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

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