It might seem like a matter of time before the NFL and London stop flirting and start going steady. Six NFL teams have flown across the Atlantic to play a football game this year — most recently, the Dallas Cowboys and Jacksonville Jaguars, who squared off on Sunday in the third and final London game of the season. (Just as if they were playing on home soil, the Jaguars lost badly.) The league would have to inconvenience only two additional teams1A 16-game regular season would require eight visiting teams to travel to London. to host a franchise in London full-time.Most commentary on the possibility of a London NFL team has been skeptical. Bill Barnwell, of Grantland, worried last year about travel and timing logistics and the potential disadvantages a London franchise would face in recruiting free agents.My view is more optimistic, at least when it comes to whether a London team could find a sufficient fan base. I’m not sure a franchise in London would be a smashing success. But even given conservative assumptions, London’s huge population and revenue base are probably enough to outweigh the relatively low level of NFL interest there. Perhaps more important, in contrast to some U.S.-based candidates for expansion or relocation, a London team would not cannibalize much of the fan bases of existing NFL franchises.Still, if London got first dibs on a team, the NFL would be overlooking a couple of more obvious candidates much closer to home.Last year, I looked at the National Hockey League’s allocation of franchises, estimating the size of each market’s NHL fan base using the population of its metropolitan area and the number of Google searches for the term “NHL.” (The analysis concluded that the NHL is overextended into smaller U.S. markets while underserving Canadian fans.) Here, I’ll perform the same analysis for the NFL, comparing cities that already have a team to potential new markets in North America and Europe.As with the hockey analysis, I’ll assume the popularity of the NFL in a given market is proportional to the number of Google searches for NFL-related topics,2The distinction between Google search topics and search strings is explained here. Topics are more comprehensive — for instance, Google searches for both “NFL” and “National Football League” will be grouped under the same topic. However, I default the search string for the term “NFL” in countries where topic-level estimates are not available, adjusting them upward to account for the less comprehensive search coverage. as according to Google Trends. Google searches might not be a perfect measure of popularity but they correlate reasonably well with other measures of franchise success3In the NHL, for instance, our Google-based estimates of each team’s fan base correlated strongly with its profitability. and allow us to compare domestic and international markets by the same standard. The only ad-hoc adjustment I’ve made is to lump Green Bay together with Milwaukee for purposes of calculating the Packers’ fan base.Otherwise, this is pretty simple: We’re just multiplying a metro area’s population4Market sizes are drawn from the estimates of metro-area populations put together by Demographia earlier this year. In the past, I’ve preferred to use estimates based on TV market sizes, which are slightly more inclusive of outlying areas that have a cultural affinity with a particular metroplex. But these aren’t widely available outside the U.S. and Canada. by the volume of Google searches it conducts on NFL-related topics. The estimated number of fans in each market is calibrated to the U.S. national average of 28 percent of Americans who say they are “very interested” in the NFL. Our estimates of the number of NFL fans in the 30 existing NFL markets5There are 32 NFL teams, but the New York and San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose metro areas have two teams each. — and about two dozen plausible expansion destinations — follow6Google Trends data is less detailed in some other countries than it is in the U.S. For cities in Canada, Germany, Spain and Mexico, I use data taken from the state or province level rather than the metro area. For London, I use data from the city level rather than the metropolitan area.:In contrast to the NHL (or college football), the level of interest in the NFL is fairly consistent from place to place in the United States. There’s also relatively little difference between those markets that have an NFL franchise and those that don’t.In some ways, these are signs of the league’s success: The NFL has conquered Sunday afternoons in just about every nook and cranny of the United States. And it’s principally a television sport. In the NFL, it’s not quite as important where the franchises are located — so long as you can transmit a TV signal from there.But partly because of the NFL’s pervasiveness, it has run out of highly attractive American markets other than Los Angeles. (Other than that, Mr. Goodell, how was the play?) Even Los Angeles provides some evidence of the league’s saturation: NFL interest there is only mildly lower than the national average despite the city not having hosted a team since 1994. Let’s say, however, that the NFL comes to its senses and places a team in Los Angeles soon. Where else is there to go in the U.S.?Las Vegas has high levels of NFL avidity and ranks as the next-largest untapped U.S. market by the number of NFL fans. But given the NFL’s longstanding paranoia about associations with gambling, putting a team there would be as much of an adventure for the league as going to a foreign market.After this are a series of markets — Orlando, Florida; Sacramento, California; Virginia Beach, Virginia; San Antonio; Austin, Texas; and Columbus, Ohio — where a team would play in the shadow of a more established franchise: The San Francisco 49ers in the case of Sacramento, for instance, or the Dallas Cowboys in the case of San Antonio. We’ll seek to measure the effect of this in more detail later on. It’s not that these markets are necessarily any less NFL-worthy than, say, Nashville or Jacksonville. But they’d reshuffle existing fans around more than they’d allow the league to expand its footprint.The foreign markets are more intriguing. Let’s start with London.I estimate from the Google data that only about 4 percent of Londoners are NFL fans now. However, the city’s metro area has about 10 million people. That means it has about 400,000 NFL fans. That isn’t great, but it’s comparable to a few existing NFL markets (Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Charlotte, Kansas City) and slightly larger than a few others (Buffalo, New Orleans, Jacksonville, Nashville). A London franchise might be the equivalent of a “small-market” team — but it would hardly be a huge outlier.There are a number of reasons to think this underestimates London’s potential. London is wealthy, with a GDP per capita of somewhere around £37,000 ($60,000 at current exchange rates). That means higher ticket prices and more billionaires to buy the team when it goes up for sale. London is also among the most-visited cities by tourists in the world with about 15 million international visitors a year.7Assuming that the average tourist visit lasts three to four days, that means there are about 150,000 international tourists in London at any given time. That’s small compared to London’s baseline of 10 million permanent residents, but it’s a nice little bonus. And it doesn’t account for travel there from within the United Kingdom, which is also significant.More important, our estimate that 4 percent of Londoners are NFL fans is based on the volume of Google searches since 2004. Those searches have increased recently, and there’s reason to expect a further increase in fan interest if a team is located in the city permanently. As measured by Google searches, interest in the NHL increased by about 80 percent in the province of Manitoba, Canada, after the league relocated a franchise to Winnipeg in 2011. The NBA experienced a similar increase in Oklahoma City when it moved a team there.8It also helps that the Oklahoma City Thunder have been much better than their predecessors, the Seattle Sonics. Because the NFL is already so saturated in the United States, I wouldn’t expect an 80 percent increase in NFL interest if you placed a team in Orlando or Austin. But London, and other foreign markets, have a much lower baseline and more room to grow.A London-based team could also have some appeal across the rest of England and the United Kingdom. One precedent comes from the Toronto Blue Jays and Toronto Raptors, the only Canadian teams in Major League Baseball and the NBA, respectively. Each one generates about 20 percent to 25 percent as much search traffic in other Canadian provinces as it does in its native Ontario. That doesn’t sound great, but it’s higher than most U.S.-based franchises, many of which generate only about 5 percent as much search traffic outside their home states. With no other franchise to compete against geographically, a London team could be regional in the way the Denver Broncos, Dallas Cowboys and Boston Red Sox are, covering a larger footprint than you’d infer from its metro area alone.You might think these are pie-in-the-sky assumptions; I think they’re pretty reasonable. The only issue is that there are two other international destinations that rank better still.They’re not among the more exotic choices. Paris, Dusseldorf9Essen-Dusseldorf, which also includes several other mid-size cities, is the most populous metropolitan area in Germany. and Madrid almost certainly would not have the fan bases to support an NFL team at the present time. A second U.K.-based team, in a place such as Manchester, would not do much better. Nor in all likelihood would San Juan, Puerto Rico, which is a baseball town.But the Toronto metro area is highly populous and NFL interest is already reasonably high there. I estimate T Dot has about 1 million NFL fans — more than the majority of U.S. markets to host an NFL team. As with the Raptors and Blue Jays in their sports, there could also some residual gains in NFL interest across the rest of Canada.Mexico City ranks even higher. Although only about 7.5 percent of people there are NFL fans, 7 percent of 20 million residents is still 1.5 million NFL fans.Could those Mexico City fans afford tickets and licensed replica jerseys and the products sponsors might want them to buy? Mexico gets pigeonholed as a developing country and that’s true for much of the nation, but Mexico City itself has developed into a thriving, bustling city with many of the creature comforts available in the other great metropolises of North America. Mexico City’s metro-area GDP is about $30,000 per capita and GDP per capita is nearing $50,000 in the city proper, comparable to that in U.S. cities. Levels of NFL interest in Mexico City, while not extraordinarily high, are higher than in London: An NFL game there in 2005 drew more than 100,000 spectators.The international markets also offer the advantage of being unconquered territory rather than existing in the shadow of any current NFL team. To measure this, I ran another series of Google Trends searches on topics related to individual NFL teams (e.g. searches for topics related to the Seattle Seahawks) to see how they compared to interest in the NFL as a whole.In existing NFL markets, Google search traffic for the local team is generally about 65 percent to 70 percent as high as that for the league as a whole. See here for the Detroit Lions, for example. Of the Detroit area’s roughly 840,000 NFL fans, Google search volume would suggest we’d allocate about 480,000 of them to the Lions. Another 200,000 or so would go to the next-most popular NFL teams there, the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears. That leaves relatively few “free agent” fans.In the foreign markets, however, including in Canada, fans are largely not committed to any one NFL franchise. In the table below, I’ve estimated the number of fans for the three most popular teams in each market and calculated how many fans remain after allocating fans to those teams.10The calculation is a bit rough for some of the less promising markets. Interest in the NFL is low enough in Dusseldorf that we don’t have a great idea of who the most popular teams are there. Also, in England, the most popular team according to Google topics is nominally the Cleveland Browns. But this appears to be a false positive, with Google having picked up on other contexts in which the word “Browns” is used. Searches for the text string “Cleveland Browns” as opposed to the topic “Cleveland Browns” are quite low in England. In Mexico City, for instance, the Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers and Broncos are probably the most popular teams. But searches for those three teams combined represent only 20 percent to 25 percent of searches for NFL-related topics as a whole. Contrast that with Columbus, where searches for the Cleveland Browns, Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals represent about 90 percent of searches for the NFL as a whole. That’s not to say a Columbus-based team wouldn’t pick up some fans of its own, but they might come largely at the expense of the Browns, Bengals and Steelers rather than acquainting new fans with the league.Toronto, like Mexico City, has only about 20 percent of NFL fans allocated to one of the three most popular NFL teams there. The Buffalo Bills have sometimes protestested that Toronto is part of their market, but NFL fans in Toronto take only a modest interest in the Bills according to search data and other metrics like merchandise sales.I estimate there are about 50,000 Bills fans in greater Toronto. That isn’t nothing when there are only about 300,000 NFL fans in metro Buffalo itself. But that’s Buffalo’s problem, not Toronto’s. If the NFL wants to have a franchise in Buffalo, it should have one in Buffalo. It should also have one in Toronto. The league would come out ahead if it had to slightly subsidize the Bills with the extra revenues it gained from a Toronto team.How about Montreal or Vancouver instead? If you could combine the virtues of the two — Montreal’s larger population with Vancouver’s greater NFL interest — you’d have an NFL-worthy city. As it stands, however, both are decidedly inferior to Toronto. Montreal comes out slightly better than Vancouver in our reckoning because, while each has about the same number of NFL fans, a fair number of those in Vancouver are committed to the Seattle Seahawks.Among U.S. cities, Los Angeles remains No. 1 with a bullet after allocating fans to existing teams. Las Vegas’s numbers also hold up well. So, to a lesser extent, do Orlando’s, a surprising result given that there are three other NFL teams in Florida. But Orlando, like other cities in the state, has a lot of expats from the north who root for teams like the New England Patriots and New York Giants and who might or might not be intrigued by an expansion team. The state of Florida has produced its fair share of disappointments in cultivating loyalty toward new franchises. Most of the other American candidates could wind up like Jacksonville — at best just barely big enough to support a team on its own and with that team having barely any footprint beyond the city’s borders.A final question is about the NFL’s endgame. If the NFL merely needs a couple of credible candidates for relocation — whether as leverage against existing teams or as genuine alternatives — Los Angeles and London should more than suffice. But if the league is thinking about expansion, it might have to do it in a big way. Thirty-two teams is a convenient number, readily divisible into two conferences and eight divisions of four teams each. A 33-, 34- or 35-team league would be awkward, however. The next equilibrium would be 36 teams instead, which could be divided into six divisions of six teams each.In that case, the NFL ought to return to cultivating the Mexico City market and treat Toronto as more than a token alternative for the Bills. An expansion to those cities along with London and Los Angeles would be the boldest thing the league has done in years — and possibly the smartest.CORRECTION (2:15 p.m.): An earlier version of a chart in this article misstated the number of unallocated NFL fans for Mexico City. That number is 1.15 million, not 1.49 million.
Matt Ginsberg’s technology may be able to tell us mortals what the universe already knows — it may let the universe whisper in our ear. We may not have to wait for a resolution. We may, for example, have been able to hear Cinderella’s death knell just a little bit sooner. Rather than “keep your eye on the ball,” it’s now “keep your eye on where the ball will be.”Sportvision — the company behind football’s 1st & Ten, baseball’s PITCHf/x, sailing’s LiveLine and other tech — has undertaken some real-time projections of a different sort. It has tech that tells TV viewers when one car is expected to pass another in NASCAR, for example. But Hank Adams, Sportvision’s CEO, told me he wasn’t aware of any other technology like Ginsberg’s. It seemed reasonable. “I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he could predict, with some accuracy, whether a ball was going to go in or not,” Adams said.Adams also mused on the implications of Ginsberg’s technology. Its use as a TV storytelling tool may be limited, he said, given the mere second or two that it allows us to see into the future. He was also skeptical that the NBA would allow any in-game use by teams. It could be a valuable coaching tool, he thought. Or in training. Perhaps in a golf telecast. Maybe for players in a volleyball game. Neither of us was really sure. Truth No. 1: Most of us watch sports to see the unexpected. Truth No. 2: Plenty of us want to predict the future.Somewhere, where those two contradictory truths meet, there has been a movement afoot. For decades now, sports-crazed statheads — the sabermetricians and forecasters and moneyballers bent on winning their fantasy leagues, assembling an actual professional team or simply understanding the sports world — have been honing their techniques, trying to find the signal hiding in the noise. In baseball alone, an alphabet soup of player projection systems have been born — ZiPS, CAIRO, CHONE. We just introduced CARMELO to basketball. The movement is trying, in other words, to predict the unexpected.There are some in the movement who want to project the future, quite literally, on the screens in front of our eyes. Somewhere in the foothills of Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, an astrophysicist and his son are working, with the backing of an outspoken billionaire, to bring us just such a glimpse. Armed only with a camera, a laptop and their custom code, they’re working on a system that calls a 3-pointer a swish or a brick, a volleyball serve in or out, a soccer shot over the bar or in the goal, all before the ball completes its flight. If the system works — and that’s a big “if” — it would be equivalent to a minor superpower: flash precognition. The sports fan would become, if only for a second or two, a superhero.And the system is almost done. This, right here, could be the future of sports: But the system’s not perfect — not yet. It occasionally doesn’t even recognize a shot is happening, or it thinks a pass is a shot, or it simply makes the wrong call after identifying a shot. Here, it thinks a long pass is a long shot: Again, the idea is simple. Almost comically so, judging by illustrations in the patent application.The execution, on the other hand, is not simple. Matt Ginsberg’s training is in astrophysics. He got his Ph.D. from Oxford when he was 24 years old. His doctoral advisor there was the famed mathematical physicist Roger Penrose, and he recalls rubbing elbows with the academic rock stars Stephen Hawking and the late Richard Feynman. He created an artificial intelligence crossword puzzle solver called Dr. Fill and a computer bridge world champion called GIB.Unsurprisingly, there’s pretty heavy math involved to make this real-time sports predictor work. For one element of the system’s calculations, Ginsberg sent me a pdf with eight dense pages of physics diagrams and systems of equations and notes on derivations. It uses something called the Levenberg-Marquardt algorithm. It requires Jacobians and the taking of partial derivatives and the solving of quartics, and code efficient enough to calculate it all up to the split second. If predicting the future were easy, I suppose everybody would do it. (See Truth No. 2, above.)One thing this project can’t predict, however, is its own future. Its uses are, so far, largely speculative, and cashing in on a minor superpower might not be easy. Even gamblers who bet during play would struggle to make much money from a half-second heads-up that a shot is going in. But Ginsberg’s system would find a natural place in the long line of sports technologies that have been used for a singular end — TV. The development of this tech, which looks quaint in retrospect, was a major undertaking. In 1994, an executive vice president at News Corp. promised to develop glow puck technology within two years, for $2 million, according to a 2003 article in IEEE Spectrum. He scooped up a team of 10 with military engineering experience — in radar, underwater sensors and radio-positioning systems — and sought outside help from other defense engineers. It was all hands on deck to track a hockey puck.But the system was discontinued after three years. FoxTrax’s main problem was probably aesthetics. It was distracting, and the puck’s “tail” looked better suited to a comic book than a hockey game. Hockey fans protested, the broadcast rights changed networks, and the phenomenon died.But its developers were undeterred. They turned their attention to a problem that sounds easier, but was much trickier. A couple years later — on Sept. 27, 1998 — the middling Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens met in Baltimore. At 8:20 p.m. local time, a technology called 1st & Ten debuted. It’s better known as the yellow first-down line. The yellow line isn’t official — as anyone who’s ever watched a football game on TV could tell you — but the yellow line is beloved. I had 13 good football-watching years under my belt before its introduction, but I can’t remember watching a single game without it. The yellow line is ubiquitous. The yellow line won an Emmy. The yellow line is here to stay. Watch FiveThirtyEight’s Oliver Roeder and Jody Avirgan talk about Ginsberg’s invention. Matt Ginsberg is tall and fit with sharp features and, aside from his closely cut grey hair, resembles a 40-year-old rock climber more closely than the 60-year-old technologist and businessman that he is. He’s affable but deeply serious. I first met him in Stamford, Connecticut, in March, at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, where he was operating Dr. Fill, his artificial intelligence crossword puzzle solver. In the crossword community, he’s both loved and hated — he’s the guy who might be a little too clever for his own good who’s trying to ruin all the fun with his fancy computer program.His would-be revolution in sports technology grew out of his role as unofficial statistical analyst for the University of Oregon’s women’s volleyball team. He has, among other things, imported basketball’s adjusted plus-minus system to volleyball, and convinced the team’s coach that the way timeouts were traditionally used was inefficient. Last November, while Ginsberg was watching a game, a player hit a serve that, from Ginsberg’s bleacher seat, looked like it was sure to go out. The returning players should’ve simply let the ball go out but they didn’t. Ginsberg was annoyed. “I can fix this. We can have a computer help,” he told me. “I did not realize how hard it would be.”While the development of FoxTrax and 1st & Ten resembled military contracts, Matt Ginsberg’s purported crystal ball was developed in a son-and-pop shop in Eugene, Oregon. Navarre Ginsberg is a 21-year-old programmer and Matt Ginsberg’s son. When I reached Navarre Ginsberg by phone in early October, his dad told me not to take up too much of his time — he had to get the camera working. It was the younger Ginsberg who first suggested to his dad that this technology could be taken far beyond just volleyball. Matt is in charge of the big picture; Navarre is responsible for handling coding issues as they arise, and making sure the damn thing works.The result looks like this. Here’s a Rajon Rondo shot that misses right — as correctly called by the computer: The vast majority of our collective sports-viewing is on television. Around 21 million people watch an average Sunday Night Football game on TV, for example — some 300 times more than the 70,000 who are able to see it in person. Our sports experience is, to a first approximation, a television experience. I’ve seen Tom Brady play dozens of times, even though I’ve never seen Tom Brady play.And television has been enhancing — or, at the very least, altering — how we watch sports ever since TV was invented. NBC coverage of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, the first sporting event ever televised, used slow motion footage to “show the form, the poetry of motion” of a pole vaulter.It seems a natural fit. Cameras and technology can do many things our eyes can’t. If we can see closeups of Pluto, surely we deserve a crystal-clear view of Odell Beckham Jr.’s catch. “Keep your eye on the ball” is the child’s earliest and most universal sports lesson. And nowadays we can see just about every little thing that happens to the ball. Or puck.Nearly 20 years ago, on Jan. 20, 1996, at the NHL All-Star Game, FoxTrax made its debut. FoxTrax is better known as a glowing hockey puck whizzing around the screen. The Ginsbergs are aware of their system’s imperfections, but they share an enthusiasm for what it can become. And they want to get it out into the world, perhaps as soon as this NBA season.“If we haven’t figured out why that’s valuable to a sport yet, we just haven’t thought hard enough yet,” Navarre Ginsberg said.Looking for investors, and an eventual outlet for his project, Matt Ginsberg approached Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Mavericks, in January. The idea had applications beyond volleyball, Ginsberg had realized. Cuban was hesitant, Ginsberg said, until Ginsberg proposed a deal: Give me $50,000, he said, and I’ll develop it, and the Mavericks can use it in one game.“$50,000 to win an NBA game of your choice is incredibly cheap,” Ginsberg recalled telling Cuban. “And you don’t care about the 50 grand but I do. And I’ll also give you a right of first refusal across the NBA.” Cuban wanted two years, and Ginsberg could keep the right of first refusal. Ginsberg agreed. A lawyer came in to iron out the finer points of the deal. The lawyer was suspicious. What the hell were the Mavs even buying? It could be unicorns.Cuban described his involvement in the project to me as “active” — providing tech and design recommendations. But Ginsberg is the brains behind the coding, he said in an email last week. The most promising use of the project, in Cuban’s view? “Real-time predictions on court that can be relayed to the sidelines.” He wouldn’t comment on how the Mavericks intend to use it, if at all.When I asked Cuban how he thought the NBA would respond, he deflected a bit: “It will have amazing real-time applications in the future — things like detecting whether or not a shot was goaltended, in real time, and relaying that information to officials or displaying it on the backboard.”“If we can make basketball more fun to watch on TV, how much is that worth? I am completely clueless.”Ginsberg’s views on the technology’s uses have been evolving dramatically since we first talked in March, but they’ve always been broad. Some uses seem doable; some no doubt pie-in-the-sky. Goaltending, as Cuban suggested, is one humble but useful application. The technology could ensure that goaltending is always called correctly — it analyzes a ball’s arc, so finding the apex of a given ball’s trajectory to check for goaltending would be easy pickings. Another use is volleyball serves. A system like this is legal in NCAA volleyball — or at least it’s not illegal. Yet. (The Ginsbergs are unabashed Oregon Duck homers. “I’m excited about helping my team,” the elder said.) Another is for soccer goalies. The tech could prevent them from ceding unnecessary corner kicks. Another is tennis. Tennis players could train with the technology, and learn in real time what types of passing shots they should let go at the net and which they should go all out to try to volley.But the killer app, in many of our conversations, has been basketball tactics. Imagine, Ginsberg would describe, if the home team’s players knew when their opponents’ shots were going to go in. They’d be signaled — a flashing light, maybe — and most of them could immediately race down to their offensive end, knowing they needn’t play any more defense on that play. A huge advantage; a sea change in basketball strategy.Now, whether that’s practical or would be allowed by the NBA seems questionable, at best. And Ginsberg has backed off this idea somewhat. At the very least, he doesn’t want this tactic available to just one team.