College Football Playoff Championship Preview

Oregon meets Ohio State tonight in the inaugural College Football Playoff finale, and I’m most excited about the ESPN Megacast, which, in addition to the above, includes an ESPN Radio play-by-play broadcast as well. ESPN gets knocked around plenty for doing things like bowing to the will of “partners” like the NFL at the expense of its own journalistic integrity or hosting a platform for grey-matter destroyers like Skip Bayless, Stephen A. Smith, and Colin Cowherd, but there are times when they leverage their resources to make significant improvements to the fan experience. ESPN introduced the Megacast concept for the final BCS championship game one year ago, and it was such a success that it’s back again this year, bigger and better than ever. In the interim period, other networks have experimented with the concept, loosely defined, in other sports, and I believe this is the way we will enjoy all major sporting events in the near future.

(If at this point you are wondering what ESPN Goal Line is, it appears to be a Briagdoon-like offering that will materialize on your TV sometime today, maybe. Anyway, you can find me tuning into ESPN Classic’s “sounds of the game.”)

Game Comments

As Sports Illustrated graphically illustrated in this week’s issue, Ohio State and Oregon actually were quite close to each other this year in statistical terms. Initially, there are two reasons to question that apparent parity, however: 1) Oregon plays in the stronger Pacific Twelve conference, while OSU spent much of the season feasting on relatively weaker conference opponents, and 2) Ohio State earned much of its production with quarterbacks not named and thought to be superior to Cardale Jones, the man who will be under center for the Buckeyes tonight. It is right to regard Oregon as the better team in this matchup.

There are a number of factors that cut against Oregon’s edge, however:   Continue reading

Book Review: Up, Up, & Away

jonahkeriupup&awayJonah Keri has completed the keystone work of his young life with Up, Up, & Away: The Kid, The Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, Le Grand Orange, Youppi!, The Crazy Business of Baseball, & the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos. While Keri surely will continue to be one of the top baseball writers of this generation, he was born to write this book about his dearest baseball love.

The book tells the full story of the Expos franchise, beginning with pre-Expos baseball in Montreal, which included the minor league Montreal Royals, a team that counted Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente among its alumni, through the bitter end and the franchise’s departure to Washington, D.C. Readers learn about Montreal and the men who brought Major League Baseball to that city (and Canada) and administered it while it was there, but Up, Up, & Away really is a fan’s story of the talented characters who wore the red, white, and powder blue.

The Expos generally had two peaks in their thirty-five-year history. The first came in the early 1980s, Continue reading

DataBall (via Grantland)

Early in the spring semester of 2013, Cervone and D’Amour proposed a new project to measure performance value in the NBA. The nature of their idea was relatively simple, but the computation required to pull it off was not. Their core premise was this:

Every “state” of a basketball possession has a value. This value is based on the probability of a made basket occurring, and is equal to the total number of expected points that will result from that possession. While the average NBA possession is worth close to one point, that exact value of expected points fluctuates moment to moment, and these fluctuations depend on what’s happening on the floor.

Furthermore, it was their belief that, using the troves of SportVU data, we could — for the first time — estimate these values for every split second of an entire NBA season. They proposed that if we could build a model that accounts for a few key factors — like the locations of the players, their individual scoring abilities, who possesses the ball, his on-ball tendencies, and his position on the court — we could start to quantify performance value in the NBA in a new way.

In other words, imagine if you paused any NBA game at any random moment. Cervone and D’Amour’s central thesis is that no matter where you pause the game, that you could scientifically estimate the “expected possession value,” or EPV, of that possession at that time.

If we can estimate the EPV of any moment of any given game, we can start to quantify performance in a more sophisticated way. We can derive the “value” of things like entry passes, dribble drives, and double-teams. We can more accurately quantify which pick-and-roll defenses work best against certain teams and players. By extracting and analyzing the game’s elementary acts, we can isolate which little pieces of basketball strategy are more or less effective, and which players are best at executing them.

But the clearest application of EPV is quantifying a player’s overall offensive value, taking into account every single action he has performed with the ball over the course of a game, a road trip, or even a season. We can use EPV to collapse thousands of actions into a single value and estimate a player’s true value by asking how many points he adds compared with a hypothetical replacement player, artificially inserted into the exact same basketball situations. This value might be called “EPV-added” or “points added.” … Read More

(via Grantland)

Comprehensive Super Bowl XLVIII Preview

As you can see from the above graphic, this year’s Super Bowl, already dubbed the Snow & States’ Marketing Rights Bowl, pits New York against New Jersey in a battle for subpar beach superiority. You do not have subpar taste, however, because you’re reading ALDLAND’s Super Bowl preview, the only one you’ll need to prepare yourself for the game on Sunday. What follows is a compilation of the most interesting, entertaining, and essential Super Bowl XLVIII content, concluding with the least interesting, entertaining, and essential Super Bowl XLVIII content, my game prediction:

  • First and most important: the game begins at 6:30 Eastern on Fox.

