“The throwin’ game is like a disease”

People forget that, at one time, Bobby Bowden was about as cutting edge as it got; his offenses in the 1970s and 1980s (and taken up in the early 1990s at Florida State by his assistants) had a huge impact on the game. More:

Jim Carlen, who succeeded Corum [at West Virginia] in 1966, had a limited knowledge of the passing game, but when he was running Georgia Tech’s defense he used to sit in Bobby Dodd’s office and listen to Dodd and Alabama coach Bear Bryant talk about how difficult it was for teams to defend the passing game.

“They would talk about throwing like it was a disease,” recalled Carlen. “Well, I knew the game was going to change a little bit if they could ever get to where they could let the offensive line block like they are letting them do now – tackle them – and I said, ‘We’re going to have a throwing attack of some kind.’

“When I was defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech we only played run,” Carlen added. “Throwing was like a foreign element.”

Carlen had met Bobby Bowden a few times when the Georgia Tech and Florida State coaches would get together during the summertime for clinics, and he immediately realized that Bowden was a bright, innovative coach who understood the passing game.

“What I knew about Bobby was I knew he knew the throwin’ game and I knew he was kind of a fool-‘em coach; he ran trick plays and stuff,” said Carlen. “My whole system was run the veer and the wishbone and run the ball all the time. I had just never been around the throwing game.”

Smart Notes – High School footbal, 4-2-5 defense, QB drills – 4/13/2011

Excellent PBS Frontline feature on high school football:

Stopping the run from the 4-2-5. From runcodhit:

Isolation plays create an EXTRA GAP. To remain sound versus this play, the Defense will need to either have a player 2-gap or involve a secondary player in the run fit. This is where the corner playing cutback comes into the picture. When defending the ISO an important thing to consider is how the backers leverage the fullback. Brophy wrote an article about Bo Pelini’s defense, and specifically the lever/spill/lever concept. This is one way to treat run fits. I have become a believer in the linebacker making good contact head up to across, and letting the other backer and cutback player, fill where needed. Carl Pelini mentioned the concept at clinic. He explained that offenses were getting better at scheming run-fits. To combat this his linebackers needed to change up the way they hit and leveraged fullbacks and other pullers.

NCAA to investigate point-shaving by players. Often fixed games to pay off debts to campus bookies totaling a few hundred dollars.

In praise of Karl Marx, by Terry Eagleton tells us Marx was a pretty chill bro:

Marx’s goal is leisure, not labor. The best reason for being a socialist, apart from annoying people you happen to dislike, is that you detest having to work. Marx thought that capitalism had developed the forces of production to the point at which, under different social relations, they could be used to emancipate the majority of men and women from the most degrading forms of labor. What did he think we would do then? Whatever we wanted. If, like the great Irish socialist Oscar Wilde, we chose simply to lie around all day in loose crimson garments, sipping absinthe and reading the odd page of Homer to each other, then so be it. The point, however, was that this kind of free activity had to be available to all. We would no longer tolerate a situation in which the minority had leisure because the majority had labor.

Here is Tyler Cowen on Eagleton’s new book on Marx.

This is important to some of ya’ll: D.C. to legalize online poker. Relatedly, check out the NY Times’s profile of an online poker maven (up to you if it is worth one of your twenty).

– Rakes of Mallow does an impromptu study of DUI arrests and punishments. Draw your own conclusions.

Quarterback drills with Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris at Orange and White.

The futility of measurement, NFL combine edition

From Jonah Lehrer in the WSJ:

. . . We live in a society obsessed with maximum performance. Think of exams like the SAT and the GRE. Though these tests take only a few hours, they’re supposed to give schools and companies a snapshot of an individual’s abiding talents.

Or consider the NFL Scouting Combine, in which players entering the draft perform short physical and mental tasks, such as the 40-yard dash. The Combine is meant to measure physical ability; that’s why teams take the results so seriously.

It’s easy to understand the allure of such maximal measures. They don’t take very long, so we can quantify many people. Also, they make assessment seem relatively straightforward, reducing the uncertainty of selecting a college applicant or football player.

