Columbia Star

1963        Celebrating 60 Years      2023

Analytics during the holidays

It’s not a criticism; It’s an observation



One of the effects of Holiday Season is the number of sporting events on television. Mostly that’s a good thing. Compared to regular daytime television, wall to wall sports is Nirvana. But wall to wall sports means wall to wall sports commentators.

It is hard enough to find informed play-by-play people, prepared color commentators, and informative sideline reporters during regular season, but adding extra contests, and factoring in holiday vacations for the A Talent shrinks the availability of competent replacements significantly. Considering how shallow this pool initially is, trouble is likely.

On the Saturday before Thanksgiving week, I found myself in an odd situation. I couldn’t find televised Alabama football. The team’s performance this year has been less than expected, and the opponent was Austin Peay, a Division Two (I think) school offering an easy game to a big-name opponent for a lot of money. SEC schools got into this habit several years back by adding a meaningless game the week before Rivalry Week. Not sure why.

So anyway, I was finally able to catch the action two days later during a midday rebroadcast. Early into the action, I became irritated at the lack of knowledge of the play-by-play guy and his color coordinator. Both appeared to be doing their first SEC football game. The commentator seemed strangely ignorant of college football in general and obnoxious enough to try and instill his personal beliefs of “what’s wrong with sports” into the game broadcast. The other members of his team kept calling him “Coach.” I found out later he had a hockey background.

For some reason he was ranting about analytics. Sounded much like a politician criticizing “Woke” behavior. Analytics, loosely defined, is the practice of analyzing something. Contrary to belief by many old school sports guys, analytics isn’t a new thing. Using computers to analyze stuff is modern, but analyzing opponents’ behavior is older than leather helmets.

Ken Donahue was once Alabama’s defensive coordinator, way back in the ’60s and ’70s. He evidently had no personal life and a sleeping disorder, because he was legendary for spending copious amounts of free time analyzing game film—and finding things his team could use to win games. He was the best defensive coordinator in college football and likely never touched a computer keyboard.

Like so many other tasks, analyzing sports behavior is now done by computers. But every old school sports celebrity thinks analytics is somehow evil because computers are involved.

The good news is this allows excellent coaches to spend more time doing commercials and interacting with loved ones. The bad news is we have to listen to dozens of “get off my lawn” types railing about analytics ruining the game—whatever game they are discussing.

Computers are much better at analyzing than human brains are, so we often see controversial things pop up during events. And some self-proclaimed neanderthal starts railing about analytics ruining the game. So let’s stop it. Forward thinking is a good thing. Speaking of good things— Woke is originally defined as being well informed and up to date. Doesn’t sound too scary.

Let’s unite and fight climate change.

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