Category: Sports

Incentives matter, high school college football divorce edition

For a transfer student to be immediately eligible under Georgia High School Association rules, he or she must make a “bona fide move,” in which the “student moved simultaneously with the entire parental unit or persons he/she resided with at the former school, and the student and parent(s) or persons residing with the student live in the service area of the new school.”

Moving to Georgia wasn’t a problem for Randy, who retired in 2012 after working for 32 years with the Los Angeles Police Department. Yvonne, who works as an administrative assistant, had to remain in California for her job. For Jake to be eligible for one season at Valdosta High, Randy and Yvonne legally separated to meet the Georgia residency rules. According to court records, Randy and Yvonne dissolved their marriage on Aug. 20. They plan to get back together once Jake’s season at Valdosta High ends.

“The requirements [are] a full family move, so that and, obviously, grades and that kind of thing,” Randy said. “So at this point, we got a legal separation. We’re right down the guidelines as far as being eligible to play.”

Here is the full story, via Tom G.

Those new service sector jobs, coffin whisperer edition

Also known as markets in everything:

Bill Edgar has, in his own words, “no respect for the living”. Instead, his loyalty is to the newly departed clients who hire Mr Edgar — known as “the coffin confessor” — to carry out their wishes from beyond the grave.

Mr Edgar runs a business in which, for $10,000, he is engaged by people “knocking on death’s door” to go to their funerals or gravesides and reveal the secrets they want their loved ones to know.

“They’ve got to have a voice and I lend my voice for them,” Mr Edgar said.

Mr Edgar, a Gold Coast private investigator, said the idea for his graveside hustle came when he was working for a terminally ill man.

“We got on to the topic of dying and death and he said he’d like to do something,” Mr Edgar said.

“I said, ‘Well, I could always crash your funeral for you’,” and a few weeks later the man called and took Mr Edgar up on his offer and a business was born.

In almost two years he has “crashed” 22 funerals and graveside events, spilling the tightly-held secrets of his clients who pay a flat fee of $10,000 for his service.

And:

In the case of his very first client Mr Edgar said he was instructed to interrupt the man’s best friend when he was delivering the eulogy.

“I was to tell the best mate to sit down and shut up,” he said.

“I also had to ask three mourners to stand up and to please leave the service and if they didn’t I was to escort them out.

“My client didn’t want them at his funeral and, like he said, it is his funeral and he wants to leave how he wanted to leave, not on somebody else’s terms.”

Despite the confronting nature of his job, Mr Edgar said “once you get the crowd on your side, you’re pretty right” because mourners were keen to know what was left unsaid.

You might think “that’s it,” but no the article is interesting throughout.  For the pointer I thank Daniel Dummer.

My Conversation with Matt Yglesias

Substantive, interesting, and fun throughout, here is the audio, video, and transcript.  For more do buy Matt’s new book One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger.  Here is the CWT summary:

They discussed why it’s easier to grow Tokyo than New York City, the governance issues of increasing urban populations, what Tyler got right about pro-immigration arguments, how to respond to declining fertility rates, why he’d be happy to see more people going to church (even though he’s not religious), why liberals and conservatives should take marriage incentive programs more seriously, what larger families would mean for feminism, why people should read Robert Nozick, whether the YIMBY movement will be weakened by COVID-19, how New York City will bounce back, why he’s long on Minneapolis, how to address constitutional ruptures, how to attract more competent people to state and local governments, what he’s learned growing up in a family full of economists, his mother’s wisdom about visual design and more.

Here is one excerpt:

It was so much fun we even ran over the allotted time, we had to discuss Gilbert Arenas too.

Should NBA referees call fouls objectively in playoff games?

I call them “rule of law” foul calls, because they are in accord with clearly defined standards for a foul call.  In contrast, in the “good ol’ days” referees used to think: “I’m not going to let a foul call determine the outcome of this playoff game in the decisive moments.”  So unless the defender really slugged the guy, or whacked his hand down when shooting, the refs would “let them play,” and the chips would fall as fate determined.

But Wednesday night I saw three critical foul calls (across two games) in the closing moments that were all “marginal fouls.”  They were, in my opinion (and in the opinion of former referee Steve Javie), all legitimate foul calls.  But just barely, and I am pretty sure that none of them would have been called fifteen years ago, or maybe not even five years ago.  Bumping into a guy after he already missed his shot and the clock ran out?  Is it a foul objectively speaking?  Yes.  Should it be called?  Well…

The case against rule of law fouls is that games decided by the referees have less legitimacy, and that in turn hurts both the legitimacy and the popularity of the league.  Even if it was “objectively a foul,” the fans either don’t know that, were unwilling to recognize that, or they may, like I, favor the good ol’ days when fouls were called less objectively and also less frequently in the closing moments of close games.

