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On Sports Anaylsts and Accountability

03 Oct

Jordan*, a great friend of mine, said something to me my freshman year of college that has always stuck with me, and seems especially relevant as of late.  It may not seem like the most profound or prophetic statement ever made, but as I said, it’s stuck with me for quite sometime.

“The thing about sports analysts is that they have no accountability for their opinions, predictions, or picks.”  [Roughly paraphrased from memory.]

An astute observation.  Something that I had never thought about, nor been forced to think about up to that point (I never really had access to cable television before college and was thus not nearly as exposed to the plethora of analysts and sports talk shows that now flood various networks).

This statement about lack of accountability seems especially relevant during football season (though it surely exists during other seasons as well).  Every week day, we are exposed to a barrage of analysts offering “expert” thoughts, picks, and opinions on current happenings.  It seems that the first couple days of the week are spent trying to explain away or rationalize their blown picks (or conversely, play up those picks that they got correct – thus legitimizing their “expert” status).  The second half of the week begins the build up to the upcoming week and submitting a new set of “expert” picks for the next set of games to be played.  I’ve come up with three different categories that help analysts to shirk some of this accountability or responsibility for their sometimes dismal picks:

“Shoulda, woulda, coulda…”:  Remember that one play that happened…if that wouldn’t have happened, then my pick would have been right!  If only my team had done what I thought they were going to do! If only the team I picked would have scored more points than the other team, we would have won! [Yes, you are exactly correct on that.]

If the team I picked would have just made(stopped) that one play…

If team x’s coach would have played the right personnel…

Player y never has a big game.  That was a once in a lifetime performance and they would never win if they played again…

They got a lucky break…

Hedged bets: I talk enough about sports and make so many predictions that surely at least some part of my prediction is correct.  And if I make certain qualifications to be met for my picks to be valid, then I can never be wrong, right?!?

Well I know that I picked team x.  But I did say that team y was a dangerous team on the move, so really I kind of called it…

I said that player z needed to have a great game for my team to win, so I wasn’t wrong because he didn’t have a great game (like I thought he would)…

I picked team y early on to win the division, so even though I picked against team y this week (and they won), I’m still not wrong…

 

Controversial claims:  I will make seemingly wild predictions and stick to them because it stirs up controversy and attracts attention.  Plus, when I do (rarely) get them right, then it makes me look like a really smart guy with some kind of secret formula or insider information.

I was going out on a limb to make this pick because I’m so clever that I saw an angle no one else saw (I just happened to be wrong)…

 

 

Is there a precise “science” to these picks?  No.  Otherwise, we might expect a bit more – oh, I don’t know… – precision!  But we don’t see that.  And yet, we see these same analysts back on air week after week with newer, bolder, more certain predictions and analysis.  They’re the “experts” even when they’re wrong; we rarely hold them accountable (though with more and more interaction and access through sites such as Twitter and Facebook, we do see at least a little pushback from the Average Joe Fan critiquing some analysts).

Afterall, isn’t that why we watch the games; you are never certain about who is going to win.  “Any given team can be beaten at any given time.”  That’s one of my dad’s favorite sports quotes, and it illustrates that exact point.  No one really knows. (Until it happens, and then those who were wrong – but are clever enough – can surely explain why their pick was actually spot on.)  Sure, some of us are probably more knowledgeable and more accurate than others, but even then it’s a crapshoot.

So should we rail against these experts everytime they are wrong?  No, not necessarily.  But we also shouldn’t hold them up as if they are omniscient experts of the games.  And we should not let them completely off the hook by hedging their bets every week or talking their way out of every missed pick with “what ifs” “should haves” and other excuses…  A little accountability may not be a bad thing.

*I did not consult Jordan with any of the content of this post; I cannot say that he would agree with the content here or with how I have taken his quote and run with it. This was a quote from several years ago, but it was the impetus for my own awareness of some of these things, and I feel that it’s interesting to think about as we see the parade of analysts and hosts discuss these topics every day. 

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6 Comments

Posted by on October 3, 2012 in Sports, Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

6 responses to “On Sports Anaylsts and Accountability

  1. Jordan

    October 4, 2012 at 9:00 AM

    In the context of this idea, I found today’s “The Rumour Mill” column in The Guardian to be interesting. The column typically is a subtle (and often overt) satire of transfer rumors in European soccer, but this one directly addresses the frequent inaccuracies of sports predictions by looking at the rumors being circulated on this date last year and two years ago: http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2012/oct/04/football-transfer-rumours-isco-manchester-united

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  2. trokspot

    October 4, 2012 at 11:28 AM

    Haha, nice. That’s a pretty timely article. It just gets exhausting sometimes listening to these analysts over and over (especially during football since I tend to listen a little more closely then).

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  3. Skip Bayless

    October 4, 2012 at 7:15 PM

    I only read the first paragraph because this blog is trash. I was the head editor in high school and went to Vanderbilt! So, I know what I am talking about.

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    • trokspot

      October 5, 2012 at 1:21 PM

      Thanks, Skip! I hear that Vandy is a real powerhouse in the SEC.

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  4. Andy

    October 5, 2012 at 10:09 AM

    This phenomenon is a result of the public’s infinite appetite for SPORTS! Not just sports, actually, but the entire culture of sports, including the celebrity, drama, and entertainment of sports. With entire networks devoted to sports and sports-related news, they have to fill up their timeslots with something, and it is usually a lot of talk from “experts.” I wasn’t around before this kind of sports culture exploded, but I believe that sports writers back in the day devoted much more of their time to retrospection rather than prescience, giving detailed and often literary accounts of games and their heros, and not trying to predict who will win next week’s (or next year’s) match-ups. Not saying this is a good or a bad thing, and I certainly watch more than my fair share of sports talk. But as long as we keep demanding more analysis, there is bound to be more and more of the kind of unscientific guesswork as ESPN tries to give us what we want.

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    • trokspot

      October 5, 2012 at 1:29 PM

      I definitely agree. The demand is there and the ratings are obviously there (otherwise they would look to some different programming insteading of playing 2 two-hour segments of First Take back to back every day along with a hundred other similar debate/talk shows).

      I also admittedly watch (and even enjoy) my fair share of it. Jordan’s comment is just one that I’ve had tucked away and have been especially reminded of as late, especially as they pick all of the football games (and explain away their picks after the fact).

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