Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Something to think about

In my "What if?" post from a few days ago, I talked about the plays or moments that can determine a game and how attempting to use just the final result to judge the participants (as well as coaches, conferences, etc.) is impractical.

I read a similar post by Brian at mgoblog after Florida's obliteration of Ohio State in the BCS championship game two years ago that explained things really well -- and included charts! -- so I'd like to grab a couple of excerpts from it to emphasize my point (I've enhanced the image for visibility purposes).

This was in the aftermath of some Purdue-Michigan game or another that ended 31-3 in favor of Michigan. Attempting to cope, some engineer or another doodled out this ASCII image of Gaussian football genius:

He then explained: the two uncapped pyramids are normal distributions of overall performance labelled "P" and "M"; On a good day for Purdue and a bad day for Michigan, Purdue could win. On an average day, they would lose, but not by four touchdowns. The assumption that the winner of any particular game is obviously the better team is just that, an assumption. When the score is 31-3 or 41-14 you can be fairly certain that assumption is a good one. But never sure.

This post was in reference to the BCS, and basically criticized the idea of choosing two teams -- based on very sparse data -- and assuming that those teams and only those teams are deserving of playing for the national title.

My post was more in reference to making judgments based on an individual game, but the premise is the same. You can't automatically assume that you know which team is better just because of one result, and attempting to determine things such as a team's ranking or a coach's future based on a handful of mostly arbitrary outcomes is a foolish endeavor.

The original basis for Brian's post, an article from SMQB, explained this better than I will ever be able to:
But what SMQ would most like to point out in light of Monday's merciless pantsing of the team officially earmarked as the "best" in America through the three-month regular season is not that Ohio State was "exposed" or that Florida "proved" to humbled skeptics the indomitable essence that dwells eternally in its collective soul of souls.

Rather, he'd like to defend the conviction that Ohio State really was, in fact, the "best" team in the nation from September through November, in the sense the Buckeyes' cumulative performance over that span deserved by all available evidence to be considered superior to that of any other team, and offer the untimely demise of that perception Monday as evidence there is nothing dwelling in the blood pumping through a team's metaphorical veins that can tell us anything about any single performance outside of itself; that is, what occurred in the championship game, like any other, was representative only of the championship game, and should inform our opinions about its participants only as an addition to the months-long whole.

A prominent addition, of course, but by no means the all-defining one or, very importantly, one that can be extrapolated to prove great inner truths about certain conferences or larger trends within -- unless, of course, you're willing to argue the relative merits of Ohio State's "speed," however that is supposed to be measured, and by extension that of Michigan, Iowa, Penn State and Texas, in relation to the bodily-kinesthetic intelligence of Vanderbilt and South Carolina, which each fared exponentially better against the Gators than the Buckeyes. Sometimes, this game makes no sense.
Well said.

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