“I don’t want to have every basketball fan who doesn’t live in Dallas hating me,” he said. “That would not make my life better.”So what about TV?“There are going to be media applications that I can’t predict, because I’m not a media guy,” he said. “The other thing that’s really become apparent to me, as we’ve gotten closer here, is that I don’t know what I’m doing. In the sense that there’s huge economic value to this. If we can make basketball more fun to watch on TV, how much is that worth to NBC? And I am completely clueless” — so clueless he didn’t realize the NBA hasn’t aired on NBC since 2002. The footage is from a Dallas Mavericks game against the San Antonio Spurs in March. What you see was calculated in real time, but for demonstration purposes the shot itself is slowed down. A computer tracked the ball’s position as well as its projected position, and the three red bars underneath the action indicate the system’s confidence that the ball would miss left, go in, or miss right, respectively. In this clip, it was a Monta Ellis jumper that went in, just as the tech predicted.“Many decisions in sports relate to the trajectory of a ball or similar object, such as a puck or shuttlecock,” reads the patent application for this technology filed in late August. There are three names on the patent application: Matthew L. Ginsberg, Navarre S. Ginsberg and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. The Ginsbergs have ambitions to spread their technology far and high, including to the NBA and its billionaire owners, including Cuban.When Matt Ginsberg first mentioned this project to me, back in March, he began the conversation like this: “I’m going to revolutionize sports.”His idea is simple: Find a ball with a camera and have it tell a computer what’s up with the ball (or shuttlecock or javelin or frisbee or whatever). Then have the computer calculate, in real time, where the ball’s going. Then turn that into some useful piece of information, knowing what sport we’re watching and the dimensions of that sport’s infrastructure — lines on the ground, baskets in the air, and so on. Have the computer tell you, maybe along with some measurement of its certainty, “that basketball will go in the basket” or “that volleyball will land outside the lines.”Then do something interesting with that fact. Have a red light go off to signal an out-of-bounds serve to the returning team. Have a soccer goalie’s smartwatch buzz if a shot is going to clear the bar, telling her she needn’t parry it and concede a corner kick. Put it on the TV screen for the folks at home. Technologies like these told us more about what we were looking at by putting a visual layer between us and a game on our TV. FoxTrax told us where the puck was at all times. 1st & Ten tells us where a team is trying to go. But they were just building blocks. Data was the next frontier.A torrent of new innovations followed in their wake. The NFL and Zebra Technologies have strapped radio-frequency identification chips onto players this season. The camera-tracking system SportVU has been hailed as the future of the NBA by our friends at Grantland. ProTracer technology has given golf fans something to stare at other than the warm plasma-screen glow of the summer sky. Hawk-Eye technology in tennis powers replay challenges and can track a ball to within mere millimeters. LiveLine, another Emmy winner, does its best to make sailing interesting to watch. And one word — in press releases, company websites and media coverage of these technologies — appears over and over again: “revolutionary.” Layering data on top of a sports broadcast is the frontier.But, as with most revolutions, there is a staunch establishment that leans against the shifting winds. In April, Vice published a philippic against K-Zone, the imaginary strike zone projected on the screen during baseball games. “The calculus at the root of this experiment seems to be that we prefer perfect information to beauty, precision to custom,” Robert O’Connell wrote. And some even rebel against television itself. Each season, the supremacy of radio-baseball to TV-baseball is vocally declaimed by acolytes. “Listening to a game on the radio, while driving along through the night hits some sort of cosmic level of perfection, especially if you can find it on an AM station, with a slight whine from some other signal, scratchy static calling the game in from across time and space,” Todd VanDerWerff, Vox’s culture editor, wrote in his newsletter earlier this month. “The fall of baseball could certainly be tied to the slow decline of radio as well,” he added.The natural-human-beauty-vs.-cold-mechanical-statistics sports debate has been thoroughly litigated, including on FiveThirtyEight. The jury is hopelessly hung. Do you want a dressed-up broadcast? Do you want a television screen augmented with pitch counts and wind speeds and strike zones and Bryce Harper’s velocity running to first? Or do you simply want to tune your dial to AM 720 for the crack of the bat and the passionate, pained voice of Ron Santo, may he rest in peace?I’d guess the split is largely generational. As the aesthetics of real televised sports approach those of sports video games, with their elaborate heads-up displays and options, the younger set may feel more at ease. But there’s more than just aesthetics that sports share with video games. The outcomes of events in both are pre-known, if you know where to look. When you kick a field goal in Madden 16, for example, the path of the ball is already written. Sure, you’ll see the ball fly through the air for a few seconds, and perhaps drift slowly toward the right upright, causing you to clench. But the game and your Xbox already “know” if it’s good or wide right — the kick’s power and distance, the wind, etc. have already been thrown into whatever algorithm and the result already spat out. The anticipation is just an illusion. But isn’t that the same in real life? When Butler’s Gordon Hayward launched the shot that would’ve beaten Duke in the 2010 NCAA final, it hangs in the air for-seemingly-ever — in fact it’s just shy of two seconds — and we don’t know whether it will go in or out. (See Truth No. 1, above.) But the universe “knows.” Physics “knows.” This technology’s future may become a lot clearer very soon. Ginsberg has been taking meetings over the phone. This month, he talked with an NBA executive vice president to discuss what impact this technology should have on the game. And he talked with Marc Lasry, the billionaire hedge-fund manager and co-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, who Ginsberg thinks can help advise him on the economics.But here’s the thing about predicting the future: You’d better be right. In the 13-minute video Ginsberg sent me, the computer was right on 23 of its 30 calls — about 77 percent accuracy. It also didn’t recognize a shot, or thought a pass was a shot, on 10 occasions. Even just miscalling a few shots in a game could doom a project like this. If this tech is ever integral to the game — for a broadcaster or a pro team — it’ll be a fine line between the computer as Oracle of Delphi and the computer as useless hunk of junk.The Ginsbergs know this, and have been so busy hammering away at the last pesky nails sticking out of their project that they haven’t even named the thing yet. The patent application calls it Real-Time Sports Advisory System Using Ball Trajectory Prediction — and RTSASUBTP doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. My suggestion: The tRuth. The technological Babe Ruth. He called his shot, after all.
On second thought, Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert said he would have traded LeBron James instead of being in the weakened position of allowing James to bolt as an unrestricted free agent to Miami with his team receiving no compensation.Gilbert had expressed anger and dismay when James announced he was “taking his talents to South Beach” two years ago. Gilbert even said in a scathing open letter that his Cavaliers would win a championship before James.Tuesday night, Gilbert said that if he and then-general manager Danny Ferry could do it all over again, they would have assured the team would get some assets in return instead of allowing James to leave a huge hole in the organization.“The key thing, whoever you are and wherever you are, you cannot wait,” Gilbert said. ”The big lesson was if a player is not willing to extend, no matter who they are, no matter where they are playing, no matter what kind of season you had, you cannot risk going into a summer and having them leave in unrestricted free agency and get nothing back for it.”Gilbert admitted there would have been some backlash to trading James at the height of his career.“I’m sure the player or whoever would have said, ‘Of course I would have stayed. You guys screwed up and ruined the whole franchise.’ You’re in a no-win situation,” Gilbert said.His proclamation of winning a title before James came back to haunt him in June, when James concluded a brilliant season with his first NBA title. That, according to Gilbert, should close that chapter of the aftermath of James’ departure.“If you’re going to predict something that doesn’t happen and you’re going to do it publicly, you’d for sure take it back,” Gilbert said. “When that happened, when they won, it was the end of the end of the end of that whole thing. Now there’s nothing more to talk about.“In a way it was like a little bit of a relief. If they didn’t win it, it would’ve been still another thing of who’s going to win it [first]?”As for his team, “We want to win as much as the fans do,” Gilbert said. “No matter how long it takes, and no matter what it takes, we’re just going to keep going until we get there.”
