Ran across a recent piece on the evolution of Jason Garrett’s playing calling by Jonathan Bales of DC Times (an analytics based blog on the Dallas Cowboys and the NFL).
When I first began studying Jason Garrett’s play-calling in 2009, perhaps his most blatant tendency was allowing previous play-calls to dictate his current ones. That was particularly true on second down, when Garrett would often run if he had passed on first down and pass if he had run. The thinking, in all likelihood, was to “mix it up” in order to keep the defense guessing. In attempting to randomize his play-calling, however, Garrett was quite ironically becoming extremely predictable. You can consult my previous studies of Garrett’s second-down calls to see just how predictable he had become.
This harmonizes with an NBER paper by Kenneth Kovash and Steve Levitt on a wide set of pitch data from MLB and play calling from the NFL. Rather than well mixed plans, they find evidence of correlation from one decision to the next. However, Bales finds that from 2010 onward, Garrett’s play calls across plays have become randomized better:
To Garrett’s credit (or perhaps more so to the credit of the analytics team the Cowboys brought in after that season), the coach’s second-down play-calling improved dramatically in 2010. It’s been above-average ever since.
Analytics becomes information not only about the other team but about one’s own behavior that can improve behavior.
The lament of the hockey fan (and fans of other sports) whose favorite league and its union finally reached an agreement that many thought would have been reached in similar form a long time ago. What took so long? What idiots! Billionaires fighting with millionaires. The fans get hosed. Grumble grumble. Dagnabbit dangblabbit!!
In an article about Don and Steve Fehr, Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star gives us a general reason that any labor economist will recognize as a key finding in the academic research on why labor disputes occur.
“They’re (the players – Phil) impossible not to like,” he says. “They’re impossible not to respect.”
The feeling is mutual, especially after Fehr called what showed to be a management bluff in December and helped strengthen the union. Players like Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference have called hiring Fehr the smartest thing they’ve ever done. Together, the Fehrs and players navigated a tense negotiation that at times threatened another NHL season — seven years ago, long before the Fehrs were involved, the league canceled an entire season — but ended with a deal that most neutral observers see as a victory for the players.
What Mellinger notes is that the dispute went on so long because of asymmetric information. One side (or both sides) has information that the other side doesn’t have, but that the other side would like to have. Since a labor dispute, be it a lockout or a strike, imposes costs on both sides, one way to get that private information revealed is by letting negotiations go to dispute.
In any event, the players’ union was weakened considerably in the lockout of 2004-05, and they eventually fired their union head. They needed to bring in a union head who could bring strengthen the union and try to even things out with the owners. They got that with the Fehr brothers.
Nobel laureate James Buchanan has died at the age of 93. Well known for his work on public choice, he also developed a model of clubs that can help us sports economists understand the working of sports leagues and college conferences. I did just that in this post from a couple of years ago when college conference realignment was just getting revved up.
Sports leagues can be thought of as clubs. To enter any club, permission must be obtained from the incumbents, which means a sufficient number of them must be made better off by the entrant. Similarly, the entrant has to be made better off by joining the club. If it is mutually-beneficial, we’ll see entry into the club.
Buchanan helped us understand that people working together are still primarily motivated by self-interest, and his insights enriched the discipline. RIP James Buchanan.
This afternoon, MLB.com posted the results of this year’s Hall of Fame balloting. This has been an ongoing interest of mine partly because of the hotly debated views on steroid use on TSE as well as the lingering question as to how much people (fans, media, …) care about steroid use. I don’t know that HOF voters reflect fan interest all that closely, but the HOF voters care about the taint of steroids. Two players who were at one time certain first balloters, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, both received about 36 percent (I would like to know who voted for one and not the other) or less than half of the 75% needed for induction.
- Bashing but without the gaudy numbers of Bonds or McGwire paid off. The Astros’ Baggio and Bagwell led position playes with 68% and 59%. What’s tough in the steroid era is telling users from non-users. These two players, who I liked a lot, didn’t put up the 60+ homer years to draw extra attention, but, then again, there numbers may have been inflated relative to their performance, if they did use.
- The percentages for Bonds and Clemens while far below the HOF entrance threshold points to some conflicted voters. Mark McGwire collected only 17% and Rafael Palmeiro garnered less than 9%. So, several voters inked in Bonds and Clemens who did not these other players. Possibly, that might relate to the high level of their performances before steroid use is suspected to have become widespread.
