Left Shark

In the enormous list of things I don’t understand, you can put dancing at or near the top.

The Superbowl was yesterday, and of course there are a million things to write about the sport, the play calling, blah blah blah, if you actually care about football, you shouldn’t be reading a blog whose official stance is that football is an objectively bad sport. (Ok, I will mention that the fight started by Seattle at the end of the game was an absolute disgrace).

Instead, I want to talk about the half time show. It began with Katy Perry riding a giant lion; this marked the first time that the Superbowl has ever had any lions in it. (for my non-American readers, this was a joke at the expense of Michigan).

The second act (maybe third), saw Katy wear a colorful beach outfit and dance alongside anthropomorphic beach balls trees and, in what seems to be what everyone is talking about, sharks. Specifically, the “left shark,” who, according to everyone on the internet, had his (or her) timing (or choreography as they call it in the choreography business) off. You can watch a clip of this here.

Now, what I don’t understand is how do we know which one was off? I can tell that they aren’t dancing together. If there were three of them and one wasn’t doing his moves right, then it’d be obvious which one was off. But with only two; I can’t be sure. Furthermore, what does everyone mean by left? Is it our left (from the position of the TV camera) or Kay Perry’s left (Katy Perry was generally dancing/singing towards the camera)? While all of this speaks not only to my lack of understanding of dancing, and my unwillingness to do even a basic amount of research on a topic, I think I can use it to speak about something important.

There’s plenty of people who understand left shark, and can speak to why the whole thing is funny. But theres other people, in this case me, who don’t really get it but can pick up on the fact that everyone is talking about it and join the fray, gladly heaping onto left shark (hell, I’m writing a whole blog post about left shark, and I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHICH ONE HE WAS!).

Now all this is fine in this instance, because its all in good fun, because people are generally supporting left shark, and because it will be forgotten in a week anyway. But this is endemic to life, especially to politics. People who don’t understand (in the case of dancing, that would be me) take our cues on who left shark was based on what everyone else says, suddenly we’ve got people who don’t understand the first thing about dance having strong opinions on left shark, while being totally unable to evaluate or even understand those opinions.

(this post was about politics)

Superbowl Squares

As yet another service in my not a football blog, I’m going to talk about gambling a little bit, specifically the idea known as superbowl squares. What happens is, you have a ten by ten grid, “buy” a square within that grid for a certain amount of money (usually 5 or 10 dollars, however I’ve heard rumors of $100 per square or higher), then the each row and column has a digit between 0 and 9 randomly assigned to it, the rows represent one team and the columns another. Thus, each square has a value, for instance Patriots 2, Seahawks 9.

If, at the end of a quarter, the Patriots score ends in a 2 and the Seahawks score ends in a 9, that square wins, usually a quarter of the whole prize (so for $5 a square, the winner would get 125 (5×100/4).

So what numbers are the best ones? Lets assume several things.

1: Only touchdowns and field goals happen (ie, no safeties occur).

2: Touchdowns represent about 59% of all scores, field goals the rest.

3: Touchdowns are always worth 7 points (slightly unreasonable, touchdowns can be worth 6 or 8 points), and field goals are always worth 3 points (this one is true).

4: There are about 4 scores per team per game. (on average this is about right, but to truly do this you need not just the average information on the distribution of scores as well).

5: The score of one team has no effect on the score of the other team (again, this is false, a team trailing by 4 with 20 seconds to go, on a 4th and 20, is not going to kick a field goal, no matter what, a team trailing by 2 on a fourth down near the opponents end zone will absolutely kick a field goal).

