Archive | Sports and Games

Politics and Poker — er, I mean, Soccer

Nate Silver — the fellow who built FiveThirtyEight.com into one of the more successful and sophisticated predictive electoral sites on the Web, and who was remarkably prescient in his electoral vote predictions in the 2008 Presidential election — has now cast his net over more profound and important prey: the world of international soccer. As soccer fans are well aware, the “official” rankings of the world’s national teams, prepared by FIFA, are, and have always been, absurd — widely discounted and often derided by serious fans everywhere. [A few years back, for example, the US team was ranked fourth (!!) in the world – and the current FIFA rankings have such oddities as Croatia at #8, USA at #11, and Switzerland at #13). Working with espn.com, Silver has devised the “Soccer Power Index” as a new predictive tool (just ahead, of course, of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa). Soccer’s a tough game to handicap in the best of circumstances, and I haven’t had much of a chance to study Silver’s lengthy explanations of his new algorithms – but Silver’s track record is too good to ignore, and if I were a betting man I’d certainly want to take a good long look at what he’s come up with. [...]

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It Was Only a Matter of Time:

I actually discussed this idea many years ago, but never went any further than that, and now Josh Blackman has set it up: a fantasy league based on the future dispositions of Supreme Court cases! The basic rules:

For each case on which the Supreme Court grants cert, points are allocated for

* The Outcome: Affirm or Reverse the lower Court. You will receive 1 point for predicting the outcome correctly.
* The Split: 5/4, 6/3, 7/2, 8/1, 9/0, or 4-1-4 , or Fragmented (no discernible majority opinion). You will receive 3 points for predicting the split.
* Which Justices are in the Majority and which are in the Minority. You will receive 1 point for each Justice correctly guessed. No points for recusals.

Looks like fun – and who doesn’t need more ways to waste time playing games?

[Thanks to Micah Shender for the link] [...]

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A Win for Michael Vick

Yesterday, the U.S Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed a district court ruling that NFL quarterback and one-time dog abuser Michael Vick is entitled to keep some $16 million in roster bonuses from the Atlanta Falcons.  The opinion is here. (HT: How Appealing)  Now if only Vick’s new team, the Philadelphia Eagles, had been able to win last Sunday against Dallas . . . [...]

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A Massive Dollop of Corporate Welfare for the New York Yankees

Matt Welch, editor in chief of Reason, takes up an issue that I have written about on numerous occasions: the inexcusable gargantuan public subsidies for the New York Yankees’ new stadium:

This year the Yankees moved into a new stadium. According to baseball economist Neil deMause of the excellent Field of Schemes website, the facility cost a stunning $1.56 billion, and the total project (including replacing 22-acres of parkland that had been destroyed by the construction) totaled $2.31 billion [pdf]. Both figures are all-time records in the history of sports stadia. “Of that,” deMause estimates, “the public—city, state, and federal taxpayers—are now covering just shy of $1.2 billion, by far the largest stadium subsidy ever…..”

To sum up: The most successful, most opulent, and most hated baseball franchise in North America, widely known as “the Evil Empire,” receives an unprecedented amount of government giveaways in a time of recession and government budget-squeezes, with which it increases its already sizeable revenue advantage, partly by charging ticket prices that only the rich can afford. With all that dough safely pocketed, the team then shells out $423 million in free agent contracts for just three players, who help vault them back into the League Championship Series for the first time since 2004.

For my own earlier posts on the Yankee Stadium subsidies, see here, here, here, here, and here.

As a fan of the rival Boston Red Sox, I am definitely biased against the Evil Empire of the Bronx. However, as I pointed out in my very first post on this subject, I am just as vehemently opposed to similar subsidies for Boston teams. For example, I was against various proposals to use public funds to build the Red Sox a new stadium that were [...]

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Getting it Right

As I’m settling in to watch some more fabulous Champions League soccer tonight (and for those of you who know what I’m talking about, if you have a chance to see replays of yesterday’s Arsenal-Olympiakos and/or Barcelona-Kiev games, don’t pass it up; spectacular stuff, that) it occurs to me that nothing about soccer is more extraordinary, or goes further to define the difference between America’s sports (American football, baseball, basketball) and the Rest of the World’s Sport, than this:  in a good healthy weekend’s dose of soccer-watching (say, 3 or 4 games), you will see, guaranteed, anywhere from a half-dozen to twenty incorrect offside calls.  Not “possibly wrong” or “arguably wrong,” or “judgment-call wrong” — just wrong, plain and simple, as shown on the slow-motion replays.  A study published in Nature several years ago confirmed what every soccer fan knows – the linesmen get a lot (around 20%) of the offside calls wrong.

Now, for those of you who don’t watch a lot of soccer, the interesting thing about that fact is this: this is not at all like, say, a blown “offside” call in American football, or a blown call at 2d base in baseball. Offside calls are very, very often game-changing (and you can easily have a game with 4 or 5 potentially game-changing blown calls). The offside flag, as often as not, takes away a clear goal-scoring chance, frequently a spectacular goal-scoring chance, from the attacking team, in a game in which one or two goals almost always is the margin of victory. It’s as though football referees routinely blew 20% of field goal calls, or baseball umpires routinely screwed up 20% of home run calls.

And the really extraordinary thing is: it’s not going to get fixed anytime soon, or ever. Nobody is proposing video replay [...]

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