On Jan. 26, 1986, the Chicago Bears beat the Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl XX. That year, the fearsome ’85 Bears had become “more than just a really good football team,” Chicago native Chuck Esposito, the race and sports book director at Sunset Station casino, told me. They had iconoclastic quarterback Jim McMahon, Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton, and the best defense in NFL history. “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” the novelty record they cut, even peaked at No. 41 on the Billboard chart.7Amazingly, the song was nominated for a Grammy.At the time, Vaccaro was running the sports book at the MGM. His rise was swift. He’d cut his gambling teeth as a kid in his 1.4-square-mile hometown of Trafford, Pennsylvania, and in Youngstown, Ohio, where he attended but never finished college. He spent his young adult life playing cards, shooting dice and backing pool players. “Betting was in his veins,” Sonny said of his brother.In 1964, at 18, Vaccaro went to Vegas for the first time. He said he spent the next 10 years “coming back and forth. Going broke, going home, going broke, going home … ” He didn’t officially move to the city until 1975, when casino magnate Michael Gaughan gave him a job as a blackjack dealer at the Royal Inn. Soon Vaccaro was helping Gaughan open the hotel’s race and sports book. When Gaughan opened the Barbary Coast Hotel and Casino in 1979, Vaccaro was tabbed to run the new establishment’s sports book. Six years later, Vaccaro left for the MGM.Even then, bookmaking had not yet become the creative enterprise that it is today. Prop bets existed, but they were rare. In his 2013 article about the now ubiquitous medium, SB Nation writer David McIntire relays a story about the time in 1980 when the late bookmaker Sonny Reizner put up odds on who shot J.R. Ewing during the season finale of “Dallas.”8Cowboys coach Tom Landry was also a suspect. The odds on him were 500-1.“The person who pulled the trigger turned out to be the sister of J.R.’s wife,” Reizner, who died in 2002, later told the Los Angeles Times, “and she was my 7-to-2 fourth choice in the odds.”The Nevada Gaming Control Board forced Reizner’s Hole-in-the-Wall Sportsbook to take the bet off the board — it reportedly ruled that the show’s creators had already determined the shooter and might leak his or her identity — but the stunt drew plenty of media attention.It’s unclear whether the “Who shot J.R.?” prop influenced the Vegas bookmakers, but by the 1980s, they’d begun to look for ways to grow their business by piquing the interest of the general public. Vaccaro said that in January 1986, several of his colleagues gathered for lunch and discussed the possibility of creating a wager that might do just that. They wondered: “What if we put odds on whether William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry would score a touchdown in the Super Bowl?” During the regular season, the gargantuan Bears defensive tackle had three TDs, all on plays where he’d line up as a fullback. Still, with Payton in Chicago’s backfield, there was no way The Fridge would get the ball in the Super Bowl.The Fridge prop is often credited to Vaccaro, but in hindsight he thinks fellow bookmaker Art Manteris of Caesars Palace was the first to offer his customers the odds on Perry scoring. (“If I had to make a bet,” Vaccaro said, “I’d say it was Art.”) At the MGM, Vaccaro opened it at 75-1, but so much money poured in that the line moved to 5-1. “Who the fuck would’ve thought a defensive lineman would score a touchdown?” Vaccaro said with a smile. Sure enough, with the Bears on the 1-yard line late in the third quarter, McMahon handed off the ball to Perry, who barreled into the end zone.“I think we won overall on the game but we lost a quarter-million on that prop,” Manteris later told the Associated Press. “I sold it to the people upstairs by saying we got a million dollars in PR out of it.”Vaccaro said the MGM lost $40,000 on the Fridge prop. At the end of the night, Vaccaro didn’t curse out The Fridge or celebrate the publicity. “I’m a passive person,” he said. He climbed into his Jaguar, drove 6 miles on Interstate 15 to his house, ate a tuna-salad sandwich and went to sleep.But after the Super Bowl, reporters started calling. “It was the best money we ever spent,” Vaccaro said. After all, he adds, “We’re talking about it today.” This week, Vaccaro and the rest of Las Vegas’s