- Will voters soften? They haven’t on McGwire who originally pulled 23.6%. On the other hand, this year may have been an especially untimely year for steroid-tainted players given the negative publicity from the Lance Armstrong suspension.
TSE readers know that we here at TSE roll our eyes at economic impact claims regarding sports and economic development. So when I saw that the governor of Pennsylvania was filing suit against the NCAA regarding the sanctions handed down on Penn State, I raised an eyebrow Spock-wise.
The projected loss to the state’s economy combined with the hit to Penn State’s prestige are the basis for Gov. Tom Corbett’s lawsuit to have the sanctions, including a $60 million fine and a four-year ban from lucrative postseason bowl games, thrown out.
Legal and strategic questions notwithstanding, we’re talking about an entire state here. I imagine that the vast majority of people who go to Penn State football games live in the state of Pennsylvania, meaning that the vast majority of dollars spent on Penn State football would have been spent elsewhere in the state if Penn State didn’t have a football program. If the Penn State football program didn’t exist, how much smaller would the Pennsylvania economy be? Not much if any.
The impact of the sanctions is even smaller because the sanctions won’t cause the football program to go completely belly up. There are lots of dents in the NCAA’s armor that we can point to, but sanctions harming a state economy is not one of them.
In everyday usage “technological change” often references changes to machinery of some sort. Among economists, the term refers to changes in the methods of production, “know how,” in whatever form. Over fifty years ago, Zvi Griliches published his article “Hybrid Corn: An Exploration in the Economics of Technological Change” in Econometrica, showing how across a variety of states the acreage planted with hybrid seed took over. The expansion, however, did not all occur at once. Instead, it started slowly in each state with few adopters, then gained steam, and finally won over even the die-hards resulting in an “S-shaped” curve depicting the growth in its use. This picture describes the diffusion of most any technological change whether a new corn seed, a new tractor implement, or black players on Major League teams.
Of course, some innovations do not enhance production and never go beyond a few experimenters. In the early stages of use, it’s difficult to distinguish between crazy ideas and brilliant ideas. Almost any new idea will draw vocal detractors, sometimes among people of respect and insight.
A few years back, someone as insightful in football wisdom as Bill Belichick said, in effect, that the “option” is not a viable part of offensive strategy in the NFL. This kind of statement, or one generalizing beyond the option to any planned running by QBs, has been repeated ad nauseum. As more and more teams, some very successful, adopt the strategy, it’s looking less crazy and more brilliant.
When Michael Vick ran option-based running plays, and then Vince Young, these were viewed as concessions to their relative weaknesses as passers. Their success was waved off as short term. Then Tim Tebow comes along and the naysayers kicked into full voice — this guy can’t even throw very well, he’s an abomination to our dictum. The trouble is that success (along with an increasing supply of QBs who can run and throw), breeds imitation (Griliches’ S-curve). Now, we have Colin Kaepernick (49ers), Robert Griffin III (Redskins), Cam Newton (Panthers), and others regularly combining planned runs (including “read options”) and winning (at least Kaepernick and Griffin). They are the new golden boys. Everybody needs an RGIII. Of course, supposed learned commentators like Steve Young, Trent Dilfer, and Steve Mariucci continue to fall back on their dictum, at least for the long term, but I’m not buying it. The expansion is on.
One key difference between sports and agriculture, however, is that one particular technology doesn’t necessarily swamp all others. Rules do favor passing. Successful teams for many years have employed skilled passers with ever-increasingly complex passing schemes. The trouble is that not everyone can draft a Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. The ground in Iowa and the ground in Kentucky may both be receptive to hybrid corn seed, but the same passing scheme that works in New England or Denver isn’t going to work nearly as well in some other place because a key input, the QB, does not have the skills of Brady or Manning. Yet, coach after coach, GM after GM, analyst after analyst seems determined that only QBs who try to exactly imitate them (but, inevitably do so poorly) land starting jobs. Instead, QBs with some but not currently (or maybe ever) the passing skill of Brady or Manning but much more running skill can be much more successful using an offensive scheme that utilizes those running skills.
