With no actual posts this week, I decided to make “the week in organized cool stuff” massive. So, grab a drink and stay awhile, here are some things to read.
Starting off, the biggest sports figure in the news this week was Roger Goodell. Sports Illustrated did their first annual “Power Issue,” where 50 sports figures – executives and otherwise – were ranked in order of total power. Roger Goodell was ranked first on the power list and is depicted sitting in the Iron Throne from “Game of Thrones” on SI’s cover.
But the Goodell week was not all about power and clout. ESPN’s Outside the Lines writer Don Van Natta Jr. did an in-depth, lengthy profile on the NFL commissioner that showed a deeper, more introspectively aware man unseen by the general public. To the owners, Goodell is good and reasonable, with the league’s best interest in mind and takes far too much of the blame for doing the league owners’ bidding. But he is distrustful, disloyal and all-powerful to the players – a level of power that the Players’ Association could have collectively bargained against during the last lockout. Goodell faces some serious questions over the next few years of his tenure as NFL commissioner: “Protecting the shield” of the NFL, dealing with the over 4000-strong class-action player lawsuit against the NFL, the omnipresent player safety issue and the emergence of soon-to-come performance enhancing drug testing in the league– an issue that Van Natta said on Bill Simmons’ podcast could affect over 40% of the NFL’s players.
“Just as the game of football, if it’s going to survive, must evolve, Roger Goodell now knows, so, too, must the commissioner,” Van Natta Jr. wrote in his piece.
Sports Illustrated’s media columnist Richard Deistch ranked the top 10 non-executive, sports broadcasters (Dan Patrick cannot be listed due to his affiliation with SI and Paul Finebaum got an honorable mention even though he’s been off the air for three months) as well as the least powerful people in sports – complete with whoever happens to be Chelsea Football Club’s manager. SI’s issue was complete with a Game of Thrones-ian map of where the sports world’s most powerful reside. Goodell is in “Goodellaware,” the Olympic Committee’s Jacques Rogge and FIFA president Sepp Blatter are apparently across the sea in their obscure sports world, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is – of course – banished to the icy-cold Wall in the North.
This week was also the largest assembly of nerds this side of Comic-Con – except the fact that they are all sports nerds. The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference has been in Boston since 2007 and though it started with a modest group of professional GM’s and front office executives, it has grown to a convention-sized event, sponsored by ESPN. SB Nation’s Andrew Sharp attended the event and summarized it. Sharp’s piece analyzing the analyzers is better than anything else I’ve read about the Conference, in a piece called “Paralytics by Analysis.”
The Sloan Conference is filled with a myriad of presentations, papers and conferences on the analytics of sports – “Total Hockey Rating: A comprehensive statistical rating of National Hockey League forwards and defensemen based upon all on-ice events. Or, The hidden foundation of field vision in English Premier League (EPL) soccer players. Or “Sweet-Spot” Using Spatiotemporal Data to Discover and Predict Shots in Tennis. An NBA project studies Acceleration in the NBA: Towards an Algorithmic Taxonomy of Basketball Plays.”
The most important question pertaining to us non-maths folk involving this deep study of sports variables and analytics is, “Does any of this crap matter?” Does this descent into numbers and analytics even register with the 99%-ers of sports? While there seems to be a demand for statistical data – whether that demand is fan driven or media driven – the average sports fan watches a game to be entertained, fulfill an obsession or avoid the Bachelor or something else terrible on another channel. This may be a simplistic viewpoint on my part but I have a difficult time believing that “Steve in Glendale, California” is going to blurt out some complex statistic about “his Lakers” that will help him win an argument with a friend. A comment like, “Kobe is the best player in the NBA,” is more like it.
Sharp says, “Analytics have value as we try to learn more, and anyone who really cares about sports will end up using them in one way or another. But in the end, all the data and process revolves around humans, and there’s a big part of this that’ll always be a guessing game… Now and forever, everything you can’t quantify is what makes sports worth loving.”
“Selection Sunday” for March Madness is a week from today and now is the time that many people start to pay attention to college basketball. America begins to watch the conference tournaments, scout the talent that they haven’t seen all season and begin to think Bracket thoughts. Sports on Earth’s Mike Tanier examined why the final minute of college basketball is the longest minute in all of sports.
Sports Illustrated’s Deitsch was busy this week. Deitsch assembled a few knowledgeable sports media minds – Matt Yoder from Awful Announcing, John Ourand from the Sports Business Daily, and Randy McClure from Rush the Court – and staged a fantasy broadcasters draft for March Madness.
Here are my picks for my own personal fantasy March Madness broadcasting team. I went for strong, forceful play-by-play guys and great analysts. Rece Davis is still an underutilized weapon in the ESPN arsenal and will anchor my studio show. When it comes to studio shows, my opinion is that less is more. CBS will probably use 5-8 analysts for their studio shows again this year. Too many analysts hinder actual information and analysis because everyone has to have their turn to speak. Seth Davis and Doug Gottlieb have a great rapport with each other and Rece Davis would be a great referee for those two. Bilas is always great and Dickie V is, well, Dickie V. Unlike the SI broadcaster draft, I didn’t pick any NBA analysts. Why not use college basketball analysts whose job it is to follow and know everything about college basketball? Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith and Chris Webber are great, for the NBA.
Booth No. 1:
Play-by-play: Gus Johnson
Analyst 1: Jay Bilas
Courtside: Samantha Ponder
Booth No. 2:
Play-by-play: Dan Shulman
Analyst 1: Dick Vitale
Courtside: Andy Katz
Host: Rece Davis
Analyst: Seth Davis
Analyst: Doug Gottlieb
Last November, ESPN the Magazine sent most of their staff to Baton Rouge for the Alabama vs. LSU football game to cover the game from all plausible angles in an issue they called, “One Day, One Game.” This month, the Mag did the same thing with the Ohio State vs. Michigan basketball game. The player that caught most of the Maize and Blue’s attention was Ohio State point guard and rosy-cheeked defensive floor-general Aaron Craft. An apparently polarizing player, Craft sticks to defenders, takes charges and slaps the floor like Wojo used to do – he just unfortunately shoots like Rajon Rondo in some games. Wayne Drehs wrote about how Aaron Craft is “always the most hated player on the court.”
Finally, it’s officially March. Welcome to the Madness: