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.  

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.

The Cost of Booing

From a reader who goes by grunzen:

I heard you talk about booing in your podcast and you mentioned Santa Claus getting booed by Philadelphia's notorious "boo birds."  I think I can do you one better.  In ESPN's "30 for 30" documentary on the Baltimore Colts marching band [The Band That Wouldn't Die, directed by Barry Levinson], they mention how they were going to take the field before a Philadelphia Eagles game and that they were scared.  This was because just prior to that, they had booed a little kid that had missed four passes in a contest.  Now I can kind of understand booing some scraggly, disheveled Santa Claus (they mention this in the documentary).  But a little kid in a contest?  That's the most extreme booing story I've heard.

It Really Is All About the Players

Economists are often asked – and perhaps, just as often just volunteer – to make predictions. This is odd, since – as the old joke goes – economists only seem to exist to make meteorologists look good.  In other words, economists often get their guesses about the future wrong.

Given this tendency, I always like to note when I get a prediction right (and it has actually happened before).  And prior to the Olympics, I did predict that the U.S. would win the gold medal in men’s basketball.  And on Sunday, that prediction came true.

Okay, that wasn’t much of a prediction (did anyone predict that wouldn’t happen?).  And despite the lack of challenge with respect to this prediction, I also heavily qualified my original forecast. Nevertheless, I did make something that could be called a prediction.  And it was right.  So that means something!

Woulda, Coulda, and the Real Story Behind the Redeem Team

ESPN.com recently offered a somewhat confusing article comparing the 2012 U.S. Men’s Olympic basketball team to the 1992 Dream Team.  The headline of the article – "LeBron: We Would Beat Dream Team" – makes it clear that LeBron James believes the 2012 team would defeat the 1992 Dream Team. 

The first line of the story, though, makes a somewhat different claim: “LeBron James has joined Kobe Bryant in saying that he believes this year's Team USA Olympic men's basketball team could beat the 1992 Dream Team.”

And then further in the article, we see...

James's comments echoed those of Bryant, who two weeks ago made a similar proclamation.

"It would be a tough one, but I think we would pull it out," Bryant said at a news conference. "People who think we can't beat that team for one game, they are crazy. To sit there and say we can't, it's ludicrous. We can beat them one time."

Bryant appeared to soften those comments a bit Friday, telling reporters, "I didn't say we were a better team. But if you think we can't beat that team one time? Like I'm going to say no, that we'd never beat them.

"They are a better team. The question was 'Can we beat them?' Yes we can. Of course we can."

Michael Jordan, the Bobcats, and Running the Lottery Treadmill

The Charlotte Bobcats came into existence in 2004.  At the conclusion of the next five seasons, the Bobcats finished out of the playoffs and hence earned a trip to the NBA’s lottery.  

After all of these lottery picks, the Bobcats finally made the playoffs in 2010.  That Bobcat team – the best in franchise history – only won 44 games and failed to win a playoff game.  Nevertheless, this squad was the highlight in the brief history of this team. 

Two short years after this epic campaign (epic by Bobcat standards), Charlotte has posted the worst season in franchise history.  In fact, with a winning percentage of only 0.106, the 2011-12 Bobcats were the worst team in NBA history.

If we look at what happened to Charlotte’s roster, it is easy to see why this team became so bad so quickly.  Back in 2009-10 the Bobcats were led by the following players (Wins Produced numbers taken from theNBAGeek.com, explanation of Wins Produced offered here): Gerald Wallace, Raymond Felton, Boris Diaw, Stephen Jackson, Nazr Mohammed, and Tyson Chandler.   

Are Voters Just Rooting for Clothes?

Matthew Yglesias recently noted that the very rich are unhappy with President Obama because he would like to increase the taxes on the very rich.  Although this might be true, the number of people unhappy with Obama exceeds the number of people who comprise the very rich.  So why are many of the non-rich unhappy with Obama?  And why are so many other people quite happy with our current president? 

Perhaps the answer is similar to a story frequently told about sports fans.

Back in the early 1990s, a friend of mine declared his hatred of Charles Barkley.  At the time, Sir Charles was an All-Star for the Philadelphia 76ers.  Sometime after this declaration, though, Barkley was traded to the Phoenix Suns.  As a fan of the Suns, my friend changed his tune.  With Sir Charles in Phoenix, my friend was now a fan of Barkley.

More recently, LeBron James was an extremely popular athlete in Cleveland.  But when he changed his uniform to something from Miami, his popularity in Ohio plummeted.  

These stories are not uncommon among sports fans.  In fact, Jerry Seinfeld once observed that fans who behave like this are essentially “rooting for clothes.”