bookmakers will turn their attention to Super Bowl XLIX. “The money that comes in on the Super Bowl is dominated by the betting public,” Kornegay said. “Not the sharps, not the so-called wise guys or professionals. It’s the public’s money.”And the public is spending more than ever. Last February, gamblers at Nevada casinos bet a record $119.4 million on one of the most lopsided title games in NFL history. Note that that figure doesn’t include the absurd amounts of cash bet via online sports books, office pools and your friendly neighborhood bookie.A chunk of that will be wagered on things that go beyond the outcome of the game. These are called proposition bets, and they’re everywhere. No place in Vegas offers more than the Westgate SuperBook, where you can bet on, for example, whether Russell Wilson’s first pass will be complete (-170) or incomplete (+150), or whether Tiger Woods’s fourth-round score at the Waste Management Phoenix Open (-5.5/-110) or Patriots receiver Julian Edelman’s number of receiving yards4The casinos stick to props decided on the field of play, but if you peruse some online betting sites, you’ll find things like: “How many times will ‘deflated balls’ be said during the game?” and “Will Marshawn Lynch be fined for actions on media day?” (+5.5/-110) will be higher.Oddsmakers don’t haphazardly toss these wagers up on the board; they try to approach them empirically. When Jay Rood, vice president of race and sports for MGM, recently tried to determine the over/under on Tom Brady’s total yards in the Super Bowl, he pored over the Patriots quarterback’s statistics in the regular season and the playoffs; considered the quality of New England’s opponents; applied his personal formula that he uses for yardage props to the data; and came up with 278.5.5Every sports book comes up with its own odds. But bookmakers aren’t automatons. There’s always a little psychology involved. Because “the public thinks Seattle is a defensive team and New England is an offensive team,” Rood said, he knows he can project “most of the Patriots statistics a little higher than the math says, and vice versa.”And though he’s equipped with ample information and institutional memory, Rood calls Super Bowl prop-making “exhausting.” Why? Because the sharps have caught on. And if the line on a prop isn’t made with care, they’ll pounce. “They no longer think they’re a gimmick,” Rood told Sports Business Daily. “They think it’s a massive opportunity to try and cart money out of the casino.”Devising multi-sport props is even trickier. Take the Woods/Edelman example. For it to work, the golfer’s typical single-round score must be in the same numerical range as the receiver’s typical single-game receiving yards total. Two incongruous options could create liability for the casino. As props become more esoteric, they get riskier.“You try to keep putting up more and more and more,” said Johnny Avello, director of race and sports operations at Wynn Las Vegas, “but sometimes you go so far out of the box, you put yourself in a situation where there’s a prop that’s advantageous to the player.”The mundane props can also burn a book. In Super Bowl XLVIII last year, Seattle opened the scoring with a safety. The odds in Vegas of a safety occurring at all were about 8-1; the odds of a safety being the first points of the game were 50-1. “We lost $62,000 12 seconds into the game,” Vaccaro told Bloomberg News. “A sizable scream went out when it occurred.”6It was the third straight Super Bowl in which a safety occurred.For bettors, the allure of prop bets is simple. Even if the odds are lousy, it gives them the ability to plunk down a little money to have the chance to win a lot of money. “The public really enjoys low risk, high reward,” Kornegay said. “It doesn’t matter what it is. You know what? You can say, ‘Will Elvis come down on the field and do the coin flip?’ One-to-one odds. It’s a good bet.”Vaccaro helped start the prop bet revolution with something nearly as ridiculous as that. Jimmy Vaccaro, the dean of Las Vegas bookmakers, leaned back in his chair and kicked his black loafers up onto his desk, revealing the tube socks stretching between his shoes and his dad jeans. The NFC championship game was on his flat-screen television, and outside his office at South Point Casino there was a crowd filling a sports book the size of a state school lecture hall. Grown men in Packers and Seahawks gear,1In addition to Seahawks, Packers, Colts and Patriots gear, I saw a Joe Montana jersey, a J.J. Watt jersey and a Ben Roethlisberger jersey. My favorite fashion choice, however, was what appeared to be an authentic circa 1994 Stan Humphries Chargers jersey that went down to a scruffy dude’s knees. many of whom had money on the action, were screaming at stadium-grade video boards and sucking down Bud Lights. Vaccaro, on the other hand, was sipping Pepsi through a straw.