For every team in the College Football Playoff hunt, the path forward remains an arduous one, filled with peril at every turn. But some of those paths are at least relatively straightforward; others involve a bunch of different moving parts. Today, let’s take a look at what each significant playoff contender needs to go its way — keeping things vaguely within the realm of the likely — in order to get to at least 90 percent playoff odds in the eyes of our prediction model. In each case, we’ll try to get it there in as few results as possible,1It’s important to note that this is without regard to chronology. So for instance, winning the conference championship could be the simplest way a team gets to 90 percent playoff odds, but that team would also need to win some easy games beforehand to make the conference title game matter. Our approach would still consider a conference title game win to be the simplest path, because the high probability of getting to that game in a position to make the playoff is “baked in” to the conditional probabilities. (Yes, my head hurts, too.) which is easier said for some teams than others.ClemsonCurrent playoff chances: 87 percentPath to 90+ percent:Clemson wins the ACC championship (Week 14): +9 percentage pointsConditional playoff chances: 96 percentChance of happening: 85 percentAlabamaCurrent playoff chances: 76 percentPath to 90+ percent:Alabama beats Georgia in the SEC championship (Week 14): +23 percentage pointsConditional playoff chances: 99 percentChance of happening: 64 percentGeorgiaCurrent playoff chances: 39 percentPath to 90+ percent:Georgia beats Alabama in the SEC championship (Week 14): +52 percentage pointsConditional playoff chances: 91 percentChance of happening: 36 percentThese three are pretty basic. The undefeated Tigers and Crimson Tide are both practically assured of making the playoff if they just win their respective conference title games — even if they don’t otherwise win out. There are a few scenarios in which the two teams could miss the playoff with losses in between now and championship Saturday, but our model says the Tigers would still have an 80 percent playoff shot even if they lose to, say, Boston College this weekend but win the ACC. Likewise, Bama would be at 92 percent if it loses the Iron Bowl against Auburn but still wins the SEC.Alabama and Clemson’s chances if they win all their remaining games except the conference championship are 45 and 44 percent, respectively. But for the one-loss Bulldogs, that number is 12 percent. So for all intents and purposes, they have no choice but to hand the Tide a huge upset defeat if they want to extend their national championship hopes. The good news, though, is that if we assume UGA plays to the model’s expectations in its other three games (against Auburn, UMass and Georgia Tech), the SEC title game is the big win-and-you’re-in matchup to circle on the Bulldog calendar. In other words, for all three teams, the simplest playoff road leads through the conference championship.Notre DameCurrent playoff chances: 58 percentPath to 90+ percent:Notre Dame beats Florida State in Week 11: +5 percentage pointsNotre Dame beats Syracuse in Week 12: +15 pointsNotre Dame beats USC in Week 13: +14 pointsConditional playoff chances: 92 percentChance of happening: 49 percentOklahomaCurrent playoff chances: 41 percentPath to 90+ percent:Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State in Week 11: +4 percentage pointsOklahoma beats Kansas in Week 12: +1 pointsOklahoma beats West Virginia in Week 13: +21 pointsOklahoma wins the Big 12 championship (Week 14): +24 pointsConditional playoff chances: 91 percentChance of happening: 37 percentOhio StateCurrent playoff chances: 18 percentPath to 90+ percent:Ohio State beats Michigan State in Week 11: +12 percentage pointsOhio State beats Michigan in Week 13: +32 pointsOhio State wins the Big Ten championship (Week 14): +28 pointsConditional playoff chances: 90 percentChance of happening: 18 percentNotre Dame doesn’t have a conference and therefore doesn’t have a chance to pad its resume with another signature win, so it has no room for error. Luckily, the Irish’s remaining schedule is quite reasonable. Florida State is a shell of its former self, Syracuse is having a good season but not on the Irish’s level, and USC isn’t what it used to be either. And our model says an undefeated Notre Dame is essentially a playoff shoo-in. The only cause for concern might be the health of quarterback Ian Book, who will miss Saturday’s game against FSU with a rib injury. But the Irish are still 16½-point favorites over the Seminoles even with backup QB Brandon Wimbush at the helm.Oklahoma and Ohio State can basically control their own destinies as well — the model says both have playoff chances of greater than 91 percent if they just win out. An Irish loss could potentially help the Sooners and Buckeyes, too. Oklahoma has a greater than 90 percent playoff probability conditional on just three outcomes: beating West Virginia and winning the Big 12 while Notre Dame loses at least one game. And any Notre Dame loss would nudge OSU’s chances above the 90 percent threshold as well, provided the Buckeyes beat Michigan and win the Big Ten.MichiganCurrent playoff chances: 40 percentPath to 90+ percent:Syracuse beats Notre Dame in Week 12: +9 percentage pointsMichigan beats Ohio State in Week 13: +28 pointsMichigan wins the Big Ten championship (Week 14): +15 pointsConditional playoff chances: 92 percentChance of happening: 13 percentUnlike Notre Dame, Ohio State and Oklahoma, Michigan can’t get to 90 percent simply by winning its remaining games. (That maxes them out at 82 percent.) The Wolverines need help, then, most likely in the form of an Irish loss against Syracuse at Yankee Stadium on Nov. 17. Michigan has other potential paths — Boston College beating Clemson this weekend, for instance, would push UM’s odds to 88 percent if coupled with Wolverine wins over Ohio State and whomever they’d play for the Big Ten title. But watching some other team vicariously avenge Michigan’s early season loss in South Bend would be a fitting way for the Wolverines to stamp their ticket into the playoff.West VirginiaCurrent playoff chances: 12 percentPath to 90+ percent:West Virginia beats TCU in Week 11: +2 percentage pointsWest Virginia beats Oklahoma State in Week 12: +6 pointsWest Virginia beats Oklahoma in Week 13: +19 pointsWest Virginia wins the Big 12 championship (Week 14): +38 pointsMichigan loses the Big Ten championship (Week 14): +14 pointsConditional playoff chances: 91 percentChance of happening: 2 percentWVU needs even more help than does Michigan. And in fact, it might need help from Michigan. Generally speaking, it needs whoever wins the Michigan-Ohio State game — which will torpedo the chances of one member of the one-loss club — to then proceed to lose in the Big Ten title game. (Our model gives West Virginia slightly higher odds under the configuration where Michigan beats OSU, then loses.) Either way, the one-loss Mountaineers need as many teams with a similar resume as possible to move aside. But West Virginia isn’t necessarily putting all its eggs in the Big Ten basket. It could also see its playoff odds soar into the high-80-percent range if Notre Dame loses one of its remaining games (while WVU wins out).Washington StateCurrent playoff chances: 13 percentPath to 90+ percent:Washington State beats Colorado in Week 11: +5 percentage pointsWashington State beats Arizona in Week 12: +3 pointsUSC beats Notre Dame in Week 13: +5 pointsWashington State wins the Pac-12 championship (Week 14): +48 pointsMichigan loses the Big Ten championship (Week 14): +17 pointsConditional playoff chances: 91 percentChance of happening: 1 percentOne-loss Wazzu is in the same boat as West Virginia in terms of benefiting from a Michigan defeat in the Big Ten title game. (Assuming it wins its own remaining games — including the Pac-12 title, most preferably over Utah.) Washington State could get another boost if USC beats Notre Dame since both teams would then have one loss, against the Trojans in each case. It’s unclear how realistic this actually is (since our model doesn’t have a specific Notre Dame adjustment reflecting its tendency to, um, get the benefit of the doubt), but the Irish make the playoff only 18 percent of the time in the scenario laid out above, compared with the Cougars’ 91 percent mark.Central FloridaCurrent playoff chances: 4 percentPath to 90+ percent:¯\_(ツ)_/¯I’m kidding. But not really. This one is far more difficult to pin down than the others above, just because it’s so rare in our data for UCF to make the playoff (and the specifics of each scenario are rarer still). So I’ll just list some of the common outcomes in what few simulations give UCF a relatively large probability of making the playoff:UCF wins all four remaining games, including the American championship. (Duh.)Both Notre Dame and Washington State lose at least one remaining game, and at least one loses twice.Oklahoma and Michigan both fail to win their respective conference championships.Chance of happening: less than 1 in 2,000These probably aren’t the only scenarios under which UCF makes the playoff, but there just aren’t very many UCF-friendly combinations that come up in the simulations. Their 4 percent overall probability of making the playoff is more about adding up a bunch of fractional chances over the course of many simulations — where they’re not overly likely to make it in any given one, but there’s enough uncertainty that they could potentially get in.And that’s the important thing to remember when discussing UCF’s playoff chances: The selection committee has never taken an undefeated Group-of-Five conference team2Schools from the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference and the Sun Belt Conference. in four years of picking playoff squads, and similar undefeated candidates (UCF last year, Western Michigan two years ago) have been denied entry by the committee. So all of this is, by definition, theoretical. Our model bases its predictions on the way in which college football’s power structure has traditionally grouped teams into tiers and given priority to different types of resumes, which is why there are at least some universes where a team like UCF can get real consideration if all hell breaks loose elsewhere. But more likely, they’re getting stray points of probability from the fact that we still don’t always know how the committee will react to a team like the Knights.Of course, a cynic would say we do know — and the answer will always be “no.” But that’s part of what’s interesting about the playoff. There’s much we still don’t know when it comes to who will win upcoming games, and that’s one source of uncertainty built into our model. But we also can’t perfectly predict how the committee itself will react. All UCF and the rest of this year’s contenders can do is win the games in front of them and hope for the right combination to fall into place around them.Check out our latest college football predictions.