The case in favor of rule of law foul calls is that replays and social media make the truth easier to determine, and place extra burden on the refs to appear fair and consistent over time, to protect the legitimacy and popularity of the league.  Furthermore, the heightened salience of racial issues encourages a more consistent standard to limit charges of discrimination, whether those charges are founded or not.  It is more defensible to always call the same play the same way, regardless of the clock or the closeness of the score, which are ultimately somewhat subjective standards (just how close does the game have to be?).

So I recognize that rule of law foul calls may now be necessary, even if I do not myself prefer them.

One relevant point here is that with better recording and a wider dissemination of the recordings, the NBA has in fact moved much closer to the rule of law.

So it can be done, and perhaps others can do it too.  Just like the spit testing.

Addendum from the comments: “The real reason must be gambling – they want gambling on the NBA to be legitimate, and this causes a lot of problems if the refs have a lot of latitude to make choices. The NBA has had problems with this.”

Why so much scoring in the bubble?

Toronto just beat Brooklyn 150-122, and an ESPN headline for another game reads “Mitchell’s 51 upstage Murray’s 50 in classic duel.”  Toronto is also a team with a sometimes iffy or stagnant offensive, especially in the half court set.  So why are so many points being scored?  I see a few hypotheses:

1. It is harder to commit fouls, since referees can hear every slap, push, and grunt.  That in turn favors the scorers.

2. The players are still somewhat out of shape from the long layoff, and perhaps that favors offense over defense.  (A’ la Leontief, might the defense quality be determined by the “most out of shape” player?)

3. The absence of a live crowd demotivates the defense more than the offense?  Similarly, perhaps the absence of home court effects demotivates the defense more?

4. Playing every other night is exhausting for all but the top players.  Defense is more or less evenly distributed (you can’t leave anyone totally open, unless it is Charles Jones), but offense is concentrated in a smaller number of top scorers.  Differential stamina effects thus favor the offense.

5. Good offense beats good defense anyway.  Due to the absence of late night partying, boozing, “frolicking,” etc. we are seeing better, purer forms of both offense and defense, and that on net helps the offense.

6. Lack of travel and consistency of courts favor the offense more than the defense.

What else?  And which of these are true?

College football is education too

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

So far the data are fragmentary, but they indicate that parties, bar-going and after-hours fraternization — not athletic practices — have been the major risks contributing to Covid-19 clusters among young people of college age. For all the talk of banning athletics, how about university regulations banning all alcohol consumption (including off-campus) for all registered students, under the pain of academic suspension? [NB: more schools have started trying at least partial versions of this since I wrote the column.]…

There is the risk that football players and other collegiate athletes will bring the virus home to their parents and older relatives. Still, that danger seems to be at least as high if they are bored and going out drinking, compared to practicing and trying to secure their place on the team. It simply is not obvious that athletics create a new risk.

Under the current system, student athletes can opt not to participate, just as many NBA players have elected not to play in the league’s “bubble.” While there are social pressures to go ahead and play, they are no different than the pressures to socialize more generally. Yet there are no calls to ban young people from socializing, even though that too is clearly a dangerous activity — perhaps the most dangerous activity — in terms of Covid-19 spread.

There is much more at the link.

The greatest gaming performance ever?

Or is chess a sport?

First Magnus Carlsen “privatizes” chess competition, naming the major tournament after himself, setting all of the rules, and becoming the residual claimant on the income stream.

He reshapes the entire format into a seven set, four months-long series of shorter tournaments, consisting of multiple games per day, 15 minutes per player per game, with increment.  It seems most chess fans find this new format far more exciting and watchable than the last two world championship matches, which have featured 22 slow draws and only two decisive games (with the title decided by rapid tiebreakers in each case — why not just head to the rapids?).

Magnus won all but one of the “sets” or mini-tournaments, along the way regularly dispatching the game’s top players at an astonishing pace, often tossing them aside like mere rag dolls.  Even the #2 and #3 rated players — Caruana and Ding Liren — stood little chance against his onslaught.  Carlsen kept on winning these mini-tournaments against fields of ten players, typically all at a world class level.