This is probably the end of probably the best weekly NFL column of the past two years

yrNo, I’m not talking about any of the various aborted (but sure to return!) attempts at weekly football columns on this site. I’m talking about Alex Pappademas’ “I Suck at Football” column, which ran on Grantland’s sports blog, The Triangle, on a weekly basis during the 2012 and 2013 NFL seasons.

I still remember reading Pappademas’ first column in the then-unnamed series. On September 24, 2012, he published the first post, entitled “Nuclear Physics, Bloody Marys, and Bengals: A First Trip to a Sports Bar.” On Monday of this week, he posted what’s likely– though unconfirmed– to be the final entry: “I Suck at Football, Week 18: The Barrel-of-Fun Room.”

The column’s basic tenets emerge in the inaugural article:

On Sunday my friend Richard Feynman took me out to drink and watch football at 10 in the morning. My friend Richard Feynman’s name isn’t really Richard Feynman, but I’ve decided to give every real person in my I Suck At Liking Football journal the name of a famous theoretical physicist, because this sport is still basically quantum mechanics to me. So on Sunday Richard Feynman’s wife took their son to choir practice and (metaphors!) Richard Feynman and I went to football-church, in a sports bar on Vermont Avenue.

Not only did Pappademas not have a favorite football team, he hardly understood the sport itself, or even how to be a fan of it (as evidenced by the originally named “I Suck At Liking Football journal”). By the end of the opening offering, he has picked a favorite team– the Cincinnati Bengals– and begun to deal with the unfamiliar challenges of existing in a sports bar, Ye Rustic, at 10:00 am on a Sunday.

“I Suck at Football” is a crude name for an elegant collection of writing. Every week offered an unpredictable mix of unanticipated portions of life and football. For you, the beauty of this is that, if you’re hearing about this column for the first time, you haven’t missed out: these articles aren’t game really recaps, and you probably didn’t watch the Bengals that week anyway.

Somewhere along the line, I can’t find where now, Pappademas appeared to suggest that this journal would be a two-season affair, and this week’s post has an air of finality to it:

I sat awake by the fire and realized my emotions didn’t really exist. They were just something my brain happened to be doing at that moment. Brain-weather. I was the one deciding to let them consume me. And I should have known that, because watching bad Bengals football taught me that lesson over and over. I felt frustration, anger, disappointment — and then I could stop feeling it, because it was just a TV show, and whether Dalton threw three interceptions or 300 changed nothing about my life outside Ye Rustic.

Thanks to the website redesign Grantland undertook sometime in the past twenty-four hours, there isn’t an easy way to view this series in one place. For now, your best bet may be to cycle through Pappademas’ full-site author archive, which contains a bunch of other stuff too. It’s worth the effort.

2014 BCS National Championship Preview

The final BCS National Championship Game is tonight at 8:30 pm on ESPN between Auburn and Florida State. The Seminoles, behind Heisman winner Jameis Winston and a robust defense, are heavily favored, but that’s no reason to think the Eagles/Tigers/Plainsmen can’t win. When I previewed all the bowl games last month, I wrote of this one:

Florida State and Auburn round things out in the final BCS National Championship Game before the implementation of the College Football Playoff next season. If this game was being played this weekend, I’d have an easier time picking Auburn to win. Although the Eagles/Tigers/Plainsmen have beaten Alabama, Missouri, Texas A&M, and everyone else on their schedule with the exception of LSU on the road, I think all of the time off will allow Florida State to better prepare for Auburn’s packaged offensive scheme. I can’t help being reminded of Auburn’s last national championship, in a game in which I also thought they were severely overmatched. Auburn’s giving up forty-two points to Missouri in the SEC championship game worries me, but they’re still my tentative pick to win it all on January 6.

I don’t know that anything has happened since then to make me feel more confident that Auburn can win, so I’m going to leave my prediction as it is. Feel free to add yours in the comments below.

(Sidebar: Picking bowl games is a little bit difficult. This year, my picks were pretty scattered, none worse than picking Rice to beat Mississippi State in the Liberty Bowl, which ended up being one of the few bad games this postseason. Still, I would like to note that ESPN the Magazine went 0-fer in its BCS bowl predictions. They had Alabama by 14 in the Sugar (Oklahoma by 14), Baylor by 20 in the Fiesta (UCF by 10), Ohio State by 6 in the Orange (Clemson by 5), and Stanford by 15 in the Rose Bowl (Michigan State by 4).)

For your pregame reading, I offer the following selections:

  • The Making of a Modern-Day Guru: How Gus Malzahn went from high school defensive coordinator to college offensive mastermind, and took Auburn to the brink of championship glory in the process Grantland
  • Florida State: Unbeaten and Untested. In contrast to Tigers, Seminoles Took the Path of Least Resistance Wall Street Journal
  • Equal Justice Under College Football Playoff: College football will take a big step forward when it adds a two-round, four-team playoff, but it will take a step backward when it replaces the BCS ranking system with the College Football Playoff Selection Committee ALDLAND

Enjoy the game tonight.

