Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will     Archive   Favorite posts   Twitter: @steve_hsu

Showing posts with label football. Show all posts
Showing posts with label football. Show all posts

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Annals of brainpower: Oregon football

Q: How does Oregon football compete against the top teams in the country (four BCS appearances in the last four years) with recruiting classes that almost never break the top 10, and are usually ranked below 20? (In today's 2013 rankings, they're at 42!)

A: Great coaching by Chip Kelly and his staff. This video explains some of the basic concepts behind the Oregon spread offense. See also The zone read option game for Kelly's extremely well-written explanation of the Oregon running attack. Even a casual investigation reveals that football is by far the most complex sport in terms of coaching and game strategy. Too bad its days are numbered.

One of the big adjustments I had to make in coming to Michigan State was to Big 10 football. The offensive execution reminds me of high school play ;-)  Does any team squander more athletic talent year after year than Michigan? (As usual: currently #5 recruiting class, but will probably have another mediocre season next year!)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Death penalty

The Freeh report on Penn State, Sandusky, Paterno and other criminals has been released, confirming my expectations.
NYTimes: The most senior officials at Penn State University failed for more than a decade to take any steps to protect the children victimized by Jerry Sandusky, the longtime lieutenant to head football coach Joe Paterno, according to an independent investigation of the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the university last fall. 
“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims,” said Louis J. Freeh, the former federal judge and director of the F.B.I. who oversaw the investigation. “The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.”
NCAA are you listening? Give Penn State football the death penalty. What SMU did was nothing in comparison. This is one situation where we can be thankful for plaintiff's attorneys. Are Moody's credit rating analysts on top of this?

From Freeh's statement to the press:
... Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley never demonstrated, through actions or words, any concern for the safety and well-being of Sandusky’s victims until after Sandusky’s arrest. 
In critical written correspondence that we uncovered on March 20th of this year, we see evidence of their proposed plan of action in February 2001 that included reporting allegations about Sandusky to the authorities. After Mr. Curley consulted with Mr. Paterno, however, they changed the plan and decided not to make a report to the authorities. Their failure to protect the February 9, 2001 child victim, or make attempts to identify him, created a dangerous situation for other unknown, unsuspecting young boys who were lured to the Penn State campus and football games by Sandusky and victimized repeatedly by him. 
Further, they exposed this child to additional harm by alerting Sandusky, who was the only one who knew the child’s identity, about what McQueary saw in the shower on the night of February 9, 2001.
... The evidence shows that these four men also knew about a 1998 criminal investigation of Sandusky relating to suspected sexual misconduct with a young boy in a Penn State football locker room shower. Again, they showed no concern about that victim. The evidence shows that Mr. Paterno was made aware of the 1998 investigation of Sandusky, followed it closely, but failed to take any action, even though Sandusky had been a key member of his coaching staff for almost 30 years, and had an office just steps away from Mr. Paterno’s. At the very least, Mr. Paterno could have alerted the entire football staff, in order to prevent Sandusky from bringing another child into the Lasch Building. Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley also failed to alert the Board of Trustees about the 1998 investigation or take any further action against Mr. Sandusky. None of them even spoke to Sandusky about his conduct. In short, nothing was done and Sandusky was allowed to continue with impunity. 
Based on the evidence, the only known, intervening factor between the decision made on February 25, 2001 by Messrs. Spanier, Curley and Schulz to report the incident to the Department of Public Welfare, and then agreeing not to do so on February 27th, was Mr. Paterno’s February 26 th conversation with Mr. Curley.
Criminal negligence? You thought I was exaggerating when I used the word "criminals" above?

See Good riddance JoePa and ensuing discussion (11/2011 -- when the story first broke).
I think when the dust settles Sandusky is clearly guilty and JoePa looks very bad. 
... what are Joepa and McQueary thinking in subsequent weeks and years when they look at each other and at Sandusky as he passes them in the locker room? Does Joepa think McQueary was on drugs and made the whole thing up? Then why is McQueary in one of the top coaching positions? Perhaps you don't believe McQueary's testimony that he told Joepa all the details about the Sandusky encounter? 
Hard to believe "Saint Joe" didn't want to know all the facts when he met with McQueary the next day.
... If Paterno continues living this is all going to come out in the criminal trial and private lawsuits. Why did Sandusky not succeed Paterno as head coach, as was widely expected? What did Paterno know? How could Paterno and the grad assistant (now the WR coach) look each other in the eye year after year, knowing that Sandusky was still around, had an office in the building and ran football camps for young kids? Didn't they wonder what happened to that little boy in the showers after 2002? Obviously there was no law enforcement action as Sandusky remained a free man. To say that Paterno discharged his moral responsibility by reporting a watered down version of the event to his "superiors" is ridiculous. 
The whole thing makes me sick.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Personnel Selection: horsepower matters

Personnel Selection, whether by sports teams, militaries, universities or corporations, is all about identifying statistical predictors of future performance. How good are these predictors?

Let's take college football as an example. Talent evaluation is difficult, but scouts definitely know something. A five star high school football prospect is almost four times more likely to become an NCAA All-American than a four star prospect. (Graphs from this article; NFL draft order related to HS ranking here.)

Oregon, which finished last season ranked #4 in the country (Rose Bowl and PAC-12 champs), and played in BCS bowls each of the last three seasons, landed only one five star recruit this year. Schools like Alabama (3), Texas (3), USC (3) and Michigan (2) landed significantly more.

What about other kinds of talent? Below is an example from psychometrics applied to 13 year olds.

Horsepower matters: Can psychometrics separate the top .1 percent from the top 1 percent in ability? Yes: SAT-M quartile within top 1 percent predicts future scientific success, even when the testing is done at age 13. The top quartile clearly outperforms the lower quartiles. These results strongly refute the "IQ above 120 doesn't matter" claim, at least in fields like science and engineering; everyone in this sample is above 120 and the top quartile are at the 1 in 10,000 level. The data comes from the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY), a planned 50-year longitudinal study of intellectual talent. ...

Another example: this graph displays upper bounds on probability of graduating with a physics GPA greater than 3.5 (about .5 SD above the average) at Oregon as a function of SAT-M. Note the blue markers are conservative (95 percent confidence level) upper bounds; the central value for the probability at SAT-M > 750 is around 50 percent. The upper bounds were computed to show that the probability for SAT-M below about 600 is close to zero. The red line is the probability of earning an A in calculus-based introductory physics.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Good riddance, JoePa

I've always hated Joe Paterno and Penn State's holier than thou sham. Careful scrutiny suggests it's mostly sociopaths at the top.

NYTimes: ... I have a hard time understanding why a 28 year old man, the grad student, did not go straight into that shower and rescue the kid. He is a coward. Law, lawsuits and all the oversight in the world is valueless unless people step up. This creep Sandusky was “caught” several times, in each case the so called men who witnessed it, quietly back away. Shame on them all. Shame on Mr. Paterno whose god status created the environment.

Paterno admits he was told by the assistant mentioned above that he saw former defensive coordinator Sandusky having anal sex with a naked 10 year old boy in the showers. Paterno reports it to superiors but doesn't follow up further and Sandusky retains an office in the athletic complex. The graduate assistant, a former Penn State QB, is now an assistant coach, so Paterno can hardly claim he didn't find the charge credible. This was definitely a coverup that extended over a decade, and JoePa was involved.

I wonder how the Penn State players feel about using the shower facilities in the Lasch Building (football complex).

Sandusky Grand Jury Presentment.

"When we stood at childhood's gate, Shapeless in the hands of fate, .... May no act of ours bring shame"

The Penn State Alma Mater

For the glory of old State,
For her founders strong and great,
For the future that we wait,
Raise the song, raise the song.

Sing our love and loyalty,
Sing our hopes that, bright and free,
Rest, O Mother dear, with thee,
All with thee, all with thee.


When we stood at childhood's gate,
Shapeless in the hands of fate,
Thou didst mold us, dear old State,
Dear old State, dear old State.


May no act of ours bring shame
To one heart that loves thy name,
May our lives but swell thy fame,
Dear old State, dear old State.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Football is finished

The NYT reports that Ivy teams will limit themselves to only 2 full-contact practices per week. I was wondering when something like this would happen, given recent research on brain injuries in football.

According to the new rules, teams will be able to hold only two full-contact practices per week during the season, compared with a maximum of five under N.C.A.A. guidelines. On the other days of the week, practices cannot include contact or live tackles, and no player may be “taken to the ground.”

This means the overall skill development of Ivy players will be terrible. A player from a good high school program might actually regress in blocking and tackling technique during their college career!

I used to say that if I had a son I'd want him to play football. But if the recent research is confirmed I doubt I will let him. I guess that leaves wrestling or maybe MMA (grappling only) to toughen him up :-)

The difference between football, wrestling, boxing, etc. and wimpier sports like swimming, track, soccer, basketball, etc. is that in the more combative sports the other guy can make you want to quit. I played linebacker and I can remember tough SOBs at guard who would explode out of their stance and plant a helmet on my arm/shoulder every running play -- if it wasn't the guard then it was a fullback with a full head of steam. By the late quarters my upper arm was blue and I started to wish they would pass the ball so I could drop into coverage. A good running game does literally wear down the defense. Somehow the 100 breaststroke, even the state championships, didn't have quite the same intensity.

There is an aspect of mental toughness developed from facing down an opponent in a physical confrontation. West Point required incoming (male) cadets to learn boxing for over 100 years -- sticking your face where someone can hit it forces you to overcome some very primal fears.

... cadets learn war ethos and fear management. They build aggressive mind-sets. Not surprisingly, members of the [boxing] team choose front-line combat, mostly infantry, at a higher rate than any other group on campus.

“They see the bigger picture of what we’re getting these young men ready to do, of what this is all about in the long run,” Daniels said. “That fighting spirit, it starts here. It starts in the ring.”