But as Mr. Sackett demonstrated with those supermarket cashiers, such high-stakes tests are often spectacularly bad at predicting performance in the real world. . . .

Even the NFL Combine is a big waste of time. According to a recent study by economists at the University of Louisville, there’s no “consistent statistical relationship” between the results of players at the Combine and subsequent NFL performance.

Is the NCAA a coercive cartel?

Gary Becker:

[T]he NCAA sharply limits the number of athletic scholarships, and even more importantly, limits the size of the scholarships that schools can offer the best players. NCAA rules also severely restricts the gifts and housing players are allowed to receive from alumni and others, do not allow college players to receive pay for playing for professional teams during summers or even before they attended college, and limits what they can be paid for non-playing summer work. The rules are extremely complicated, and they constitute hundreds of pages that lay out what is permitted in recruiting prospective students, when students have to make binding commitments to attend schools, the need to renew athletic scholarships, the assistance that can be provided to players’ parents, and of course the size of scholarships.

It is impossible for an outsider to look at these rules without concluding that their main aim is to make the NCAA an effective cartel that severely constrains competition among schools for players. The NCAA defends these rules by claiming that their main purpose is to prevent exploitation of student-athletes, to provide a more equitable system of recruitment that enables many colleges to maintain football and basketball programs and actively search for athletes, and to insure that the athletes become students as well as athletes.

Unfortunately for the NCAA, the facts are blatantly inconsistent with these defenses.


Things that are self-recommending – football statistics edition

Bill Connelly — the college football expert for Football Outsiders — has a new SBN Blog, Football Study Hall; such a fact is high on the list of self-recommending things. The idea for the site is to provide a one-stop shop for advanced stats for college football, with a bit more of a fan-flavor than some of the other “stat heavy” sites out there. And Bill’s already got some good stuff up:

Success Rate: A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.

The idea behind Success Rate is simple: every play is deemed successful or unsuccessful based on down, distance and yardage gained. Plays on first, second and third downs (and fourth, for that matter) all have as close to the same success rate as possible (between 40% and 45%).

To see what Success Rate tells us, exactly, let’s have a look at it in action. Two notes before moving forward:

1. Any reference to Success Rates as it pertains to rankings eliminates garbage time plays. Rankings are derived from plays that took place while the game was “close”: within 28 points in the first quarter, 24 in the second, 21 in the third, or 16 in the fourth.

2. As a frame of reference, the average success rate for FBS teams from 2005-10 was 41.6%. . . .

Ten Best Single-Season Success Rates, 2005-10
1. Hawaii (2006): 60.8%
2. Texas Tech (2008): 56.1%
3. Wisconsin (2010): 55.3%
4. Oklahoma (2008): 55.2%
5. Florida (2007): 55.0%
6. BYU (2008): 54.8%
7. Missouri (2008): 54.7%
8. USC (2005): 54.1%
9. Boise State (2010): 54.0%
10. Texas (2008): 54.0%

One of my favorite things about college football is how there are so many different ways to move the chains. Seeing a team like Wisconsin or Navy on the list above would be no surprise — they’re the prototypical grind-it-out, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust teams. But while Wisconsin locked down the three-spot, a run-and-shoot offense took the top ranking, while spread teams filled out most of the Top 10. Invention in college football derives from trying to find different ways to gain five yards, and in college football, there are many, many different ways.

(Speaking of invention … it really is incredible to see just how far ahead of the curve the Big 12 was when it came to the spread. Of the top ten teams above, four were from the 2008 Big 12 alone. That was truly the perfect confluence of innovation and skill position experience.)

Call it the Mike Leach effect, but he’s right that: other than a few other elite offenses and talent laden Florida and USC squads, the Big 12 had the brightest offenses of the decade. In any event, head over to Bill’s new spot.

Smart Links – grit, brain injuries, football playoffs – 3/15/2011

Blind spots of economists. What are some blind spots for football coaches (and fans)?