Heading into the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, England was not the sexy choice. The Lionesses were undefeated in World Cup qualifiers, outscoring their opponents 52-1, but few insiders expected them to challenge the game’s giants: Germany, the United States and Japan.Then came the victory over Norway in the Round of 16 and the upset of host Canada in the quarterfinals. England still only has a 10 percent chance of winning the tournament, according to our Women’s World Cup forecasting model, but its chances nearly doubled after the Norway win and then more than doubled after the victory over Canada. The squad, which features no recognizable stars and has not won a match in this tournament by more than one goal, now finds itself on the brink of history.England has never made it this far in a Women’s World Cup, and this is the furthest any English team, men or women, has come in a World Cup since 1990. Tonight, the squad, led by coach Mark Sampson, will take the field in Edmonton against defending champions Japan for a spot in the final against the U.S., which upset Germany 2-0 in its semifinal match Tuesday night.Japan is favored to win the game 61 percent to England’s 39 percent, according to our model. Its chances of winning the tournament are 20 percent — double England’s but still a far cry from the U.S.’s 70 percent.Japan has quietly arrived at this stage of this competition. The team played its most complete game of the tournament in its 2-1 victory over the Netherlands in the Round of 16 and labored to a 1-0 win over Australia in the quarterfinals. Japan’s attack remains the game’s best; its tiki-taka passing style in the midfield is a beauty to watch for spectators and baffling for defenses. The midfield, led by 36-year-old former captain and 2011 World Cup hero Homare Sawa and star Nahomi Kawasumi, has dominated possession in every one of the team’s matches but has failed to convert that dominance into goals. Japan has averaged just 1.4 goals per game in the tournament, and England’s stingy defense will need that run to continue if it’s to have a chance.The Lionesses’ leading scorers in the tournament are two defenders, Karen Carney and Lucy Bronze. England’s lack of offensive firepower and struggles in the final third could prove decisive against what is a small, but well-organized Japanese backline. With both Carney and Bronze likely to have their hands full with Japan’s speedy attackers, they will have fewer chances to direct counterattacks as they did against Canada. As a result, outside of set pieces, they are unlikely to impose themselves on offense.If Japan can do a better job converting its chances, it should win this game, maybe even comfortably. But, then again, in this tournament, nothing has been comfortable for the big teams.
1991ConnecticutSweet 1616.6+0.8—— Wichita State, also an 11 this tournament, had higher Pythagorean and SRS ratings than the Zags. But the Shockers lost in the second round to Miami after getting hosed with a play-in game against Vanderbilt, another strong 11-seed, and a first-round meeting with Arizona, which was underseeded as a 6. The 2014 Tennessee team, which tops both the SRS and Pythagorean charts in terms of strength versus its opponents, had a much easier path in its region — the Volunteers faced 14-seed Mercer in the round of 32, a team that had upset Duke in the first round and one of the weakest opponents an 11 has ever faced.2Among opponents of 11-seeds, Mercer had the second- and fourth-lowest Pythagorean and SRS, respectively. Even though Tennessee made the Sweet 16 and nearly upset 2-seed Michigan, the massive differential between it and Mercer — 17.34 to 5.33, by SRS — disproportionately affected its statistical résumé. That game saw an Elo discrepancy of 194 points (1912 to 1718), the second-largest margin of any game an 11-seed has played. Tennessee also played Massachusetts at an Elo advantage of 148 points, the fourth-highest such margin. Meanwhile, Gonzaga’s two games so far rank 12th and 30th all-time.If Gonzaga is so good, though, why was it seeded so low? The Zags are a high-major squad playing in a mid-major conference — the West Coast Conference has cracked KenPom.com’s top 10 conferences ranking just twice.3These rankings also date to 2002. This means the team can pick up only a few high-profile wins during WCC play. Few typically schedules an aggressive nonconference schedule to boost the squad’s Rating Percentage Index, the official and preferred evaluation metric for the NCAA selection committee. This season, though, Gonzaga struggled to pick up a key win, losing to Texas A&M, Arizona, UCLA and Southern Methodist by a total of just 20 points.4The losses to Texas A&M, Arizona, UCLA and SMU were by 1 point, 5 points, 5 points and 9 points, respectively. Even with the Bulldogs’ five top-100 wins, their RPI profile was terrible. If Gonzaga hadn’t beaten Saint Mary’s in the WCC Tournament title game to win the league’s auto bid, the Bulldogs would probably be competing in the NIT (which is what happened to the Gaels).That would have been a shame, because Gonzaga’s underlying metrics are superb — at the close of the regular season, it was one of two teams with an offensive and defensive effective field goal percentage in KenPom’s top 20. What makes Gonzaga special, though, is how efficiently the team’s offense operates, particularly in the half-court. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Gonzaga scores 0.99 points per half-court trip, a rate that is tied for first among tourney teams and fifth overall in Division I. Indiana is the only NCAA Tournament team with a stronger effective field-goal percentage in the half-court than the Zags (55.8 percent, per Hoop-Math.com).Against Saint Mary’s in the WCC final, the Zags used just 58 possessions to score 85 points (1.47 points per possession). Saint Mary’s defense will never be mistaken for Virginia’s, but that level of offensive efficiency is astounding.Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer are the team’s high-profile names; Wiltjer transferred to Spokane from Kentucky, and his 6-foot-10 frame belies a big who moves gracefully around the perimeter and can score just as effectively within the arc (53 percent on 2-pointers) as he can from deep (43 percent, which leads the team). Wiltjer has an array of shot fakes, step-backs and step-throughs to get his shot off with even the longest defender crowding his space. Sabonis is an unmovable object on both the offensive and defensive glass, and he’s the best post-up man in D-I. Per Synergy, 42 percent of his possessions come in the block, and he scores 1.15 points per possession on those plays. Against Utah and the Utes’ star big Jakob Poeltl, Sabonis used his quick feet, body awareness and agility to score 19 points on an effective field goal percentage of 70.8 percent.But while Wiltjer and Sabonis draw most of the attention, it’s the team’s backcourt that will largely determine if Gonzaga not only makes its first Final Four but becomes the first 11-seed to reach the national championship. Eric McClellan (a swingman), Josh Perkins (a point guard), Silas Melson (a point who can also play off-ball) and Kyle Dranginis (a three who is essentially a hybrid wing) struggled at the beginning of the season but have finally begun to match the offensively brilliant output of the team’s frontcourt.From a higher seed, this sort of late-season surge would be cause to start thinking about a run to Houston and the Final Four. For Gonzaga, the odds are still long, but 17 percent is a far cry better than most 11-seeds see.Check out FiveThirtyEight’s 2016 March Madness Predictions. 