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Go Ducks

The U Oregon Ducks are ranked #1 in college football, after a decisive win over USC yesterday (highlights). Even the NYTimes has taken notice :-)

NYTimes: ... To combat the notion that U.S.C. is down in talent, Kelly pointed out that on the Trojans’ 44-man depth chart they had 12 five-star recruits and 26 four-star recruits. Kelly then countered that Oregon has zero five-star recruits and 11 four-star recruits.

“They’re still living in the glory days from when Bush was here,” Oregon cornerback Cliff Harris said after the game, referring to Reggie Bush. “They get all these recruits. They thought their talent and five-star recruits was going to beat our hard work. Talent doesn’t beat hard work.”

[See related post: Success vs Ability. I used to love the Nebraska teams of the 80s and early 90s -- few blue chip recruits, but an amazing work ethic that transformed walk ons into top players.]

... What Kelly hints at, but never directly says, is that Oregon’s system has put it ahead of everyone else right now. The Ducks practice only two hours a day without running wind sprints, relying on a tempo so frenetic that it has enabled the Ducks to get into better condition than everyone else. The result? To slow down Oregon’s tempo and get substitutions in the game, teams like Arizona State and Stanford resorted to faking injuries.

One impressed bystander to Oregon’s blurring rise to the top of college football has been Tony Dungy, the former N.F.L. coach whose son Eric is a reserve freshman receiver for the Ducks.

“It’s more mental conditioning,” said Tony Dungy, now an analyst for NBC. “It puts such a strain on you, like Georgetown back when John Thompson was there and they were pressuring and attacking you. At some point, you say, ‘I need a break for a couple of minutes.’ Mentally, teams fatigue more than physically.”

In the back row of Kelly’s news conference under a makeshift tent at the Coliseum, an impressed observer sat stoically, wearing a black Oregon hat and a stylish sport coat. The man, Phil Knight, a Nike co-founder who knows a thing or two about innovation and leaving the competition behind, beamed as Kelly deflected query after query. Knight is Oregon’s chief booster and benefactor, who smiled broadly as he recalled the public address announcer at Oregon’s Autzen Stadium saying he had waited 43 years to introduce the Ducks as the country’s No. 1-ranked team.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Friday Night Lights

Over the break I had some time to catch up on the television series Friday Night Lights (FNL), thanks to The show is loosely based on the book by H.G. Bissinger:

Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream is a 1990 non-fiction book written by H. G. Bissinger. The book follows the story of the 1988 Permian High School Panthers football team from Odessa as they made a run towards the Texas state championship. While originally intended to be a Hoosiers-type chronicle of high school sports holding a small town together, the final book ended up being critical about life in the town of Odessa, Texas, complete with portraits of what Bissinger called "the ugliest racism" he has ever witnessed, as well as misplaced priorities, where football conquered most aspects of the town and academics were ignored for the sake of championships.

Bissinger was a sports writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer, when he decided to write a book about high school sports. After a search, he settled on Odessa, TX and their famous Permian Panthers. The Panthers had a long, rich history of winning in Texas' AAAA and AAAAA division, winning championships in 1965, 1972, 1980 and 1984 at the time when Bissinger and his family moved from Philadelphia to Odessa. He spent the entire football season with the Permian Panther players, their families, the coaches, and even many of the townspeople in an effort to understand the town and their football culture and what created such madness for their football team.

In 2002, Sports Illustrated named Friday Night Lights the fourth-greatest book ever written about sports.

Bissinger's book should be of interest to anyone who wants to understand small town American life and its microcosm, the local high school. If you like FNL, I also recommend The Courting of Marcus Dupree, by Willie Morris, about the recruiting of a superstar running back from Missisippi. (Link goes to Google Books version.) FNL didn't feature any real football talents -- although the team was very successful none of the players went on to big time college careers. Dupree on the other hand was one of the top high school backs of all time, breaking Herschel Walker's touchdown record. Read pages 34-44, which will teach you much more about outliers than anything written by Malcolm Gladwell. (Dupree, despite his small school background, had something that the Permian players, with their expensive facilities, highly paid coaching staff and unrivaled football mania, just couldn't match -- raw, god-given talent ;-)

NYTimes review: IN 1964, the town of Philadelphia, Miss., became the symbol of much that was wrong with America - if only by virtue of its having provided the setting for the murders of three young civil-rights workers, Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Earl Chaney. Just 17 years later, in the autumn of 1981, Philadelphia became the focus of more benign attention. It was the site of a competition among the nation's leading college football powers to recruit the most highly touted high-school player in the country. ...

The FNL television series is fantastic, and has a devoted following despite mediocre ratings. To get a sense of it, have a look at the following clips. (Note, I am finding on Safari that the hulu embedded players don't work well, which is why I also link directly to the hulu pages where you can view the clips.)

The hard nosed side of big time high school sports. view

Family life in America today. view

Hardscrabble in Texas. view

If you liked those clips, watch this this full episode and this one.

Blog Archive