“You wouldn’t know who I’m rooting for,” he said. His ability to stay calm during a major sporting event is a point of pride. “Once it starts, I can’t control it.” This Sunday, millions of people will realize the same thing. Betting on the Super Bowl has become, according to some estimates, a multibillion dollar affair, infiltrating the culture to the point where offshore gambling sites are offering odds on things like what color Gatorade will be dumped on the winning coach.The guy who helped it go mainstream — the one who was in the room when Super Bowl betting went from niche to zeitgeist — is Jimmy Vaccaro, the kid from tiny Trafford, Pennsylvania, who made good in Vegas.Since moving here permanently in 1975 — “40 freakin’ years” — Vaccaro has run more than a half-dozen race and sports books. “He was spearheading the movement,” said Jay Kornegay, vice president of the 30,000-square-foot2The Westgate Las Vegas, which everyone still calls the LVH (depending how old you are, it’s short for the Las Vegas Hotel or the Las Vegas Hilton), claims it has largest sports book in the world. Westgate SuperBook.Vaccaro doesn’t drink, smoke or go to strip clubs. He even refuses to dress up, keeping an overstuffed cardboard box full of his signature all-white sweatshirts near his desk. Only New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick owns more hoodies. Vaccaro still makes calls on a flip phone, can count the number of visits he’s made to the East Coast over the past four decades on one hand, and is twice divorced. “I’m married to this,” he said.Vaccaro is the guy who helped destigmatize sports betting. He did it not only by being an expert linesmaker (which he is), but also by being a levelheaded booster of a supposedly illicit activity. When the media needed a no B.S. kind of guy to talk about the odds on a big game or a big fight, we called Jimmy Vaccaro.3For a live special called “Springfield’s Most Wanted”, “The Simpsons” asked Vaccaro to tape a segment touting fictional odds on who shot Mr. Burns. He agreed to do it, although he’d never seen the show. We still call Jimmy Vaccaro. And he’s here, 40 freakin’ years in, at an off-the-strip resort, still plying his trade.“Who’s the most famous bookmaker of all time? Jimmy ‘The Greek.’ ” said his older brother Sonny Vaccaro, the former sneaker company executive who signed Michael Jordan to his first Nike deal. “What did [the Greek] do? He publicized himself every time he took a shit. He craved publicity. My brother is the anti-showman.” By the time Vaccaro began running the sports book at the newly opened Mirage in 1989, prop betting hadn’t exactly taken off. But it had become more common. Leading up to Super Bowl XXIV in January 1990, a guest at the Mirage bet $5,000 on 4-1 odds that an extra point would be missed. After San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana hit tight end Brent Jones for a 7-yard touchdown in the first quarter, kicker Mike Cofer’s ensuing attempt was no good. The unidentified man collected $27,000, prompting Vaccaro to tell the San Francisco Chronicle that “it gave him more money to bet with us on the halftime line.”A string of blowouts — NFC teams won 13 straight Super Bowls beginning in January 1985 — forced the bookmakers to get creative. “It really took off in ’95, when the 49ers and Chargers met in the Super Bowl and it was a 19.5-, 20-point spread,” Kornegay said of a game that San Francisco won 49-26. “So we were just trying to devise propositions to keep everybody interested in the game by the time the second half rolled around.”Over the past 20 years, prop betting has gone mainstream. So has betting on sports in general. Is there anyone left who doesn’t fill out an NCAA tournament bracket? “Everyone in America likes to bet sports,” Nick Bogdanovich said. “It’s not like the old days when people painted it as a bad thing. Look, now all these college-educated kids want to work on formulas and crunch stats and algorithms.”On the day after the NFL conference championship