Maybe Tim Tebow’s passing skills are not up to some threshold needed for lasting success but Robert Griffin put up Tebow-like passing numbers Sunday night, but the Redskins still won the game (and scored 28 points). An important contribution of the QB running threat extends beyond his yards gained as a runner. Just as with Tebow in last year’s playoff game with Pittsburgh, Griffin’s running threat opens up running opportunities for the running backs. The Skins’ Alfred Morris gained 200 yards Sunday night, benefiting from Griffin’s threat. Even Griffin, who had a modest night passing, hit a few key post patterns that were much easier connections because Cowboy linebackers were drawn in by running fakes just as Steelers were during the game last year and, particularly, on the game winning pass play in overtime. The “interaction” effects between running and passing abilities of QBs not just on their own passing numbers but on yards gained by other runners are frequently overlooked by the analyst crowd.
Belichick’s skepticism arose, in part, because of the size of NFL defenders and the threat to QB health. After all, RGIII banged up his knee a few weeks back. Whether QBs are safer or less safe out of the pocket or running up field is an empirical issue. With the high rate of QB injury among guys who aren’t trying to run upfield, and given the “slide” option for upfield running QBs, I’m not so sure that sitting in or near the pocket is really safer.
Disclaimer: The shooting of schoolchildren is a serious and disturbing event, creating strong emotional response. The connections to media coverage of sporting events explored here are not meant to trivialize those killings or find an “equivalency” of minor infractions with murder. Instead, the purpose is to explore motives and incentives.
In “The Medium is the Motive” the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto goes beyond the Second Amendment issues related to the tools of mass killings to discuss the First Amendment issues regarding motives or incentives. He quotes the Washington Post with “He [the killer] will long be remembered.”
That suggests a fairly simple answer to the vexing question of why people do things like this: They do it for recognition … To suggest such a banal motive is neither to diminish the evil of the crime nor to deny that the killer was mentally ill. Ordinary motives–money, jealousy, revenge, pride–can lead insane people to do monstrous things … Our point here is that the medium is the motive: If these killers seek recognition, it is available to them because the mass media can be counted on to give extensive attention to their horrific deeds. They are, after all, newsworthy, and they do raise important questions of public concern, not only about the availability of weapons and the vulnerability of “gun-free zones” but also about the treatment of mental illness. We journalists often proclaim high-mindedly that the public has a right to know–and we’re right. But as in the Garden of Eden, knowledge is dangerous. An industry devoted to serving the public’s right to know gives twisted and evil men the means of becoming known.
The basic point, recognition is a motivator and media attention spurs imitation for the sake of recognition, immediately resonated with me in regard to media coverage (or non-coverage) of bad behavior during sporting events. During the 1970s, fans dashing on the field, with and without clothes, in search of some brief air time became the rage. Initially, the sports cameras followed these fans with producers finding entertainment value in them. Before long, the TV decision makers (or sports leagues) sensed that the minute of fame for the on field frolics likely spurred copycats galore. Ever since, the cameras immediately cut away from the revelers, usually with an indignant statement by one of the announcers to the effect of “not encouraging these kinds of idiots,” or, in Taranto’s phrase, to keep the medium from becoming the motive.
Paradoxically, minor infractions, running the bases or sprinting across the field naked, prompt the media to censor their own coverage. The viewers “right to know” is subjugated to the objective of demotivating the behavior. (Of course, there are still thousands of people in the stands, which provides considerable attention). As the seriousness of offenses rise, however, the media would never consider subjugating the “right to know” even if the massive distribution of information about the offense only serves to attract and inform copycats. Of course, the “right to know” is inextricably connected to viewer demand for information. With minor offenses, viewer demand for more info is small so the media can appear high-minded in their self-censorship without losing viewers. With major offenses, viewer demand for more info is high. Somebody will cover it, so if one body were to self-censor, they would merely lose viewers to some other outlet.
My point is not to draw the line on what is covered and not covered. It’s to point out that tradeoffs exist with respect to freedoms (whether related to First, Second, or other Amendments) and other objectives (safety, health, time, …) and that decisions regarding these tradeoffs (personal, organizational, or governmental) are not only difficult but also easily result in paradoxes and inconsistencies. One objection to this discussion might be that suicidal killers can’t be in it for the attention. Taranto offers a rebuttal to that view. Readers can evaluate how compelling it is.
