the sporting life

Tag: the sporting life

World Cup Infographic

From the always helpful folks at Deadspin, I give you an infographic with the rundown of the US prospects to advance to the Round of 16.  Note that the “Ghana Score Differential” on the top axis is for the Ghana-Portugal game.  The first tiebreaker is goal differential, which is what this graphic breaks down.  The second tiebreaker is total goals scored over three games (the gold boxes).

Here are the take-home points:

  • The US are in with a win or a tie.
  • The US are in with a Ghana-Portugal tie.
  • Absent that, US fans should probably root for a low-scoring Ghana-Portugal contest, with Portugal as the rooting interest.



World Cup Predictions


Once again the World Cup is upon us, and once again my friends and colleagues are pumping me for information about who I’m picking. Well,like American coach Jurgen Klinsmann, I am not picking the Americans.   

Who then?  

Well, I suppose you could do worse than ask a bunch of economists:

Brazil will beat Germany to win soccer’s World Cup and also will score the most goals, according to a survey of economists across 52 countries.

The tournament’s host nation eclipsed Germany and Argentina as the top choice among 171 economists from 139 companies in a Bloomberg News poll published today. The Latin American country is also tipped to find the net the most times, topping Argentina and Spain.

Projections of a sixth World Cup victory for Brazil mesh with bookmaker odds and forecasts based on economic models created by Goldman Sachs Group Inc., UniCredit SpA and Danske Bank A/S. Paddy Power Plc and Ladbrokes Plc both rank Brazil as favorite, at odds of 3/1….

How this survey is newsworthy is an interesting question, I suppose.    As I type this, Brazil is down 1-0 to Croatia in the opening match.

Goodness, A Fit!

Tyler Vigen has opened up the world of spurious correlations like no other with his aptly titled website, Spurious Correlation.  Whether it’s the remarkably tight relationship between US spending on science, space and technology with suicides by hanging, strangulation and suffocation or a more loosely related relationship between Stanley Cup goals and Suicide by Pesticide (I made that one up myself!), Vigen is Johnny-on-the-Spot with fitting data for no greater purpose than amusement.

goals-scored-by-winning-team-in-stanley-cup-finals_suicides-by-pesticidesVia Kottke, of course.

NCAA Pick$

Slate has an ingenious interactive tool that fills in your NCAA bracket based on various criteria, including the schools’ academic rankings, distance to the area (nearer team wins), SAT scores (higher winning, inexplicably), and my personal favorite, dog friendliness.

But, as market economists, perhaps we should just let the market speak by looking at the most handsomely paid coaches!    Slate Picks

As you may know, the highest-paid state employee in most states is the head football coach at one of the public universities.  Here in Wisconsin, however, Madison’s coach Bo Ryan has that distinction, which is good enough for the highest-paid coach in that region.  I’m guessing that Michigan State University coach Tom Izzo is the highest-paid employee in Michigan. 

Not surprisingly, these look a lot like many of the actual “expert” picks for much of the tournament, including Michigan State reaching the Final Four as a four seed.

Although I like the idea of picking based on coach salary — what better measure of quality than willingness to pay for a coach?! — one suspects we can actually measure performance, so I tend to lean on the Logistic Regression Markov Chain model to inform my picks.

Random Runs

Since I told my son that going to the grocery store during Packers games to avoid crowds may or may not be a good idea, depending on how many other people have the same thought, he claims that I am always doing game theory. (He also noticed that sometimes I switch lanes strategically.) But all of that is quite benign in comparison with Northwestern game theorist Jeff Ely’s innovative soccer coaching technique:

Just as I deliver the ball to the player in line the two girls simultaneously and randomly raise either one hand or two.  The player receiving the feed must add up the total number of hands raised and if that number is odd clear the ball to the player on my left and if it is even clear to the player on my right.

The two girls are jointly controlling a randomization device.  The parity of the number of hands is not under the control of either player.  And if each player knows that the other is choosing one or two hands with 50-50 probability, then each player knows that the parity of the total will be uniformly distributed no matter how that individual player decides to randomize her own hands.

I am still wondering whether this should have been cleared with some kind of institutional review board.