2015TexasRound of 6416.2-0.50.872+0.010 2010WashingtonSweet 1615.60.00.835-0.046 2013St. Mary’sRound of 6414.5+2.80.861+0.014 SRSPYTHAGOREAN 2016MichiganRound of 6413.9+1.80.766-0.025 2014TennesseeSweet 1617.3+4.10.897+0.097 YEAR11-SEEDMADE IT TO …PRE-TOURN.DIFF. FROM TOURNAMENT OPPONENTSPRE-TOURN.DIFF. FROM TOURNAMENT OPPONENTS 2016Wichita St.Round of 3217.5-1.00.912+0.037 2015UCLASweet 1612.1+0.10.8060.000 Mark Few’s Gonzaga hasn’t been a proper Cinderella for more than a decade now, having outgrown the designation some time ago. This season’s squad, however, entered the 2016 NCAA Tournament in an unfamiliar position — an 11-seed. Matched up with the streaking 6-seed Seton Hall, which had just won the Big East Tournament, Gonzaga was predicted by many to be bounced in the first round.But 11-seeds have replaced 12s and 13s as a trendy upset pick, and the Zags have since rolled through the first two rounds of the tournament, beating the Pirates and then embarrassing 3-seed Utah late Saturday night. On the eve of the second weekend of play, Gonzaga now has a 7 percent chance of making the title game and a 17 percent chance at the Final Four; before the tournament began, those chances were 1 percent and 3 percent, respectively.What’s remarkable about Gonzaga this tournament isn’t just how well it’s played as an 11-seed, but how it has come into its games with a stronger statistical profile than its opponents — which really shouldn’t happen unless something goes wildly wrong in seeding. In fact, FiveThirtyEight’s power ratings had Gonzaga as a 6-seed, one of the bigger seeding discrepancies in the field, and so far this tournament, the team has had better pre-tournament Pythagorean winning percentage and Simple Rating System metrics than each of its opponents (including Syracuse, whom the Bulldogs face Friday in the Sweet 16). Gonzaga won’t encounter that scenario unless they make the Elite Eight.We went through all 156 11-seeds1There have been 37 NCAA tournaments during that span with 148 “natural” 11-seeds. In 1984, there was a preliminary round that featured two 11-seeds (Northeastern and Long Island University). And since the field expanded to 68 teams in 2011, there have been seven additional 11-seeds in the tournament’s first round (the first four in 2012 included 12- and 14-seeds, so there was not an additional 11 that year). since 1980, when the field expanded to include at-large teams, to the present, and tracked their tourney progression and how each matched up through SRS, Ken Pomeroy’s Pythagorean ranking (which began in 2002 and contains 67 teams) and our Elo database. Then, for each of those ratings, we found the difference between the 11-seed’s rating and the average of its tournament opponents. According to SRS, at least, not many 11-seeds have been as strong relative to their opponents as Gonzaga.Most 11s lost in the first round, especially in the early years of the expanded bracket. Even the 11s that made significant runs — LSU (1986), Loyola Marymount (1990), VCU (2011) — began March as considerable underdogs, posting a negative differential in both ratings with their opponents. Only 10 teams had positive differentials in either rating. 2016Gonzaga—17.2+2.50.890+0.043 1984NortheasternRound of 643.1+2.0—— Note: Pythagorean rankings began in 2002Source: kenpom.com, Sports Reference 11-seeds with better power rankings than their NCAA Tournament opponents, 1980 to present
Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw has been the presumptive Best Pitcher In Baseball for so long that it might as well be printed on the front of his baseball card. Since his debut during the 2008 season, Kershaw has over 10 more wins above replacement than any other pitcher in the game — his former Dodgers teammate Zack Greinke is a distant No. 2 — and he has consistently managed to fend off any challenger to his crown as the game’s greatest.But this season, Kershaw has shown a few surprising cracks. (Yes, this is basically akin to saying, “some of Mozart’s concertos were just great, not brilliant.”) Despite throwing six (only six?) shutout innings on Saturday, Kershaw’s earned run average is the highest it’s been since 2012, and his fielding independent pitching, which measures a pitcher’s dominance in the factors he directly controls (strikeouts, walks and home runs), is at its worst since Kershaw’s rookie year. He’s been giving up an uncharacteristic number of home runs (a career-worst 17, and it’s not even July), perhaps having been swept up in the juiced-ball power surge that’s jolted so many pitchers over the past few seasons. Two starts ago, he let the lowly New York Mets take him deep four times, the only four-homer game he’d ever suffered in his entire career. As a result of all this, Kershaw’s status as the game’s unquestioned top ace is in danger for the first time in a while.FiveThirtyEight’s MLB Elo ratings have a component that assigns each starting pitcher a grade, reflecting how much influence he wields over his team’s chances of winning. Kershaw usually has the top mark in baseball; up until the past two weeks, he’d held it for 37 of the previous 38 weeks of MLB action, including 31 consecutive weeks between mid-May 2016 and late April 2017. But Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals passed Kershaw a few weeks ago, thanks to his ongoing run of six consecutive starts with double-digit strikeouts, and Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale has edged ahead of Kershaw as well. (Sale passed Kershaw as No. 1 for a week in April, but Kershaw quickly reclaimed the top spot and held it for six more weeks.)Now, Kershaw ranks “only” third in our starting-pitcher ratings. The last time Kershaw sat so low was midway through the 2015 season, when for one week in July he dropped behind Sale, Scherzer and then-Cincinnati Reds ace Johnny Cueto, who’d just finished spinning an 11-strikeout complete-game shutout. But within two weeks, Kershaw had climbed back to No. 1, the place he’s spent 106 total weeks (out of a possible 142) since early in the 2013 season. Only three pitchers in the expansion era (since 1961) — Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens and fellow Dodger Sandy Koufax — have logged more weeks in the top slot than the 29-year-old Kershaw has in his career.Since Kershaw first rose to No. 1 in 2013, the most consistent assault on his top ranking has come from Jake Arrieta of the Chicago Cubs. For 13 straight weeks between the 2015 stretch run and the first month of the 2016 season, Arrieta ranked first in Elo as part of his stunning ascent from washout to Cy Young winner. That’s the most weeks (consecutive or not) anybody has stood between Kershaw and the No. 1 slot since 2013; the Rangers’ Yu Darvish ranks second with six weeks of sporadic challenges.Right now, Scherzer is in his third week (second in this particular bid) atop Kershaw’s throne. His peripheral stats — and, even more so, Sale’s — have been superior to Kershaw’s on the season so far. Maybe this is the season Kershaw’s grip on best-pitcher status loosens.Given how much Kershaw’s dominated that distinction over the past half-decade, though, I’ll believe it when I see it.Check out our latest MLB predictions.