A Final Four then led to a 38-game, seven-day showdown between Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura, not decided until the very last set of moves yesterday.  Note that at the more rapid pace Nakamura may well be a better player than Carlsen and is perhaps the only real challenge to him (at slower classical speeds Nakamura would be in the top twenty but is not at the very top of the rankings).

Nonetheless Carlsen prevailed.  Nakamura had the upper hand in terms of initiative, but in the final five-minute tie-breaking round, Carlsen needed to pull out 1.5 of the last 2 points, which indeed he did.  He drew by constructing an impregnable fortress against Nakamura’s Queen, and in the final “sudden death Armageddon” round a draw is equivalent to a victory for Black.

Along the way, at the same time, Magnus participated in Fantasy Football, competing against millions, at times holding the #1 slot and finishing #11 in what is a very competitive and demanding endeavor.

The Covid cost of professional sports events

We compare COVID-19 case loads and mortality across geographic areas that hosted more vs fewer NHL hockey games, NBA basketball games, and NCAA basketball games during the early months of 2020, before any large outbreaks. We find that hosting one additional NHL/NBA game leads to an additional 783 COVID-19 cases during March-mid May and an additional 52 deaths. Similarly, we find that hosting an additional NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball games results in an additional 31 cases and an additional 2.4 deaths. Back of the envelope calculations suggest that the per-game fatality costs exceed consumption benefits by a wide margin.

That is from Coady Wing, Daniel H. Simon, and Patrick Carlin.  I think we have not a good enough model of the heterogeneities of prevalence across regions for those to be reliable estimates.  Still, I am happy to see more work on the question of what in particular causes Covid cases, and also whether sporting events play a significant role.

How to restart the baseball season sustainably

You may have read that a number of early games in the season have been cancelled due to many of the players testing positive for Covid-19.  There is talk of the season being unsustainable, but it seems a simple remedy has not yet been tried — dock a player 30 percent of his salary if he tests positive.  That should limit the degree of nightclubbing and carousing, keeping in mind that the already-infected are probably some of the worst offenders and they have been “taken care of.”  Furthermore, the players would have a strong incentive to monitor each other, not wanting to be on the receiving end of an infection from a teammate.

While that arrangement presumably runs counter to the collective bargaining agreement, that agreement can and should be revised if season cancellation is the true alternative.

If need be, the fines can be redistributed to the players who never test positive, thus keeping total compensation constant.

Incentives don’t always work, but if you haven’t even tried them something is amiss.  Do I hear “35 percent”?  “Forty”?  “Thirty-seven percent and three lashes”?

How to rename the Washington Redskins

McCauley first trademarked the Washington Pigskins in 2015, and while he has lost count himself, a search of the US Trademark and Patent Office website shows that he holds trademarks for names such as the Washington Monuments, Washington Redtails, Washington Veterans, Washington Red Wolves and Washington Warriors.

Somehow I don’t think it will be the Warriors, nor “the Washington Pandas” (story here).

I say “the Washington Redtails,” or my very first choice would be the Maryland Tolerations.

The Ivy League culture that is Major League Baseball

But the rise of analytics also has resulted in another massive shift: an influx of white, male graduates of Ivy League schools and other prestigious universities into teams’ front offices. In a data analysis conducted by ESPN, the percentage of Ivy League graduates holding an organization’s top baseball operations decision-making position — which, depending on the club, could be its president, vice president or general manager — has risen from just 3% in 2001 to 43% today; while the percentage of graduates from U.S. News & World Report’s list of the top 25 colleges — both universities and liberal arts schools — holding the same positions has risen from 24% to 67%.

Here is more from ESPN, via Adam Minter.  How do you think other economic sectors will be evolving?  And what would Malcolm Gladwell say?

How to identify interesting boats and sailors

I know nothing about this topic, so thought I should pass along this email from MR reader Edward Dixon:

Having benefited from your advice on restaurants, I thought I would pass on some simple tips for the identification of interesting boats & interesting sailors.

The method is actually a little like finding an interesting restaurant: most of the boats you see are more or less in the form in which they left the boatyard that built them.  You can think of them and their owners as being akin to chain restaurants.   These are the ones to ignore!