6: The game can end in a tie (again, obviously false, and it should make all x-x numbers slightly less valuable)

The peculiar thing about football scores is that you can start a number line with 0, cycle through the numbers like this:

0, 3, 6, 9, 2, 5, 8, 1, 4, 7, 0

A field goal will move the active score one to the right, a touchdown one to the left. So a touchdown and a field goal will have no effect on the score. Then, all we need to do to get an estimate of the value of squares is as follows:

1: estimate the distribution of scores per quarter (I’ve set one up with a mode and average of 1 score per quarter, mostly normal distribution with a slight spike at 0 (to account for “negative” scores))

2: calculate the binomial distribution that within a given number of scores per quarter they will be touchdowns or field goals (so with 4 scores, 3 successes would be in excel =binomdist(4, 3, .59,false))

3: create a “tick” value for each scoring combination with field goals as +1 tick and touchdowns as -1 tick (so 4 scores, 1 touchdown would be a + 2 tick)

4: Multiply the probabilities in section 1 and section 2 together to get the probability of each scenario

5: Convert each “tick” value to its corresponding “point” value on the number line above, (so 0 becomes 0, 1 becomes 3, -2 becomes 4).

6: Total the probabilities associated with each point value

And you will get the probability of each end digit for the score for the end of each quarter. Multiplying them against each other gets the following grids:

End of First Quarter
0 7 3 4 6 1 9 8 5 2
0 21.05% 12.12% 8.37% 2.08% 0.99% 0.69% 0.23% 0.19% 0.09% 0.06%
7 12.12% 6.98% 4.82% 1.20% 0.57% 0.40% 0.14% 0.11% 0.05% 0.03%
3 8.37% 4.82% 3.33% 0.83% 0.39% 0.27% 0.09% 0.08% 0.04% 0.02%
4 2.08% 1.20% 0.83% 0.21% 0.10% 0.07% 0.02% 0.02% 0.01% 0.01%
6 0.99% 0.57% 0.39% 0.10% 0.05% 0.03% 0.01% 0.01% 0.00% 0.00%
1 0.69% 0.40% 0.27% 0.07% 0.03% 0.02% 0.01% 0.01% 0.00% 0.00%
9 0.23% 0.14% 0.09% 0.02% 0.01% 0.01% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
8 0.19% 0.11% 0.08% 0.02% 0.01% 0.01% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
5 0.09% 0.05% 0.04% 0.01% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
2 0.06% 0.03% 0.02% 0.01% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
End of Half
0 7 3 4 6 1 9 8 5 2
0 14.17% 8.09% 5.59% 4.12% 1.98% 1.96% 0.66% 0.64% 0.22% 0.21%
7 8.09% 4.62% 3.19% 2.36% 1.13% 1.12% 0.38% 0.36% 0.13% 0.12%
3 5.59% 3.19% 2.21% 1.63% 0.78% 0.77% 0.26% 0.25% 0.09% 0.08%
4 4.12% 2.36% 1.63% 1.20% 0.57% 0.57% 0.19% 0.19% 0.06% 0.06%
6 1.98% 1.13% 0.78% 0.57% 0.28% 0.27% 0.09% 0.09% 0.03% 0.03%
1 1.96% 1.12% 0.77% 0.57% 0.27% 0.27% 0.09% 0.09% 0.03% 0.03%
9 0.66% 0.38% 0.26% 0.19% 0.09% 0.09% 0.03% 0.03% 0.01% 0.01%
8 0.64% 0.36% 0.25% 0.19% 0.09% 0.09% 0.03% 0.03% 0.01% 0.01%
5 0.22% 0.13% 0.09% 0.06% 0.03% 0.03% 0.01% 0.01% 0.00% 0.00%
2 0.21% 0.12% 0.08% 0.06% 0.03% 0.03% 0.01% 0.01% 0.00% 0.00%
End of Third Quarter
0 7 4 3 1 6 8 9 5 2
0 9.92% 5.67% 4.62% 3.92% 2.36% 2.21% 1.16% 0.82% 0.43% 0.37%
7 5.67% 3.25% 2.64% 2.24% 1.35% 1.27% 0.66% 0.47% 0.25% 0.21%
4 4.62% 2.64% 2.15% 1.83% 1.10% 1.03% 0.54% 0.38% 0.20% 0.17%
3 3.92% 2.24% 1.83% 1.55% 0.94% 0.88% 0.46% 0.32% 0.17% 0.15%
1 2.36% 1.35% 1.10% 0.94% 0.56% 0.53% 0.28% 0.19% 0.10% 0.09%
6 2.21% 1.27% 1.03% 0.88% 0.53% 0.49% 0.26% 0.18% 0.10% 0.08%
8 1.16% 0.66% 0.54% 0.46% 0.28% 0.26% 0.14% 0.10% 0.05% 0.04%
9 0.82% 0.47% 0.38% 0.32% 0.19% 0.18% 0.10% 0.07% 0.04% 0.03%
5 0.43% 0.25% 0.20% 0.17% 0.10% 0.10% 0.05% 0.04% 0.02% 0.02%
2 0.37% 0.21% 0.17% 0.15% 0.09% 0.08% 0.04% 0.03% 0.02% 0.01%
End of Game
0 7 4 3 1 6 8 9 5 2
0 5.33% 4.31% 3.43% 2.98% 2.32% 1.65% 1.19% 0.82% 0.63% 0.43%
7 4.31% 3.48% 2.77% 2.41% 1.87% 1.33% 0.96% 0.66% 0.51% 0.35%
4 3.43% 2.77% 2.21% 1.92% 1.49% 1.06% 0.77% 0.53% 0.40% 0.28%
3 2.98% 2.41% 1.92% 1.67% 1.30% 0.92% 0.67% 0.46% 0.35% 0.24%
1 2.32% 1.87% 1.49% 1.30% 1.01% 0.72% 0.52% 0.36% 0.27% 0.19%
6 1.65% 1.33% 1.06% 0.92% 0.72% 0.51% 0.37% 0.25% 0.19% 0.13%
8 1.19% 0.96% 0.77% 0.67% 0.52% 0.37% 0.27% 0.18% 0.14% 0.10%
9 0.82% 0.66% 0.53% 0.46% 0.36% 0.25% 0.18% 0.13% 0.10% 0.07%
5 0.63% 0.51% 0.40% 0.35% 0.27% 0.19% 0.14% 0.10% 0.07% 0.05%
2 0.43% 0.35% 0.28% 0.24% 0.19% 0.13% 0.10% 0.07% 0.05% 0.03%