LU on the Brain

For those of you who follow sports, the controversies surrounding sports concussions came to another head this week with the publication of League of Denial, with coverage from ESPN and PBS.  Our own Rick Peterson points us to a Sports Illustrated piece that includes some heavy local interest:

If Hollywood talent scouts set out to create a reality series on the search for football-related brain damage, they would start with Ann McKee… McKee was not an athlete, but she grew up surrounded by them. Her father had played football at Grinnell (Iowa) College. Her older brother Chuck, whom she idolized, had been a three-sport athlete who turned down a scholarship at Wisconsin because he didn’t want Division I football to distract him from becoming a doctor. He played quarterback at Lawrence University, leading the Division III school to consecutive conference titles and earning All-America honors. Ann McKee had been a cheerleader at Appleton East High.

My emphasis.

Perhaps ironically, this week also brings us a piece by Evin Demirel over at SB Nation on the resurgence of Division III football.

UPDATE:  I shared this with our students, who alerted me that Dr. McKee is the university physician!  What an excellent end to this story. 


That’s Why We Have the Q Requirement

The New York Times reports on a fascinating new exercise regimen: The Scientific 7-Minute Workout.

How can you get all that done in just seven minutes?  Well, first, the routine consists of twelve intense 30-second exercises (12 exercises x 30 seconds/exercise = six minutes).  Then we have to add a 10-second rest period between each exercise (11 rest periods x 10 seconds / period = 1 minute, 50 seconds).

Let’s see, so the 7-minute workout consists of six minutes of exercise and 1:50 worth of breaks…  Don’t mess with science, I guess. 

Will Taxes Cause Golfer to Miss the Green?

As you probably know, the recent changes to the tax law mean that the most taxpayers are going to share more of their income with the government in the coming years.  Or perhaps you didn’t know?

Well, taxes went up for everyone who continues to work, at least.  Economists often worry that tax increases will have a deleterious effect on the economy, causing some to lose jobs and others not to be able to find jobs. 

Economists also sometimes worry that workers will quit working because taxes take such a severe bite that it simply isn’t worth punching the clock any longer.  Indeed, earlier this year the French government enacted a 75% tax on the wealthy, causing Gerard Depardieu (no relation) to flee the country.   Many who favor more modest government expenditures cheered Depardieu as he thumbed his nose at le percepteur.

Closer to home, golf phenom Phil Mickelson is now openly talking about “going Depardieu” after seeing a combination of federal and state tax increases that are shrinking his wallet.  But a funny thing happened on the way home from H&R Block,  someone took a look at the numbers and found Mickelson’s case less compelling.

Here’s a taste:

For starters, courtesy of President Obama’s re-election and the subsequent fiscal cliff negotiations, Mickelson will experience an increase in his top tax rate on ordinary income from 35% to 39.6%, and an increase in his top rate on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends from 15% to 20%. Clearly, when faced with tax hikes of that magnitude, it stops making economic sense for Mickelson to continue to swing a metal stick up to 70 times a day in exchange for the $48 million he earns on an annual basis.

Now, we know that when a man of means stands up to decry his tax burden someone will be there to ridicule him.  But, what makes Mickelson’s case special is that the source of this snark is none other than Forbes magazine.

Here’s some perspective on the high end of the U.S. income distribution:  The family cutoff to be in the 1% seems to be about $500,000 per annum.  Between tournament purses and product endorsements, Mickelson earns somewhere just south of $50 million.

That’s a long tail.

Ramen Noodles, Bus Rides, and the World Series (?)

As you know (or should know), an “inferior” good is one where as my income increases, the demand for the good decreases. My in class examples of inferior goods are typically things like Ramen noodles, hot dogs, bus rides, and Irish potatoes back in the day.

In a stroke of WT-you-know-what, John Burger and Stephen Walters from Loyola University in Maryland add the World Series to the list.

You can’t be serious?

Indeed. And, here’s the abstract from their paper in Economic Letters:

World Series telecasts are now an inferior good. Income and the time cost of consumption interact so that a ten percent income increase reduces viewership by 1.8 million households. Increased availability of substitutes reduces ratings but increased drama improves them.

Now why would that be? Is it because the proliferation of substitutes over the years (more cable television options in November).

Look for this in Econ 300 next year.

Weekend Football

The Warch Campus Center Cinema proudly presents the Saturday Champions League Final between FC Barcelona and Manchester United, beginning at 1 p.m. and ending in a 0-0 tie and penalty kicks around 3:30. Ah, that was a cheap shot. Even so, I do find the lulls whilst the players writhe around on the ground an excellent chance to catch up on my reading.

Is it already two years ago that Barca beat down and humiliated Man U?  Well, you can kick all that out the window when these two get together.

You can bring refreshments, but please don’t leave a Messi.