FIDE World Chess Championship! (via Grantland)

It’s time to get prepped for your new November obsession: the FIDE World Chess Championship finals between Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand. This is the most hotly anticipated chess match since Garry Kasparov’s prime. Aside from matches involving the Russian grandmaster, this is the most anticipated match since Bobby Fischer squared off against Boris Spassky. It’s well worth your time.

What Is the FIDE World Chess Championship?

The FIDE World Chess Championship pits the reigning world champion against the winner of a qualifying round-robin tournament between eight of the top players in the world. The finals is a best-out-of-12 tournament with draws earning half a point. If the finals end in a draw, four rapid-chess matches are played as a tiebreaker. If those draw, then blitz chess, played with a three-minute starting clock, serves as the final tiebreaker. … Read More

(via Grantland)

ALDLAND Podcast

Super exciting edition of the ALDLAND podcast this week. The ALDLAND-Grantland rivalry is taken to another level as Brendan calls out Grantland’s coverage of the popular video game Grand Theft Auto V. College football is obviously also on the menu, as is a little slice of baseball wild card action. Tune in next week when we finally get around to the NFL.

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Download the ALDLAND podcast at our Podcasts Page or stream it right here:

Like football, like bourbon: The real reason for the NFL’s popularity

pappy van sandersEven if it doesn’t pack as much action as baseball, or even tennis, there’s no denying that football is America’s de facto national pastime. Many point to the game’s amenability to television as the main reason for its ascension to this position, while some look to the work of labor leaders like Gene Upshaw, who led the charge for free agency, ultimately introducing a new era of NFL riches.

Those two factors undoubtedly contributed to the NFL’s rise in popularity, but I don’t think they explain why the NFL is as extremely popular as it is today, when every sport receives tailored television treatment, and the power balance between players and ownership across all major sports is far more even than it probably ever has been. If you step back far enough, football’s not much different than any of the other major sports. How does this otherwise undifferentiated product stay on top?

More than ever before, we’re living in an attention economy. Availability no longer determines value, because, as a result of the proliferation of communication technology, everything is equally available. When sports (and other broadcasted entertainment) are equally available and are available in such a volume that they cannot all be consumed, people must make decisions about which sports components they will follow and which ones the will not. Economics is about the allocation of limited resources, and in the market for sports entertainment, the only limited resource is our attention.

Why does the NFL grab more of the attention of more people than any other sport? Scarcity. Between the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL, no professional sports league plays fewer games than the NFL. Moreover, those games are scheduled such that, with minimal deviation, they all are played on the same day. Intentional scarcity makes NFL games both manageably consumable in the attention economy and appointment viewing. Scarcity flips the cost script: having a small number of games and coordinating them on a once-weekly basis means the cost of paying attention to them is low, and because missing one Sunday’s slate of games means missing a significant proportion of the season, not to mention being out of the conversational loop for a full week, the cost of not paying attention is high.

Intentional scarcity might seem like a counterintuitive strategy for boosting a product’s popularity, and the supplier’s revenues, but in a flooded market of generally undifferentiated products, it can be a very successful strategy for generating consumer demand.

Whether the NFL is consciously employing an intentional scarcity strategy is an open question– Roger Goodell’s ongoing push for an expanded season of eighteen games would seem to be contrary to that approach– but there is at least one market in which some manufacturers are openly pursuing an intentional scarcity strategy: the market for bourbon.

The bourbon market has all the essential elements of the sports entertainment market that make it susceptible to the successful pursuit of the intentional scarcity strategy: generally speaking, it is contained of undifferentiated products– competing in the bourbon market is similar to competing in NASCAR– that are present in such great volume that it is practically impossible to consume all of them, at least on a regular basis. The most famous exemplar of the scarcity approach is the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery, but it certainly is not the only one.

Intentional scarcity can be a viable strategy for competing in a flooded market of generally undifferentiated products. Regardless of whether the NFL is intentionally engaging in this strategy, the approach is an important contributor to the league’s station atop the sporting world.

NFL Quick Hits 2013: Ziggy Ansah

After making the playoffs two seasons ago, the Detroit Lions are trying to rebound from a frustrating 4-12 mark in 2012. While the numbers provide a reason to believe the Lions won’t be as bad– or unlucky– as they were last year and the spotlight rightly belongs on stars like Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford, Reggie Bush, and Ndamukong Suh, plenty will be asked of the team’s first-round draft pick (fifth overall), DE Ziggy Ansah. The question is not whether Ansah presents himself like a young, professional athlete– he answered that in the affirmative on draft day— but whether he will be able to avoid serving as the second coming of Darko Milicic. (After all, Darko thought he knew a thing or two about style too.) Ansah has played twenty-three games of football ever, all of them at BYU, and many of them on special teams. Ansah’s ability to develop his body, which he describes as “a delicate flower,” into one that can help solidify a talented but perpetually raw NFL defense will go a long way in determining whether the Lions will improve on their 2012 season. Coach Jim Schwartz said “the best is yet to come with . . . Ziggy.” When your team spends the fifth overall pick on a player as inexperienced as Ansah, that had better be true.