games, Jimmy showed me his sports book’s intricate digital database. Employees can monitor global betting lines, check exactly how much has been wagered on specific events, and even access what Vaccaro calls the “What if?” screen. “Right now you could punch in, ‘Patriots 35-10,’ ” he said, “and it tells you exactly what we’re gonna win or lose.”Running a sports book is different than it was in 1975. “There’s no guessing anymore, which makes it so much easier,” Vaccaro said. “You know where you’re at on everything. It’s not hard. It isn’t like the old days when we were hand-writing everything.” More information is at his disposal, but his philosophy toward how he sets the line remains the same. “It’s a general feeling that it’s the right number.”That’s why, 40 freakin’ years in, his temperament hasn’t changed. He’s never too high, and he’s never too low. On Super Bowl Sunday, he’ll be in his office with his feet up on his desk, drinking a Pepsi and watching the action unfold. He’ll probably be rooting for someone, but don’t expect him to wear his emotions on the sleeve of his white hoodie.“I understand what it’s like to make a relatively big score, and I know even better what it’s like to get your ass kicked and broke and go through bad times,” Vaccaro said. “I’ve never gotten crazy with either one.”
What if medals were awarded in proportion to a sport’s popularity? Related: Hot Takedown Lithuania21251012 Ukraine6592022610 India02460134 Fencing202100.4 Montenegro01010303 Brazil359178271146 SPORTVIEWER HOURS (MILLIONS)EVENTSMEDAL MULTIPLIER Synchronized swimming11321.1 Taekwondo**8880.2 Basketball80428.0 Hong Kong00110011 Qatar00220011 Iran453121214 Ethiopia31373137 Kuwait00110000 Modern pentathlon3220.3 Trampoline6720.7 Sweden14380516 Singapore00220055 Romania25292428 Indonesia01120000 Algeria10011001 Judo**443140.6 Source: Sports-Reference.com Puerto Rico01120011 Spain310417115420 Azerbaijan226101124 Grenada10011001 Volleyball51925.1 China also gets a modest boost, thanks in part to its gymnastics and table tennis prowess, while Brazil — great at soccer and volleyball, not so good at the individual sports — gets a large one. The country that suffers the most is Great Britain, which used its home-nation advantage to rack up medals in some of the more obscure sports. Nations from Eastern Europe and Central Asia, which win lots of medals in relatively unpopular events such as weightlifting and wrestling, also suffer to some extent. Afghanistan00110000 Botswana01010101 France11111335915832 Venezuela10010000 The Subtle (And Not So Subtle) Dominance Of U.S. Swimmers And Gymnasts * Golf and rugby are new Olympic sports for 2016. Viewership is estimated based on regression analysis.** Boxing, judo, taekwondo and wrestling award two bronze medals in each event. As a result, they have a lower medal multiplier for bronze medals: 0.3 for boxing and judo, 0.2 for wrestling and 0.1 for taekwondo.Source: Olympic.org Team sports almost invariably wind up with large medal multipliers, including soccer (12.9), basketball (8.0) and even water polo (1.9). Swimming (0.9) and track and field (1.0) hold their own; they’re very popular, but also medal-rich, so there isn’t much need to adjust their numbers one way or the other. Gymnastics gets a boost, though, as does diving (1.9). But many of the more obscure individual sports, such as shooting (0.4), sailing (0.2) and taekwondo (0.2), have low multipliers.How would these adjustments have affected the 2012 Olympic standings? Among other things, they’d have helped the United States, which already led the way with 46 gold and 103 overall medals in London. A lot of those medals came in team sports, such as basketball, volleyball and (women’s) soccer, which have high medal multipliers. Thus, Team USA’s adjusted medal count is 78 golds and 142 medals overall, towering over the competition. Rhythmic gymnastics9220.9 Beach volleyball78127.7 Golf*9420.9 Denmark24391337 COUNTRYGOLDSILVERBRONZETOTALGOLDSILVERBRONZETOTAL USA dominates adjusted medal count We’re on the ground in Rio covering the 2016 Summer Olympics. Check out all our coverage here.Because the Summer Olympics occur during presidential election years, I have to pick my viewing opportunities carefully. I won’t always have the time or patience to watch much water polo or beach volleyball, sports that involve a lot of buildup — dozens of preliminary matches — all leading up to a gold-medal match that I’ll probably forget to