InDirect Effects

A bit more on the potential NFL strike — my friend and colleague, Rodney Paul, is on NPR’s Marketplace talking about the dark days looming for DirecTV if owners and players fail to come to terms on a new labor agreement.

For those of you who don’t follow these sorts of things, DirecTV is a satellite television service that serves as the exclusive provider of the NFL Sunday Ticket, which has beaucoup benefits for the football fan. Specifically, the Sunday Ticket provides access to pretty much every NFL game, allowing for orgiastic quantities of football viewing.

Yet, I find this absolutely astonishing:

regardless of whether or not there is a season, the company (DirecTV) still has to make roughly $1 billion in payments (to the NFL).

Wow!  That seems like a lot of money.  But my guess is that it could have been even more.  To wit, I wonder if they didn’t consider the strike as a possibility, or they negotiated a lower price based on continuing payments to the NFL even in the event of a work stoppage?

Econ 100 Preview, Complements

Click for Clucky!

Suppose the NFL players and owners fail to agree to terms on a new contract, thus reducing (or eliminating) the number of professional football games this coming season.  What are the expected changes (if any) to the equilibrium price and quantity of chicken wings?

Answer here.

Certainly, you will be more likely to get the correct answer if you rely on the basic theoretical model, rather than just winging it.

Local Sports Team in Contest of Interest

Steely McBeam

The pride of the Fox Valley, the Green Bay Packers, will be mixing it up with my former hometown heroes, the Pittsburgh Steelers, at the Super Bowl.  The game will take place, weather permitting, this Sunday in balmy Dallas, Texas.

Although the contest itself is predominantly of interest to denizens of northeastern Wisconsin and southwestern Pennsylvania, many from across the nation and around the world will tune in for antics of the mascots (pictured), the often-irreverent commercials, the many wagering opportunities, or simply as an excuse to feast on some tasty snacks (despite some unexpected side effects).  Yum.

This year, we are also treated to some added intrigue by a number of touching personal-interest stories.  Or if you aren’t into Olympics-coverage style tearjerkers, perhaps you’d like to see how some famous movie directors have portrayed the Big Game.

Econ majors might be interested in some of the simple economics of the Super Bowl (summary here), such as secondary-market ticket prices (more than you think) and estimated economic impacts (less than you think).  You might also be interested to know that Green Bay punter Tim Masthay abandoned a lucrative career as an economics tutor at the University of Kentucky, where “he picked up anywhere from three to six hours a day as a tutor, helping student athletes … with economics and finance courses. That paid $10 an hour.”

$10 an hour?  Not bad.

I'll just have the salad

My allegiances here are more with the black-and-gold than the green-and-gold.  Indeed, earlier this year communications director Rick Peterson introduced me as “a big Steelers fan,” so there you have it.  I also made a friendly wager with Professor John Brandenberger on the outcome of the game (even spotting him the three points that the Packers were favored by at the time of the bet).   I have a feeling I’m going to be buying over at Lombardi’s.

Though my heart is with the Steelers, I’m guessing that the general spirit of the community and quality of the celebratory culinary fare will be better with a Packers win.

LU Symphony Responds to Incentives

Our resident (American) football fan, Professor Galambos, has alerted me to this important change in the demand schedule for Sunday’s orchestral performance:

Players Exchange Views of the Rossini Selection

To accommodate both music lovers and Packer Backers, (Lawrence University Symphony Orchestra Director, David Becker), has moved up the time of the Sunday, Jan. 23 Lawrence Symphony Orchestra concert to 12:30 p.m. in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel.  The concert was originally scheduled for 3 p.m.  The Green Bay Packers play the Chicago Bears in the NFC championship game at 2 p.m. on Sunday.

In keeping with the spirit of the day, people attending the concert are encouraged to wear their green and gold Packers gear.

Click the image for a taste of symphonic goodness.

Grading Criteria FAQ

For those of you finishing up a final paper or a thesis this term, be sure to check out the full requirements, including the snake wrestling.  This part often confuses students, but we don’t believe there is “one” way to measure academic performance:

Q: Would someone who wrote a bad thesis and defeated a large snake get the same grade as someone who wrote a good thesis and defeated a small snake?

A: Yes.

Juice-y Empirical Analysis

Not terribly long ago we linked to an Art Devany article where he claimed that the steroid era had no statistically discernible effects on home run production. Eric Gould and Todd Kaplan look carefully at the numbers and determine that Jose Canseco had a big influence on his peers’ performance numbers.