What traits predict success? Punchline:

The second takeaway involves the growing recognition of “non-cognitive” skills like grit and self-control. While such traits have little or nothing to do with intelligence (as measured by IQ scores), they often explain a larger share of individual variation when it comes to life success. It doesn’t matter if one is looking at retention rates at West Point or teacher performance within the Teach for America program or success in the spelling bee: Factors like grit are often the most predictive variables of real world performance. Thomas Edison was right: even genius is mostly just perspiration.

Taken together, these studies suggest that our most important talent is having a talent for working hard, for practicing even when practice isn’t fun. It’s about putting in the hours when we’d rather be watching TV, or drilling ourselves with notecards filled with obscure words instead of getting quizzed by a friend. Success is never easy. That’s why talent requires grit.

The 2011 Sloan MIT Conference Papers are up. There are no football papers because football is too complicated. Seriously.

Hockey is beginning to come around on head injuries as well.

“It turns out” you read this.

Dr Saturday’s college football playoff proposal. Brian Cook offers some thoughts; my old playoff vs. BCS vs. who knows rumblings can be found here and here.

The day the movies died. Do people buy this? (1) I don’t know if I agree that movies will continue to get worse (the internet provides more avenues for niche audiences, etc) and (2) I’m wearing a bit thin on the after-this-movie-the-movie-industry-changed (Jaws, Star Wars, Top Gun, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Transformers 2, etc.). The movie industry changed a lot when the old contract system died, but other than that I’d guess it’s societal forces and changes in tastes. We’ve had little pockets of artistic flurry before.

And, after the jump, something depressing:


Tom Brady, et al. v. National Football League, et al.

Read the complaint here. There is more to say about the NFL CBA dispute (here’s a summary of some, but not all, of the legal issues here), but that’s one of the issues here: No one knows what to think or who to listen to. As interesting as the legal issues are (and they are pretty interesting, though not as interesting as, say, the old free agency fight the players won), the fascinating thing to me is the complete breakdown in the quality of media coverage. This is not surprising or even fair to the genuinely diligent reports who have gotten to where they are and spend their days talking to football people about football things — who is hurt this week, will Donovan McNabb be traded, is Bill Belichick videotaping someone, what blitz package will Pittsburgh use — suddenly are forced to understand rather complex anti-trust and labor issues. Indeed, the labor law and anti-trust law are individually extremely complex, and their interaction — with a splash of straight up negotiating bravado — makes this all difficult to wrap your head around, particularly in football, which is built on easy narratives.

As a result, suddenly reliable sources (“Fred Taylor won’t start this week because of his ankle problem, though the team isn’t talking”) is suddenly completely uninformative, even if honest (“I’m not a lawyer but Bob Kraft told me the deal gets done tomorrow”). Nothing that has happened is at all surprising, and yet the media acts like it has been and has consistently failed to bring any coherence. That’s why the people to listen to — and I’ve yet to completely find them, and it’s not necessarily me who has not dived in to the details enough — is someone who knows complex labor negotiations and the state of antitrust law on reasonable restraints of trade, not the guy who accurately broke Spygate.

But again, I can’t fault the Chris Mortensens or Adam Schefters — they are in the same positions that fans, with an extra monetary penalty if there is no season. ESPN isn’t in the tank for either side (at least I don’t think), but instead is in the tank for getting a deal done: if there’s no football ESPN loses money, and if it loses money there might not be a need for Mortensen or Schefter, or certainly not the many people operating on the fringes who want to reach that place. They, like you and me and everyone else, don’t really care what the split of $9 billion in revenue is: in the immortal words of David Cross, we don’t care what else is going on in the world, why won’t somebody pick up the ball and play some damn football.

Update: James Surowiecki sides with the players:


Michel de Montaigne on bloggers versus journalists versus aggregators versus SEO

It is more of a job to interpret the interpretations than to interpret the things, and there are more books about books than about any other subject: we do nothing but comment upon one another. The world is swarming with commentaries; of authors there is great scarcity.

From On Experience.