Given the way the championship’s scheduling works, Carlsen will play with the white pieces — and its first-move advantage — for the next two games. It will prove a critical gauntlet for Caruana’s title hopes. Here’s a visualization of how things have gone, and we’ll keep the chart below updated throughout the match. This is a rare move in this position at the game’s highest levels, and it’s an aggressive one — one often reserved for speed-chess games, rather than the lengthy, classically timed games of a world championship. Carlsen had faced this move with the black pieces only once before, according to ChessBase — in a 2005 game against the Dutch grandmaster Daniël Stellwagen, when Carlsen was just 14. (That game ended in a draw.) Given Carlsen’s prodigious memory for positions, it would be no surprise if he remembered that game well. And he claimed not to be troubled.“To be honest, I was pretty happy about the opening,” Carlsen said after the game.Lichess’s analysis tool calls that sixth move the “Sicilian Defence: Nyezhmetdinov-Rossolimo Attack, Gurgenidze Variation.” Gurgenidze was the Georgian grandmaster Bukhuti Gurgenidze, and “one of the most original and striking players of the Soviet era,” wrote ChessBase upon his death in 2008. The early part of Thursday’s game was striking, too. Grandmasters called it the sharpest opening they’d seen in world championship history.Generically, this sort of move, a pawn to b4, is called a wing gambit, and it can be ventured in a few different openings. White sacrifices a pawn to potentially gain an advantage in the center of the board and in the mobilization of his pieces — the claiming of territory and the arming of his troops. Indeed, it was perhaps the first time in the match that the player with the white pieces had been able to sustain anything one might be able to call an attacking advantage.Yet Carlsen was able to parry the threats. He appeared calm throughout the game, occasionally throwing one arm over the back of his chair, ever so suave in his gray suit.By Caruana’s 19th move, he was perhaps regretting that his brief advantage had fizzled. And indeed it had. He spent nearly 32 minutes on that move, head often in both of his hands, pondering the board. Carlsen and Caruana agreed to a draw after 34 moves and just over 3 hours, in the position below. The match now sits level, 2.5-2.5. 87654321abcdefgh Game 5 of the World Chess Championship began under a cloud. Not a literal cloud, though there were those in London, too. Rather it was the lingering hubbub of a published and deleted video. Since that video was released, a prominent chess writer resigned and, oddly, the event’s organizing body announced that it had hired a security firm that was ready to sweep for illicit electronic devices and deploy polygraphs on the players if necessary. Was the latter related to the video? To some other bit of intrigue yet to fully emerge? Or just because chess’s governing body is, how do you say, filled with plenty of intrigue of its own?I have no answers for you. But I do have some chess to relay. To catch you up if you’re just joining us: Magnus Carlsen of Norway is seeking his fourth world title. His challenger Fabiano Caruana of the U.S. is trying to become the first American world champion since Bobby Fischer in 1972. The pair began the day’s game tied 2-2 in the best-of-12 title match.1Wins are worth 1 point, draws 0.5 and losses 0. It didn’t end much differently.The two grandmasters started Thursday’s game with the Rossolimo variation of the Sicilian Defence — the third time they’ve opened with that sequence of moves in the match’s five encounters. But then came a lightning bolt that briefly illuminated the match. It was known as “6. b4!?”Caruana’s sixth move — his white pawn to b4 — electrified the encounter. This is what the board looked like after it struck.
Members of the OSU women’s volleyball team during a game against Michigan on Nov. 14 at St. John Arena. Credit: Lantern file photoThe Ohio State women’s volleyball team has a new mantra coming into this season: tribe. It is a concept that the team was introduced to in February by Olympian Kerri Walsh-Jennings when she visited the program. It was the saying Walsh-Jennings used during her Rio Olympics run with April Ross and means more than just coming together as a team.“It goes beyond being teammates. It goes to being sisters,” senior middle blocker Kylie Randall said. “It creates a bigger bond between us, and it’s something we’re going to live and die by this year.”The Buckeye sisterhood welcomed seven newcomers to the team this season, including six freshmen, as well as Abby Fesl.Fesl is a senior transfer from the University of North Florida, who earned more than 2,400 assists during her time with the Ospreys.“Abby’s added a lot of culture to our team,” OSU coach Geoff Carlston said. “It’s always great when you have a senior with that much experience coming in.”Carlston praised the maturity of his veteran players and their part in helping to shape preseason attitudes.“Our seniors are not juniors anymore, and I think they’ve really embraced that role,” Carlston said. “I think our returners have done a great job of mentoring and being patient with our younger players to get them on board.”One of Carlston’s returnees already expected to make a big splash this season is senior middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe. She was named to the Preseason All-Big Ten Team on Tuesday morning for the second consecutive season.Sandbothe finished her junior year with a .366 attacking efficiency and crashed into the top five in four different Ohio State women’s volleyball record categories. “I love to see those things come out, especially before we’re even getting a chance to play as a team, kind of show what we’re about,” Sandbothe said. “It’s a huge honor, and I’m blessed to be a part of it.”A goal echoed by multiple members of the team is to reach the NCAA Tournament Final Four, which will be held in Columbus this December. OSU has fallen in five sets in the regional semifinals the past two seasons. “While we’re proud of sort of where we’ve come from, we also want to make that jump, but the reality is with our preseason schedule and our Big Ten schedule, we’ve got to stay super grounded in the daily grind of getting better,” Carlston said. Sandbothe echoed his sentiments, emphasizing the team goal of playing in Nationwide Arena when December comes around.The Buckeyes will put in their first weekend of work on Friday as they play Texas State, North Texas and Texas A&M — all unfamiliar teams to OSU — in the North Texas Challenge tournament.Texas A&M poses a big threat, as it brought home the Southeastern Conference championship last season and pulled together for 14.09 kills per set. Texas State posted a 19-12 record in 2015, and is picked to be the Sun Belt Conference runner-up this season. “I think we just have to be on our toes and willing to run down balls that wouldn’t necessarily happen in the Big Ten,” sophomore setter Taylor Hughes said.Carlston is choosing to look at their lack of first-hand knowledge about this weekend’s teams as an unusual gift, as it allows his team to better examine and perfect their own skills and play.“It’s actually kind of nice not to have a ton of video and a ton of stats. It’s pretty much just raw volleyball,” Carlston said. “For us, it’s really try to out-defend and whatever they give us, we’re ready for it.” Carlston and the women’s volleyball tribe kick off their season at 1:30 p.m. on Friday against Texas State at the North Texas Volleyball Center in Denton, Texas.
It’s a sibling’s dream come true: little brother getting the opportunity to beat up big brother. The Posey sibling rivalry was in full force during Ohio State’s 43-7 win over its “little brother” school, Ohio University. “It’s always been our dream and now it’s kind of our reality,” DeVier Posey said. The Buckeyes took home the win, and wide receiver DeVier took home bragging rights from big brother Julian, a Bobcat cornerback. Julian might have two years on his little brother, but on Saturday, that’s all he had. DeVier remembered the last time the two teams faced off against one another in 2008, when Julian promised a beat down. The Buckeyes edged their way to a 26-14 victory that day. Saturday’s game wasn’t as close. Early in the game on his first catch, DeVier offered Julian a stiff arm to the face mask and a little bit of trash talk. “I just told him, ‘you better get in the weight room,’” DeVier said. In the first quarter, Julian escaped for a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown before a penalty called it back. “I was happy for him. At first I was like, ‘Oh man, I’m not gonna hear the end of this,’” DeVier said. “It’s hard to stop a guy with the last name Posey,” Julian said. The brothers caught up with one another after the game. “He says he got robbed on that kickoff return but you know he’s going to think that the rest of his life,” DeVier said. Growing up, Julian wasn’t always the bully. The loss of their father in 1999 made the two extremely close. Julian took the big brother role seriously and served as a role model, DeVier said. They are best friends and don’t go a day without talking, but this week DeVier said they hadn’t spoken since Wednesday. There wasn’t much trash talk on the field. DeVier had a different strategy to rattle his brother. “I was trying to steal all of his accessories,” DeVier said. “I think there was one time I stole his towel.” More than 40 family members donned T-shirts that boasted “Posey Bowl II” in support of both teams. Proud mother Julie Posey had a colorful jersey, split scarlet and gray on one side and green on the other. “I am really, really glad it’s over and I’m ready to party with my babies now,” Julie said. “It was a good time and kind of crazy to go against him, but it really wasn’t as emotional as I thought,” DeVier said. Looking down the road, DeVier knows what he’s going to tell his family. “The first thing I’m going to say is like, ‘Dang do you remember that score? We like whooped ya’ll man,’ and it’s just gonna silence all talk after that,” DeVier said. Julian’s prepared to hear it. “Man, I gotta live with this the rest of my life,” Julian said. At the end of the day, who got the best of whom? “I mean, you saw the scoreboard,” DeVier said.