One of the under-reported effects of cheap and widely available personal computers is the increasing dorkification of sports.
I’m talking here about the rise in obsessive stat-geekery across the board, with the accompanying increase in “fantasy” sports. Those phenomena have hardly been ignored, but not many commentators put the blame where it belongs: on the computer industry.
Back in the day, stat-wanking was mostly confined to baseball, which is so ridiculously boring that calculus seems like a fun way to spice things up. As computers have become more common, though, it’s become easier for sports geeks to crunch numbers, and the statistics mania has started to creep into football and even basketball. At this time of year, pseudo-objective college basketball ratings are as common as ill-advised jump shots. Dave has been tracking Tournament seeding projections for a while now, and now offers some stats that purport to predict tournament outcomes. But if you really want basketball stat-geekery, Ken Pomeroy is your man, tracking and promoting a dizzying array of statistics.
I’ll admit that I’m somewhat torn about this. I am, after all, a professional nerd, and enjoy working with numbers, so I can see the appeal of quantitative data. And a lot of the regular statistics used in absketball are pretty crude measures, so I can understand trying to develop better statistics.
As a player and fan, though, I tend to think that a lot of this stuff is just crap. I’m more than a little dubious about the possibility of testing these measures– the “log5″ method claims that UNC has a 51% chance of winning the ACC tournament, but given that they only play the tournament once, it doesn’t seem like you’ve got a way to assess the validity of the prediction. After all, either they win it or they don’t, and one measurement doesn’t tell you anything about the overall distribution. You can aggregate historical data to see if the method gives you consistent results, but that’s not terribly convincing, given that the teams change over time.
Most of my problem with this, though, is that it seems so bloodless. I’m a fan of college basketball because I enjoy playing basketball, and reducing it to just manipulation of numbers sucks all the interest out of it. I’m not into the game to predict the outcomes, I’m into it for the joy and pain of the playing of the game, and while the final score matters, what really matters is what happens on the way to the final score.
And besides, it’s a short step from excessive statisticulation to “fantasy” leagues, and those are an absolute blight on the national landscape. If you want to find an example of the widespread availability of powerful computers exerting a detrimental influence on the American character, forget about Internet pornography– fantasy sports leagues are the real threat.