What can we learn?

The best numbers are 0, 7, 3 and 4, the worst are 5 and 2.

Numbers get more even the longer the game goes on, (this is born out by season ending statistics, which is essentially playing 64 quarters, as many teams have scores ending in 0 for the season (Giants with 380 and Arizona with 310) as have ending in 2, (Houston with 372 and Denver with 482)

Bad numbers are worse than good numbers are good. IE, 7-2 (one good number, one bad number), at the end of the game, is about as bad as 6-8 (two “ok” numbers). 0-2 (the best number and the worst number), is only marginally better than 1-9.

Even at the end of the game, only 33% of the numbers have positive expected payouts.

Pity to he who draws 2-2 (only .03% at the end of the game, which is possibly an overstatement, because the game cannot end in a tie).

Finally, I’d probably have done better to simply look at the scores at quarter end for each NFL game this year (or over multiple years) to get these probabilities, but I think my method has at least some value.

An objectively bad sport

The Superbowl is this weekend, and I thought I would go slightly off topic by discussing why I think football is the worst sport (of course, since this is the second post about football and this blog isn’t even a week old yet, you could say that the topic of this blog is more about football than anything else, but rest assured, after the Superbowl (and potentially its aftermath) I won’t be making any more football posts for some time). Of course, it’s not a sport that I hate; the only sport I hate is hockey which I think I’ve watched about 2 hours of in my entire life and through accidents or whatever, will probably watch 2 more hours before I die, and none of those 4 hours will be spent at all well. But, even though I hate hockey, it’s not an objectively bad sport; people like it and I understand why people like it.

Soccer is another sport which deep down I don’t really like. Every four years we in America get excited about the World Cup, and then very soon forget that soccer is a thing. And while I do like following the world cup, it’s mainly for two reasons:

1: I get to spend a lot of energy looking at a whole bunch of scenarios involving teams getting out of group play and
2: I get a totally appropriate occasion to really think about whether I like Bolivia or Portugal more, and that’s something I enjoy doing.

