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:

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Smart Notes – Tressel, Triple Inside Fire Zones – 3/15/2011

I’m generally not a fan of sentencing guidelines, but the Jim Tressel, Cam Newton, and other stories indicate to me that some kind of guidelines would be helpful, even if they were entirely advisory. The upshot of what I mean is that it’d be nice if we, as the football populace, knew that if you violated rule or bylaw X or Y, your potential punishment range was between A and B, to be meted out by some NCAA enforcement body. Maybe there is more of this than I’ve noticed, but it all strikes me as so subjective. Pundits whinge and hand-wring, but their postulations are as arbitrary as the ones actually handed down. That said, I don’t want it to be completely rigid — that’s why I said there should be a range and the guidelines should be advisory, to be deviated from in appropriate cases. To do this properly would require the NCAA to research past sentences and to think hard about what punishments should be and to publish those findings. The incentive for such action has to be there now, however, with all these high profile enforcement cases.

- Bracket coverage. Runcodhit on bracket coverage.

- Understanding the vertical pass set. The most important pass protection technique in football right now (either to use or at least understand), this is a solid primer:

Vertical setting is essentially the OL equivalent of a backpedal.
We retreat backwards away from the LOS , looking for all 5 OL to remain on the same vertical plane. The OL steps should go:

Inside – Out – Inside – Out

basically we always step with the inside foot first, and then the outside foot. for all 90s protection we take 4 steps back before dropping we “Anchor”. Many teams only use this protection but I still use a separate 60s protection, that is the same thing but for 2 steps.

- Triple inside fire zone. I have previously discussed Dom Capers’ and Dick LeBeau’s use of the triple inside fire zone, and Coach Hoover has expanded on the topic, and has included some nasty footage here:

- The labor dispute: a legal roadmap. Good piece from Michael McCann on SI.com.

- Administrative Note: I’ve upgraded the comment system using the Disqus system. Please let me know if there are any problems or issues. I’ve tried to port over all the old comments — it seems to have worked on some subset of old posts but not all of them. Hopefully this comment system will be a little more conducive to discussion. The strength of the readership (from coaches and players to intelligent fans who bring expertise from other backgrounds to football) is one of the best parts of this site, and I thought the old comment system wasn’t interactive or attractive enough. Hopefully I can do a good job providing thought provoking posts to spark discussion.

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:

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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.

What I’m reading (and watching)

Pistol Offense DVDs, by Chris Ault, and Coaching the Spread Offense, edited by Earl Browning (same guy that does the Nike COY clinics). I just ordered these so I can’t yet give full reviews just yet. The Pistol DVDs by Ault are self-recommending, though if you’ve seen them, please let me know your thoughts. The table of the contents of the book can be found here; I take it that this book includes old Nike COY clinic articles/talks packaged into one volume. Again, any insight is appreciated.

- The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life, by Alice Schroeder. This book is better than I expected (all 832 pages!) though I suppose that is both evidenced by the fact and maybe because I read it in non-linear fashion: I expected to only read the parts I cared about so I began when Buffett joined the hedge fund of his mentor Benjamin Graham, but found myself backtracking and then finishing the book straight through, as Buffett went from local Nebraska stock-picker to the buyer of entire companies he is today. Buffett comes across as a genuinely nice guy, enjoyable to be around, and slightly but affectionately odd,. Yet the lesson I primarily learned was that you don’t become the richest guy in the world without being obsessive, and that includes obsessiveness to the point of neglect of your family. Buffett isn’t a bad person, but obsessed with money and more interested in his own business dealings than with really anything else in life, and it’s clear what he wanted from a wife was more caretaker than anything else, as evidenced by his bizarre yet amicable separation from his wife who hooked him up with one of her own friends to be her successor (Buffett would still go to public events with his legal wife, Susie). Tom wrote a review of The Genius, which is about Bill Walsh, and said it reminded him of the Snowball. I had the same reaction, though in the opposite direction. About the Walsh book, Tom observed: “After finishing the book, and including the description of Walsh’s open and notorious adultery (see Buffett above) and general neglect of his family, I’m starting to firm up my belief being a great football coach is incompatible with the rest of humanity is about. Walsh was, comparatively at least, acclaimed for his interest in stuff other than football, but his obsession with the game and its tumults is at odds with that reputation of his.” It’s likely that this kind of obsession is not only a hallmark of successful coaches, but many professionally successful people as well.

- Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR’s Great Supreme Court Justices, by Noah Feldman. I don’t necessarily recommend this book to those who aren’t predisposed to book-length works about Supreme Court justices, but the subjects here — Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter, Robert Jackson, and William O. Douglas — are as good as it gets as far as judicial biographies go. Hugo Black went from former Ku Klux Klan member to civil rights champion; Robert Jackson began as a country lawyer and ended up maybe the greatest Justice on his Court and the chief prosecutor in the Nuremberg trials; Felix Frankfurter, a Harvard law professor and close confidante of Roosevelt, was known as a leading liberal scholar and architect of the New Deal, but once on the Court became known as one of the more conservative justices while the Court marched forward on civil rights and the first amendment; and William O. Douglas was, well, unlike anyone else, as described by a fantastic review by Judge Richard Posner (ignore the title of the blog post here; the article was originally published in the New Republic):

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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.

Smart Notes – Trick passes, Rich Rodriguez, Emory Bellard- 2/12/2011

This has already gone everywhere:

There are two lessons to this: (1) this kind of trickery doesn’t always translate well to actual playing time, and obviously playing quarterback requires a lot of skills beyond this sort of thing and (2) this is still great stuff, but, related to (1), the football being an extension of you is merely necessary rather than sufficient to be a great quarterback. You can see this latter point in basketball: if you ever visit an NBA or even college practice, you can see the players doing unreal things with the ball, but in a game, with the pressure on and defense, it’s much more difficult. That said, you can also take the lesson that it takes more than being able to throw a couple of nice passes in backyard football (or to hit a few shots at the local gym) to be great. The real thing is always harder than it looks.

- Emory Bellard has passed away. Bellard, father of the wishbone (he wanted to call it the “Y” offense), was the original from-high-school-to-the-big-leagues-with-a-wacky-offense guy:

Bellard was on Darrell Royal’s staff at Texas in 1968 when the Longhorns developed a formation with three running backs that came to be known as the wishbone.

He coached at Texas high schools for more than two decades and won three state titles. His success landed him on the Texas staff, and while other assistants relaxed during the summer before the 1968 season, Bellard was busy trying to figure out a way to utilize a strong group of running backs after Texas endured three straight mediocre seasons. (more…)

Worldly wisdom

For it is in the essence of his behaviour that he should be eccentric, unconventional and rash in the eyes of average opinion. If he is successful, that will only confirm the general belief in his rashness; and if in the short run he is unsuccessful, which is very likely, he will not receive much mercy. Worldly wisdom teaches that it is better for reputation to fail conventionally than to succeed unconventionally.

That is Keynes, not talking about coaching football, though it certainly applies.

NY Times vs the HuffPo

Tom McGeveran asks an important question, in his analysis of the AOL-HuffPo deal:

What is it about the environment of traditional journalism that makes it so that readers are more likely to interact with the Huffington Post reblog of a New York Times article than they are with the article itself?

The answer to this question, I think, is also a key part of the reason why the NYT paywall is a bad idea.

It’s worth using a specific example here, so let’s take Dave Pell’s suggestion and look at the NYT’s Olbermann scoop last night, and HuffPo’s reblog of it. When Pell first tweeted the comparison, the NYT blog had no comments, while the HuffPo blog had “hundreds of comments/likes.” Now, the NYT post is up to 93 comments, but the HuffPo post is still miles ahead: 2,088 comments, 1,392 likes on Facebook, 340 Facebook shares, 89 tweets, and 52 emails. All of which figures are easily visible in a colorful box at the top of the story. . . .

Still, the difference between the two pages is much starker than it needs to be: the NYT page is like walking into a library, while the HuffPo page is like walking through Times Square. The HuffPo page is full of links to interesting stories elsewhere on the site — about Egypt, or the kid in the Superbowl Darth Vader ad, or the stories my Facebook friends are reading. And there are lot of links to media stories, too; each one has a photo attached. (more…)