From the abstract:

[W]e estimate whether Jose Canseco, one of the best baseball players in the last few decades, affected the performance of his teammates. In his autobiography, Canseco claims that he improved the productivity of his teammates by introducing them to steroids. Using panel data on baseball players, we show that a player’s performance increases significantly after they played with Jose Canseco. After checking 30 comparable players from the same era, we find that no other baseball player produced a similar effect.  Clearly, Jose Canseco had an unusual influence on the productivity of his peers.

If you are a baseball fan, this is a nice research paper to take a look at.  The problem identification is clear, the statistical analysis is straightforward, and the interpretation of the coefficients is central to the analysis. In other words, it isn’t enough to be statistically significant, it also must be “economically” meaningful.


Here, the evidence shows that power hitters substantially boosted their home run production after playing with Canseco, to the tune of almost three dingers per yer.  That’s both statistically significant and has “baseball” meaning. (Similar results did not hold for fielding prowess). The more convincing piece is that there are no other sluggers where this result holds.  That is, if the Canseco result was some statistical fluke, you would expect a similar result in at least one other player.

Still, I am going to talk to Prof. Finkler, because I don’t think the numbers are quite consistent.

Here’s a nice summary at Slate.

And here’s Mr. Canseco’s tell-all, Juiced.  When this came out, it was scandalous and the denials were ubiquitous.  But, as time marches on, several allegations have come to pass, and few have been discarded.  By the way, that’s the famous “ball bouncing off Canseco’s head and over the fence for a home run” picture, run ad nauseum on sports bloopers back in the day.

Is Major League Baseball Competitive?

A couple of final words on the summer I&E Reading Group selection, Moneyball.   As was argued by Michael Lewis, Billy Beane capitalized by exploiting what appeared to be a market inefficiency.  Indeed, economists Jahn Hakes and Skip Sauer found empirical support for this proposition .

An interesting question, then, is why other teams didn’t innovate via these quantitative techniques sooner? In an archived EconTalk interview with Professor Sauer, Russ Roberts suggests that Major League Baseball may well not be a competitive industry. That is, owners are “playing a different game” and that the costs of having a bad team aren’t really that high.  In fact, Roberts argues (at about 28:00), the absence of competition would allow owners can indulge stupid management practices without a significant hit to the bottom line.  It would also allow teams to do things like discriminate on the basis of race, or simply not aggressively try to win, where the costs would not be that high. When is the last time a team went bankrupt? Or sold at a steep discount?

That’s an interesting point because a standard economics argument is that competitive markets are quick to punish firms that fail to adopt best practices. Firm that adopt racist or sexist hiring or compensatory practices will loses out to those that don’t.  And the larger point, of course, is that robust competition pushes firms to innovate, or at least to adopt practices once others have done so.  In the context of baseball this is transparent.  When there was a color line and African Americans were excluded, then teams didn’t suffer for their racist practices.  However, once teams started to sign the best African Americans players, then racist policies had a price; that is, teams that didn’t discriminate on the basis of race had access to the best African-American ballplayers — refusing to sign Willie Mays doesn’t help your chances of winning.

Sauer also addresses Steve Levitt’s criticisms (which I share) about the source of the A’s dominance was actually their dominant starting pitchers (at about 38:00).  Sauer responds that, regardless of the reason for the A’s success, the numbers seem to show an inefficiency on the offensive side.

You can also catch Roberts interviewing Michael Lewis on the topic of Moneyball.

Moneyball at The Academy

It’s the middle of the summer, and it’s time to check in with the I&E Reading Group. This summer, we have Michael Lewis’ Moneyball and Louis Menand’s Marketplace of Ideas. If you need a copy of either, I know we have them at The Mudd.

For our first book, Lewis provides us with a look at the world of baseball management. I would suggest that the money point of Moneyball has to do with the tension between quantitative tools and “experts” watching and assessing potential. In the context of evaluating talent, for example, should teams look at the numbers or listen to the scouts? But that isn’t quite right, either, because there is a long, entrenched history of listening to the scouts, so putting too much stock in the college on base percentage is anathema to the whole process.  The scouts don’t believe the numbers, and management trusts the scouts.  So the conventional wisdom is that the numbers lie.

It doesn’t end there, either.  The type of quantitative analysis used for player evaluation has been extended to on-the-field strategy, again exposing a tension between what the numbers guys say and what various experts (i.e., managers, sportswriters, fans) think. (For a similar example in the context of American football, see here).

Continue reading Moneyball at The Academy