But I don’t actually really care about the sport on the field so much; again, like hockey, its not really my thing, but I understand why people like it. In fact, the last thing I want to do with this post is make anybody feel that I think I’m superior for not watching soccer. Soccer is a beautiful, wonderful, and simple game. If anything, if you are a soccer fan, you should feel superior to me, for I kind of like football, a game which I’m arguing is objectively bad.

The first reason that football is a bad sport is the fact that, even though its a team sport, the great majority of its value comes from a single position. The quarterback is (at least at the pro level and in recent history) the most important position in the sport, by a huge margin. If you were to list the top players in the game almost all of them would be quarterbacks.

Don’t take my word for it, look at the perceptions of NFL GMs.

Of the 15 highest paid players, a full 11 of them are QBs including 9 of the top 10 and the overall top 6 (mind you this should be even more impressive because there are only 32 starting QBs in all of football, and some of them are only off the list because they are still on rookie contracts (such as Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson)). The fate of your quarterback is in many ways the fate of your team; the last team to win the Superbowl with a “bad” quarterback was in the 2003 Superbowl when Brad Johnson and Tampa Bay won.

Other sports have similar situations where a single player can swing the course of a season; think Michael Jordan for instance, he had a larger impact on the NBA landscape in the 90’s than probably any quarterback ever. The difference isn’t that players can’t dominate in basketball (probably in the same way as with other sports such as hockey and soccer, though I must confess I’m not familiar enough with them to really write intelligently about), it’s that it isn’t tied to a position. Micheal Jordan was the best player ever, and he happened to be shooting guard. The second best player (by my estimation Bill Russell, but pick whoever you want) isn’t going to be a shooting guard (unless you picked Kobe Bryant, which is a really weird pick for the second best player ever. But even if you do think Kobe is the second best player ever (and if you do, I’m going to guess you live in LA and are too young to remember Magic Johnson) the third best player isn’t going to be a shooting guard).

The two best NBA players right now are LeBron James and Kevin Durant, who by coincidence both happen to be small forwards. If you happened to get them both on the same team, well, you wouldn’t bench one, you’d just move one to shooting guard (or power forward or whatever), and then dominate the game unlike anyone has before (assuming the rest of your team is at least mediocre, also assuming that they can learn to play to each others strengths, etc.  Even it if wouldn’t actually work because of some nuance of basketball I don’t understand, the basic point is that its very easy to imagine a situation in Basketball or Baseball or Rugby or whatever where having the two best players is a very good thing). The two best players in the NFL are, by my count, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. If you had both of them on the same team, well, you’d bench one. Yeah, I guess that having Tom Brady come out if (or when) Rodgers gets injured would be nice, but it wouldn’t be a big help. If you had both on your team, you’d trade one for a JJ Watt or a Ron Gronkowski in an instant. If you have only one, you wouldn’t trade them for anybody but each other. Think about it, there are probably only a handful of quarterbacks who you’d ever consider playing at another position (Michael Vick a few years ago and an uninjured Robert Griffin III come to mind). For just about any other sport, a great player at a position is at the very least a good player in at least one other position.

The biggest exception to this is baseball, where the pitcher as a position has an even great role in the team’s success than the quarterback does in football, and good pitchers rarely become good position players (Babe Ruth of course is the exception). But with baseball no one pitcher can handle the full load; just about every team has 5 starting pitchers and numerous backups, so while the position as a whole has disproportionate impact, a team can’t ride a single good pitcher to the championship, nor will its season (necessarily) be derailed by an injury to a single pitcher.

So now I’m sure you’re saying, well, Mr. Gallant Tiger, all of that may be true, but it isn’t necessarily an argument, it may indicate why football is unique, but not uniquely bad. Well, I’m glad you asked; (actually, I’m not glad, it makes writing this much harder. Also, you didn’t ask that, I did, so the previous statement is totally false).