Watch instead for boats:
– Ignore anything suggested of a racing pedigree
– Equipped to sail. Two masts are better than one.  Gaff rigs and junk rigs are also interesting indicators.  The limited speed but unlimited range are attributes of sail that act as a sort of filder.
– extra hardware bolted on top, like a solar panel / wind-vane combination
– A complicated-looking wind-vane attachment bolted onto the stern indicates self-steering gear
– A cupola or dome, a little reminiscent of a turret on top of a WWII bomber somewhere on the coach-roof.
– Indications that the boat is a home-build – possible harder for you to assess

Boats with quirks tend to contain interesting people; often they have made Unconventional Life Choices, including of course long sea voyages, often solo.  They have often made extraordinary efforts to go to sea – I once met a man in late middle age who had crossed the Irish Sea in an easterly gale in a 17ft open boat he had constructed himself using (non-marine-grade) plywood, and who was engaged in a boat-based camping tour of Ireland.  This turned out to be entirely consistent with the rest of his history.

Interesting boat folk, like interesting restaurants, are out there to be found, once you learn a few heuristics.

Claims about equities (and gamblers)

Mr. Young, 30, has only about $2,500 invested, making him a guppy among whales. But some Wall Street analysts see people who used to bet on sports as playing a big role in the market’s recent surge, which has largely erased its losses for the year.

“There’s zero doubt in my mind that it is a factor,” said Julian Emanuel, chief equity and derivatives strategist at the brokerage firm BTIG. “Zero doubt.”

Millions of small-time investors have opened trading accounts in recent months, a flood of new buyers unlike anything the market had seen in years, just as lockdown orders halted entire sectors of the economy and sent unemployment soaring.

It’s not clear how many of the new arrivals are sports bettors, but some are behaving like aggressive gamblers. There has been a jump in small bets in the stock options market, where wagers on the direction of share prices can produce thrilling scores and gut-wrenching losses. And transactions that make little economic sense, like buying up the nearly valueless shares of bankrupt companies, are off the charts.

File under “speculative,” here is the full NYT story.

Which NBA teams will gain in relative prospects from the shutdown?

The Los Angeles Lakers, far and away.

The most valuable stars, such as LBJ, have their own private gyms and work-out rooms, often in their homes.  They have stayed in the best shape, and of course LBJ has the discipline too.  Those star players also are the most used to unusual circumstances (All-star games, Olympics, etc.) and being accustomed to higher than average levels of pressure.  They rely less on crowd support than do the role players, noting it is the latter who benefit much more from home court advantage.  If the games are played in Las Vegas and Orlando, and without crowds, no one will have home court advantage (except the Orlando Magic, sort of).

So teams built around star veterans will have higher chances of doing better in the playoffs.

The interrupted and probably shortened season also will be easier on the older players, which again covers LeBron.  Anthony Davis is not so old but the Lakers would love to play him as many minutes as possible.

The teams with “many necessary complementary parts” will fare worst in relative terms.  With such a long break, surely at least 10-20% of those players have “gone off the reservation,” so to speak, and will not return to quality form for some time.  Those teams will not gel so easily and find their groove.

Who might that be?  I know the Clippers have two big stars, but they seem to rely a lot on the team as a whole.  Who else?  The Celtics maybe?  Indiana?

What are the implications of this analysis for management and business firms?  Will teams built around a superstar have an advantage there too?

What sports I’ve been watching

Game 2, Celtics vs. Bulls, 1986, the one where Michael Jordan scored 63 points.  Watching it over a number of days on the exercise bike, I was struck by the following:

1. The Chicago Bulls, to a remarkable degree, decided to run their offense through Orlando Woolridge, and not for the better.

2. The camera did not follow MJ around obsessively, nor do the announcers seem to realize how great he will become — this was his second season, and he spent much of it injured and not playing.  And he was not yet able to make his teammates better (see #1).

3. One announcer remarks that Charles Oakley is not big and strong enough to play center.  Admittedly Robert Parrish was taller, but Oakley was one of the strongest men ever to play in the NBA.

4. The game comes across as remarkably slow, and the Celtics as molasses slow and bad at defense.  A swarming contemporary defense would shut down Kevin McHale.  Ainge and Dennis Johnson are heralded as one of the best backcourts ever, but I believe Damian Lillard or a few other current peers would cut them to ribbons.  Note that the Celtics were 40-1 at home that season, still a record, so they were a remarkable team for their time.

5. Michael Jordan scores most of his points on shots — the long 2 — that coaches strongly discourage players from taking these days because of their low expected value.

6. Few of them look good taking a three-pointer.

7. MJ aside, Bill Walton is the one who comes across as the world-class player on the court, despite his age of 33, a long history of foot and other injuries, and limited mobility.

8. 63 points is a lot, but the Bulls lost the game and Jordan was far from his later peak.  It is nonetheless striking how much better was his conditioning than that of any other player on the court, and that is why he was able to score so much in the fourth quarter and take over the game.