About a year and a half ago, I wondered why Texas A&M would remain in the Big 12 when doing so seemed destined to keep it in Texas’ shadow and only extend its national perception as Texas’ little brother. Before the conference switch, Texas A&M’s following within the state of Texas easily rivaled that of UT, yet A&M’s national standing fell far behind.Bringing teams like Florida and LSU to town and securing games with top 10 teams outside of Texas seemed to be an obvious way to raise the university’s exposure. I couldn’t have imagined it working out nearly as well as it has so quickly. The early season close loss to Florida at home fit my guess — big game with much wider exposure than the typical September A&M game. Knocking off #1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa? A Top 10 Ranking? A Heisman Trophy for a freshman QB? Stunning. Not only did the Aggies step out of the Longhorn’s shadow, but they cast their own in the direction of Austin with a less than powerhouse Big 12 and Texas’ struggles within it this year.
The victory over Alabama drew a big yellow circle around why bolting the Big 12 for the SEC made sense. No game within the Big 12, not even victories over Texas or Oklahoma, would have come close to securing the national media spotlight like that. Essentially, the move had already paid off and then some. In spite of thinking this at the time, I didn’t fully grasp the implication. When Johnny Manziel’s name started appearing in Heisman discussion, I dismissed it. He’s a freshman and A&M is good but not great. When he won, it offered the best possible validation of the conference switch. There is no way that he wins, if with the same numbers, if the Aggies had stayed in the Big 12. He’s not even on the short list. There have been several upper class Big 12 QBs with similar or better numbers who didn’t win and some were only lightly considered.
Of course, making a highly advantageous coaching change figures prominently in all of this, and 2013 and beyond may not be as sweet to the Aggies. Nonetheless, the Longhorn’s desire for their own network doesn’t look so alluring now. I still can’t figure why BYU and Florida State are not in the Big 12 and don’t know if the hangup is at the conference or school level.
Does it seem that almost every bowl game is on ESPN? That’s because almost every bowl game *is* on ESPN. There are 35 bowl games. 32 will be on an ESPN network whereas CBS, FOX, and ABC will have one each. Given that ABC and ESPN have the same parent company, Disney, Disney will have 33 of 35 games on one of its networks. For industrial organization fans, that’s a Herfindahl-Hirschmann Index of 8384 if ABC and ESPN are considered separate firms and 8906 if they are considered the same firm. An HHI of 10,000 is 100% monopolized. Dang.
HT Craig Depken
The latest round of conference shifting creates many angles for discussion. One question that a business school colleague posed is, why even have conferences anymore? That’s a very good question. For the top shelf conferences who have or are moving above 12 teams, the infrequency of play across conference divisions (or, single game scheduling in basketball) diminishes the common schedule aspect that has historically defined a conference. It resembles some aspects of the conference and divisional splits in the NFL. Even with diminished play between many teams, the conference/division setup provides some structure to the scheduling process. Probably more importantly, it improves the bargaining power of the members in TV and bowl rights negotiations versus attempting to bargain as independents (unless you are Notre Dame).
Moving down the conference revenue pecking order, bargaining power diminishes and a real question arises as to the benefits of conferences. Yes, Middle Tennessee is seemingly “moving up” to Conference USA, but one can just as easily view it as Conference USA is moving down to the Sun Belt level. MTSU averaged 17,000 per game in 2012. Florida Atlantic, who is making the move also, averaged 13,000. Of course, one might contend that “moving up” will help bring in more fans. This theory extends not only to fans in seats but extending the stadium to the large numbers of TVs in these metro areas. Maybe that idea will work for Rutgers and Maryland, but it’s a pretty dubious notion for FAU. Will SMU and Houston coming to town boost attendance and viewership by thousands? And, while East Carolina draws a sizable number, 47000 per game, many schools such as SMU, Rice, and UAB at or below many Sun Belt (or WAC or MW …) schools.
Bill Parcells like to say, “you are what your record says you are.” A twist on that for the conference shuffling is, “you are who you invite”
In essence, Conference USA is becoming the Sun Belt or vice versa which is becoming the WAC which is becoming the Mountain West. Hitching on to a “bigger name” isn’t much different than the EPL’s First Division changing it’s name to the “Championship Division.” Schools at this level of FBS might be better off forming a big alliance of independents, negotiating bowl and TV deals.
In the middle, the ACC and the Big East find themselves looking a lot more like Conference USA of a few years back (at least in football). Yes, they still are part of the BCS system but is the setup really stable. If ACC teams start taking spots from other conferences in the semifinals or finals, will the higher revenue conferences sit still? Also, will BCS bowls like the Orange Bowl continue or with big payouts given likely matchups — particularly if Florida State bolts the ACC — which raises the questions as to why the Big 12 has not pulled in FSU and BYU already.