.

These are hardly the only teams to make a change.  Since the end of the 2012-13 NBA season, the Brooklyn Nets, Charlotte Bobcats, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, and Philadelphia 76ers have all decided that the person who coached the team at the end of this past season shouldn’t be around for the next season. In all, at least nine of the 30 NBA teams will have a new coach next year. 

These changes – as I have argued before –will probably not make much difference.   A study published in the International Journal of Sport Finance (full PDF here) – which I conducted with Mike Leeds, Eva Marikova Leeds, and Mike Mondello – found that most NBA coaches across a sample covering 30 years did not have a statistically significant impact on player productivity. And in other sports, we also have evidence that coaches cannot systematically change outcomes. Read More »



Seattle Is Frustrated By the NBA’s Command Economy

For 41 years, the city of Seattle enjoyed NBA basketball.  And then the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder.

Across the past year, though, there was hope that the NBA was returning to the Emerald City.  Sure the team was the Kings, a team that has lost at least 65 percent of their regular season games in each of the past five seasons. But if the Kings came to Seattle, other NBA teams would have to come as well (hey, the Kings-SuperSonics have to play someone).  And since the prospective owners (a group led by Chris Hansen) of the “Seattle Kings-Supersonics” offered a purchase price equivalent to an enterprise value of $625 million – more than anyone else (and more than anyone has ever offered for an NBA team) – it seemed likely that in a market economy (where the highest bidder tends to get the product) that the NBA was coming back to Seattle.

Unfortunately, Seattle learned this past week that the NBA doesn’t quite follow the rules of a market economy.  For Seattle to get the Kings, the other 29 owners had to approve the deal.  And when the dust settled, a majority of those owners thought an inferior bid from another group that wanted to keep the team in Sacramento was preferred.  Consequently, Seattle has been frustrated again. Read More »



Would This Really Be a Good Podcast Episode?

Andrew Francis from Madison, Alabama, writes to say:

I have what I think is a great idea for a podcast episode. I play and am a huge fan of ultimate (ultimate frisbee to most people, but Frisbee is technically a copyright of Wham-O). The sport is the perfect place for an experiment. In all games, there are no referees actively making every call. Players call all their own fouls and settle disputes between themselves on the field. If someone makes a bad call, you can argue it all you want to. If they stick with their call after the discussion and the parties can’t agree, ultimate has what I like to call the “magical do-over” that no other sport has. The disc just goes back to the person who had it prior to whatever infraction was called, and you begin play from that spot. 

In the major club and college tournaments (and now filtering down into the low-mid level tournaments), the use of observers (see the USAU definition) has become a common place. Players still call the majority of infractions, but when two players don’t agree on a call, the observers will step in and make a ruling.

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Why Doesn’t the Government Fix Sporting Events?

This blog has clever readers. One of them, Corey Forbes, writes in to say:

We know that point shaving, game throwing, match fixing and referee scandals have existed in professional and college sports since as long ago as the 1919 Chicago White Sox. Knowing this, why doesn’t the U.S. Government just fix a sporting event(s) to pay off its debts … or are they doing this already?

I love the “or are they doing this already?”

Anyway: why not indeed (other than the potential p.r. and financial disasters)?



The Real Jerk in Pittsburgh

In our “Legacy of a Jerk” podcast, we told a story about how Roberto Clemente‘s earthly reputation was burnished forever by his saintly death. It wasn’t that Clemente was a jerk — far from it — but the story emphasized how a certain kind of death can smooth out the rougher parts of a person’s reputation.

So I read with interest this fantastic ESPN article by Kevin Guilfoile about the bat that Clemente used to get his 3,000th hit. Guilfoile writes about the time he spent as an intern working for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Clemente’s old team, and his interactions with the Pirates’ rising star Barry Bonds. If we ever make a sequel to “Legacy of a Jerk,” we should probably talk about Bonds and to what degree his damaged reputation — as a reputed long-time steroid user — is a product of his personality:

Barry wasn’t the kind of jerk who was nice to people only when he needed something from them. As far as I could tell, Barry was pretty much an ass to everybody all the time. Instead of berating me directly or just ignoring me, Barry would sometimes talk about me like I wasn’t there. Sometimes he would tell Bobby Bonilla, who had the locker next to him, that I was lying to them and these autographs weren’t for fans and that I was just selling these pictures to professional dealers, that I was another no-talent white man exploiting black men who possessed real ability.



Is the Analytics Revolution Coming to Football?

In the New Republic, Nate Cohn explores the small but growing role of advanced statistics in football. Projects like Football Freakonomics notwithstanding, the NFL isn’t usually thought of as a realm where stats hold all that much sway, in part because the game is so much more of a complex-dynamic system than, say, baseball. Here’s Cohn on one big change fans might notice if more coaches start relying on statistics:

The one place where fans could see analytics at work is in play calling, which also happens to be the place where analytics could impact the average fan’s experience of the game. The numbers suggest, for instance, that teams should be aggressive on fourth down, and that it’s better to go for first down with a lead in a game’s final minutes than to run the ball on third down to run out the clock. Yet even the teams with well-regarded analytics departments, including San Francisco and Baltimore, largely adhere to a conservative and traditional play calling approach: the coaches “just aren’t listening to them yet,” [Brian] Burke says. And the few coaches with a reputation for following the statistics, like New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, aren’t even close to as aggressive as the numbers would advise.  

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Healthier Seniors, Higher Ski Prices?

My son, who does downhill skiing, noticed that the resort he usually visits has changed its pricing policy. It used to offer free lift tickets to skiers ages 70+; now it only gives them a 20 percent discount off the regular rates. This change makes sense. My guess is that in times past, fewer older seniors even thought of skiing; and those few who did were somewhat marginal—had a fairly high demand elasticity. Today’s older seniors are healthier, have more skiing experience, and thus probably have a lower demand elasticity. It thus makes sense for the resort to reduce the extent of discrimination favoring old folks in its pricing scheme. (HT: MAH)



Is Changing the Coach Really the Answer?

Much of the focus today on college football is on the teams at the top.  Will Notre Dame win the national title and finish undefeated? Can Alabama win another championship?  Then there are the 34 other bowl games.  In all, 70 teams have an opportunity to finish the year as a winner.

For those without this opportunity, though, this past season was a disappointment.  For these “losers,” the focus these past few weeks has been strictly on preparing for the next season.  And part of that preparation appears to be changing the head coach.

Already, at least 25 schools have announced that the head coach from 2012 will not be on the sideline in 2013.  For some, this is because a successful team lost their coach to another program.  In many instances, though, teams have asked a coach to depart in the hope that someone else will alter their team’s fortunes. Read More »