Just for Bruce McAvaney: these numbers are special

This article is very entertaining for anyone who’s a fan of both maths and the Simpsons. It covers a variety of exotic maths identities like perfect and narcissistic numbers, Fermat’s last theorem, Mersenne primes.

Inspired by this, on AFL grand final day, what better way for the New Statsman to celebrate? Than by revealing the AFL’s own long-pondered but never revealed exotic numbers: AFL Products and AFL Powers. Continue reading

How equal is equal? Discuss (in ten thousand articles or fewer)

Everyone seems to love writing about equalisation in the AFL. That’s the only explanation that I can find for the articles here (vague speculation), here (AFL corporate line), here (AFL corporate line, part two) here (inflammatory rhetoric), here (inflammatory rhetoric, part two), here (my club has worked bloody hard to get where we are you bludgers), here (no actual news), here (a discussion of the goals of equalisation!), here (finances), here (excellent, excellent, excellent article… also the author has a black belt in karate), here, here, here, and, although the author seems a little confused re what his actual topic is, here.

And in all this writing, no-one seems prepared to take a stab at proving that a lack of equality actually exists. There’s plenty of discussion of money, but no evidence is provided that financial disparity creates on-field disparity (it seems likely that it does – but no-one challenges the assumption). Continue reading

0-16 and on track for the finals

When Andrew Demetriou wakes up in the middle of the night – and seriously, that’s gotta be happening pretty regularly – he’s probably worrying about racism, bizarre behaviour by officials, or some combination of the two. From time to time he might even worry about competition equalisation. It’s even been suggested that the AFL might be on the way to becoming a de facto two-tier league, so much so that the AFL is off on a jaunt to the home of the fair go, America, to take a sneak peek at how they do it.

But why worry when, as I promised at the end of the last post, even a team that gets to 0-16 has a chance of making the finals? (Microscopic font: in ridiculously unlikely circumstances.) First, to set the scene: the league currently has 18 teams, who each play 22 games (cumulative research time: 30 seconds). This means the home and away season features 22×9 = 198 matches, needing 198 winners (cumulative research time: 1 minute). For the purposes of this experiment, I’m ignoring draws, docked points, Waverley Park lights-off scenarios, alien invasion, etc. Continue reading

0-3 and staring down the barrel


It’s the nature of sports reporting a common garden individual match , that could simply be enjoyed for its own sake, or by supporters of the competing teams, has to be built up to mean something more. This could be local bragging rights, revenge for a past defeat or some other real or imagined past incident, a (usually confected) rivalry, which can finally be resolved.

In the AFL, even better than any of these is to broaden the implications of the match – win today, or “stare down the barrel” (few other metaphors are authorised) of missing the finals. It’s particularly prevalent – in its irrational form – early in the season, when the loss of a few games has media vultures circling.

Will Brodie’s article is typical, and he even appears to have a decent statistical case. Articles so often tell you how seldom something happens, but rarely how often the opportunity has arisen for it to happen. Brodie does that, letting us know the rarity of teams making the finals when starting 1-3: 20 of out 70 times. Continue reading

Stats-abusing journos, the odds are against you

Reading the sports pages and getting annoyed is a familiar feeling for anyone who follows a team or a sport. I can live with reading about my team getting thrashed or being on the wrong end of a bad umpiring decision, but there’s one thing I just can’t stand – being treated like an idiot. Is it too much to ask – for sports writers not to refer to “the law of averages”? Not to supply an average when a median would be a better measure to support (or test) their point? Not to use selective endpoints to skew a tenuous analysis?

Freakonomics, Moneyball and other books (“now Major Hollywood films!” … well, Brad Pitt is in Moneyball) have started to educate the public about how common sense, even supported by statistics, is sometimes just plain wrong. This blog will examine opinion and analysis pieces in the sports media, which have – or try to have – a statistical focus.

Of course, some articles don’t even quite make it over the common sense threshold. Round-one losers, the odds are against you sits at the top of the league table for infuriation. The phrase that set me off was “statistically significant”. (A commenter when The Age originally published this may have done the job I’m about to do by simply writing: “Statistically significant. Bwah-ha-ha!!!” But I’ll persist.) Continue reading