Smart Notes – Bill Simmons, football in 1938, Mark Cuban – 2/19/2011

Football has changed. The New Yorker (yes) writes about one of the handful of most famous football players of the day, in 1938, and this is what it had to say:

Bill Platt is just about what you’d expect the captain of a Yale football team to be — tall, heavy, blond, and offhand. We stopped by to see him in his rooms at Berkeley College, one of the newest of the Yale dormitories, a few nights before the Harvard game and thoughtlessly kept him up an hour past bedtime. Platt played his last game of football Saturday; next year he’ll have to start thinking about a career, which may be either politics, a tradition in his family, or law. He’s not in any hurry to decide. As an undergraduate, he spent his summers fishing in Maine; he said it seemed like no time at all each year before he was reporting to Ducky Pond again for fall practice. …

Once, Platt said as we got up to go, he’d decided idealistically that he needed something besides football as a character builder, and the spring he left Andover he shipped as deckhand on an American freighter to Shanghai and back. It was, he thought, the most interesting experience of his life. “Did it help your character?” we asked. “No,” he said.

How should you split your rent? First read the study, then check out the calculator.

Bill Simmons creating the Bill Simmons sports and literary site, and it actually sounds kind of great. Be sure to check out Quickish/Shanoff on this. (Very happy Klosterman is on board.) Even though this is bankrolled by ESPN, I look at this as similar to Freakonomics going off the NY Times website. For all the hoopla about HuffPo/AOL, etc, I think this is really the model: a multi-platform channel that focuses on web content but offers podcasts, books, ebooks, and other media “consumption,” with an actual editorial voice. Again, read Dan’s take on this, who probably thinks about this stuff more than anyone on planet earth (not a surprise given his Harvard MBA and years in the online media world.

Why is college so expensive? Here’s a dialogue from the Times with David Leonhardt; Matt Yglesias with an old post and a critique of the “Olive Garden Theory of Higher Education.”

Bob Sanders, released. Sad story, but (a) injuries are brutal and (b) in the NFL you must be ruthless.

Don’t worry, Bryant is on the case. Supposedly HBO’s real sports is investigating the Cam Newton drama.

I still don’t buy that Mark Cuban’s playoff idea will go anywhere, even if he did set up some kind of entity.

Sentences to ponder, NFL labor lockout/dispute edition

The owners overspent on unnecessary stadiums, and now they want the players to work more for less pay to help pay down the debt. That’s your entire labor dispute in one sentence.

That’s from the Mises blog, and the post is interesting throughout. The following is also important for understanding the NFL as government sanction and sponsored business entity:

The NFL is really two distinct products. There’s the in-stadium product represented by Jerry World and its taxpayer-financed brethren. And then there’s the way most people consume football, the television product produced by the major broadcast networks and ESPN. NFL-TV is a great product whose popularity remains high. NFL-Stadium is struggling to pay the mortgage.

Regardless of how this labor dispute plays out, the future of football has to be in NFL as TV (and internet video, i.e. ESPN3), rather than the stadium experience. I don’t find going to pro games all that enjoyable. I much prefer going to college games (or even baseball games, and I don’t really even like baseball); such games are typically a blast, largely because they are a much more personal experience. Indeed, the only thing I really like about going to a pro game in person is that I get a better angle with which to watch the game, and TV and internet video options are beginning to finally provide more options in this respect. At the end of the day, for the NFL, the TV experience, whether at home or in a bar, is really superior.

The NFL business model is bizarre and discussions with most people about the labor dispute quickly degenerate because of the complexity as they take up the slogans of one side or the other. The analysis is neither laissez-faire capitalism nor typical labor economics nor even a the economics of a regulated public utility; it’s some weird unknowable mixture of a cartel and consumer business, and that makes all of these disputes both fascinating and maddening.

It’s not really a shock that there is a strange labor dispute going on, unilaterally initiated not by the union but by the owners in a way that few can analyze satisfactorily. Indeed, count up the factors: (i) The NFL is heavily subsidized by the government, (ii) with respect to the players selling their services, it’s a monopsony, and (iii) for the rest of us (and with government and to a lesser extent court approval), it’s an oligopoly. Put together, that is unlikely to lead to an efficient market. In the end, most of us just want to see someone pick up the damn football and play.