Lets highlight this by looking at an example. Take the Packers; they’re a generally good team who, because they have the best quarterback, are a perennial Superbowl contender. But there are other players (JJ Watt comes to mind) who are better at their jobs than Rodgers is at his, but because their jobs are less important, they aren’t considered as valuable. This leads to us as viewers and consumers of football, to care less about a player at tight end or left tack having a truly great season than a player at quarterback having merely an above average one. Football trains us to view good players at quarterback more highly than historic players anywhere else, which certainly offends my sense of what sport should be about.

However, this isn’t the only reason, or even the main reason that Football is a bad sport. Football is an inferior sport in the number and nature of its rules. The official NFL rule book clocks in 95 pages of rules (you can read it here).  Compare it to the 17 rules of soccer  and you can see that one is much simpler. Even the official FIFA rulebook , although similar length to the NFL rulebook; looks completely different. It has large font, diagrams, and generally looks like something that a fan might actually read; or want to read to get a better understanding of the game. The NFL rulebook looks like it was written by and for lawyers. It has the same format and purpose as a contract, not to provide explanation but to provide justification (seriously, take some time to look at it. “Touching Free Kick (a) See 6-1-4-c and 6-2-4 for touching a free kick”).

This isn’t just about the size of the rulebook; look at how the NFL web of rules affects your viewing experience. There are multiple times a game when the announcers or color commentators have to explain a rule to the fans, not because the fans are dumb, but because there’s really no expectation that the average fan would know all the rules. Of course, these
explanations are given not only because they’re obscure, but because often the fate of the game depends upon the
interpretation of some obscure rule. Think about how often this happens in other sports: basically never (baseball has
a rulebook which is probably even bigger than footballs, but it seems very rare that there are decisions which involve obscure rules. In fact, most of the time the obscure rules are there specifically not to be noticed. For instance, the infield fly rule is basically a rule which prevents the defense from gaining an advantage by intentionally dropping a ball, as a result of the infield fly rule defenders never intentionally drop the ball and therefore we never see the infield fly rule every actually in play, ie, the rule streamlines the game).

Entire games can be described by a rule – every football fan old enough knows what the “Tuck Rule” game was; and I almost guarantee you that, if not for that game, 1 football fans in 10 could tell you what the Tuck rule actually is (in fact, I bet that there are more fans who could tell you about the “Tuck Rule Game” than about the tuck rule itself).

This is combined and compounded with the other great evil of football, the penalty flag. You know the experience, you’re watching some giant play unfold, which alters the course of the game, but suddenly, the yellow “flag” marker appears beneath the network scoreboard. Somebody had a penalty, and depending on the penalty, the giant play didn’t either did or didn’t actually happen. So you’re waiting for the referee to announce whether the play, which you just saw, didn’t actually take place because of a holding call. This of course combines with the rules mentioned above to get stupid results, a play is called back (or its alternative, a play (usually a pass) that didn’t happen is ruled to have happened because of a penalty), and then the announcers explain this is based on a rule that the casual (or even dedicated fan) knows nothing about; we’re watching sport that by its very nature makes it difficult to understand.

Of course, the NFL wasn’t satisfied with this stupidity, it had to invent a whole new way to slow the game down and move the action off of the field and into the decision of a referee. It introduced challenges. So now, whenever a coach wishes, they can “challenge the ruling on the field,” at this point the officials then go and look at videotape of the event in question to determine what actually happened. Now, I’m all for instant replay to determine calls, but I wouldn’t call the NFL’s version instant. Instead, they do the dumbest possible thing where they have a referee look into a video screen underneath some sort of hood to ensure secrecy, after all you wouldn’t want everyone to see the same replays that they’re showing on network television. Compare that to the replay for tennis. Tennis has a replay system, where it uses triangulated cameras to determine the exact location of balls or something, but I can’t really talk too much about it for the very reason that it isn’t noticable. It improves the quality of the calls, but doesn’t detract at all from the viewing experience; in fact by being an official arbiter, it can make the gameplay smoother and less prone to interruption. (to its credit, the NFL is trying to reduce the time it takes an official to make a call by having the ref talk to people viewing the game in New York, but the process is still longer than it needs to be and it took them 15 years to figure this out).

Once a football official returns from the super secret viewing booth on the field, he will announce to the stadium the result of his ruling. And, depending on whether the ruling favors the home team or not, the crowd will go nuts. If you need any more reason to think that football is objectively bad, in football, the biggest cheers go to rule interpretations, not feats of athleticism.

The Deflation Analogy

So the world, or at least the US, is a buzz with the great issue of the day, which is of course “Deflategate.” What disappoints me most about this whole thing is that we will forever use the suffix “-gate” to describe every single scandal, which I think is stupid; but alas, nothing on earth, save for the extermination of the human race, or perhaps we’ll start running out of beginning words (although that is unlikely) will stop it. Its here to stay.

But I digress. So the issue, for those wonderful readers who exist in some corner of the universe that isn’t following the scandal closely, perhaps you are from Asia, or perhaps you are from some point in the future after where deflategate is a distant memory, which is probably something stupidly soon, like three weeks from the time of this writing, is that the football team (and don’t get me started on football vs soccer, the name of the sport where you kick a round ball into a net and aren’t allowed to use your hands is called “Soccer” in the US, Canada, South Africa, Australia New Zealand and Ireland, or in other words, just about the entire English speaking world except England) the New England Patriots had, in the first half of their semifinals against the Indianapolis Colts, played with under-inflated footballs, which is against the rules and supposedly gave them an advantage. A couple of notes, as of this writing, nobody knows how the balls became under-inflated or who if anyone did it. Also, it seems unlikely that the deflation had any real effect on the outcome of the game, after the end of the first half, the Patriots (playing with under-inflated footballs) outscored the Colts 17 to 7, after the second half, (playing with normal footballs), the Patriots outscored the Colts 28 to 0.

Now of course everyone who follows this quickly began their two favorite pastimes, heavy-handed moralizing and making up lame excuses. So I thought I would share some of my wonderful wisdom in the form of a strained analogy.

Imagine you were teaching a class, and you caught a student cheating; say having an illegal “cheat sheet” on him. Only the student was already a grade A student, and the cheat sheet didn’t actually have any information relevant to the test on it, and the student got an A anyway. Do you still punish the student. I think that absolutely you do, the student attempted to cheat using a method he knew was wrong, that there was no real advantage conferred is irrelevant, cheating is still cheating.

Only I don’t think that this is the correct analogy. A more suitable one is that you have a group project, a team of five students are assigned to write a paper. Now lets say that, when grading it, you determine that one of the paragraphs had been plagiarized. The rest of the paper was solid, and removing the paragraph wouldn’t change your opinion of the paper (obviously, excepting the part about plagiarism). During your investigation, you can’t tell which student added the paragraph, and its your honest opinion none of the students (except the guilty one) knew who added it (I realize that this may strain credulity; maybe you can assume that they were operating under a shared document with no version tracking). Finally, while you were able to identify the fact that the paragraph in question was plagiarized, its only because you are a professor in the field, you wouldn’t expect any of the students to be able to identify it.

The question is do you punish the students? In order for there to be culpability, you need either intent or negligence. None of the students (besides the guilty one) had any intention of plagiarism; and none was negligent as it would take knowledge that nobody would expect them to have (as students aren’t expected to have the same knowledge as professors, because then why take the class). If you were to punish all 5 students, chances are you would be punishing 4 innocent students and one guilty one; which I don’t believe is just.

Now, of course, no analogy is perfect, and we’re assuming that we won’t learn anything new or that the NFL doesn’t have information that we aren’t privy to. (As a final aside, is there anybody who thinks that the NFL knows what they’re doing?).

(So one of the reasons I’m starting this blog is to be better at writing, and one of the things I think I’m bad at is ending stuff. So insert good ending here!)