watch anyway.1The Winter Olympics are another story: MORE CURLING, PLEASE. Instead, I’m mostly interested in sports such as swimming and track and field, which provide plenty of bang for the buck, with somebody (probably an American) winning a medal pretty much every other time you look.Not everyone agrees with this philosophy, though. Track and field and swimming are indeed very popular, ranking as the top two sports for Olympics TV viewership, followed by gymnastics in third. But soccer ranks fourth. It awards just two gold medals, one each for the men’s and women’s champions, while sailing awards 10. And yet — even if people don’t care as much about Olympic soccer as they do the World Cup or the Champions League — soccer has 15 times the Olympics TV audience that sailing does.So, what if Olympics medals were awarded in proportion to how much people actually cared about each sport, as measured by its TV viewership? To reiterate, I’m talking about TV viewership during the Olympics, specifically. Tennis (as in: Wimbledon) is presumably the more popular spectator sport under ordinary circumstances, but in 2012, people actually spent more time watching table tennis (as in: pingpong) than tennis at the Olympics.The data I’m citing here comes from the IOC’s International Federations Report, which listed the total number of TV viewer hours in each sport during the 2012 London Olympics. People around the world spent a collective 202 million hours watching Olympics fencing in 2012, for example. The list of the most popular sports is less U.S.-centric than you might think: Badminton, not very popular in the United States, gets a lot of TV viewers worldwide.There are just a couple of complications. First, some Olympic federations cover more than one sport, as people usually define them. FINA, for example, governs swimming, diving, water polo and synchronized swimming2Technically the Olympics committee calls diving a discipline, which is organized under one sport, aquatics., and the IOC’s report aggregated their TV viewership together. I used data on London Olympics ticket revenues as a proxy for the relative popularity of these sports, in order to split the TV audiences accordingly.3Specifically, I used data on ticket revenues, excluding tickets sold to residents of the United Kingdom, on the assumption that this would help to correct for sports that are more popular in the U.K. than they are worldwide. Second, golf and rugby are new to the Olympics this year, so I estimated their TV viewership using regression analysis.4The regression was based on the revenue tier in which the IOC ranked each sport — golf and rugby are in the lowest tier along with modern pentathlon — and the number of ticketed sessions for each sport. Ticketed sessions is a proxy for the overall number of broadcast hours available. A sport like handball can slowly accumulate viewers, even it doesn’t have very many of them at any one time.Otherwise, the analysis is pretty straightforward. I calculated a medal multiplier for each sport, such that the value of medals is proportional to the amount of time people spent watching it. Gymnastics, for instance, represented about 4.5 percent of the medals awarded in 2012, but around 9 percent of the TV viewership. It therefore needs a medal multiplier of 2 to bring things into proportion.5For boxing, judo, taekwondo and wrestling, which award two bronze medals per event, I use a smaller medal multiplier for bronze medals. Estonia01120011 Gymnastics1,442142.0 Tennis37151.5 Great Britain2917196517101845 Boxing**302130.5 Australia71612353121833 Badminton56252.2 Triathlon10021.0 Water polo19421.9 Belarus255122338 Japan71417384281648 New Zealand625132125 Netherlands6682075416 Jamaica4441244412 Egypt02020101 Mongolia02350112 Taiwan01120000 Archery16240.8 Handball26522.6 Greece00220011 Hungary846186129 Italy891128351220 Mexico1337135321 Croatia31263036 Germany1119144414161141 Table tennis46142.3 Field hockey23322.3 Latvia10121089 Cyprus01010000 Rowing196140.3 Thailand02130101 Guatemala01010101 Canoe/kayak195160.2 Portugal01010000 Colombia13481214 U.S.462829103783925142 Weightlifting320150.4 Shooting215150.3 Argentina11240224 Malaysia01120224 N. Korea40262013 Armenia01230011 Ireland11351113 Cuba536142226 Tunisia11131113 Track and field2,300471.0 Soccer1,300212.9 Sailing87100.2 Dominican Rep.11021102 Slovenia11241113 ORIGINAL 2012 MEDAL COUNTADJUSTED FOR SPORT POPULARITY We’ll check in on these numbers again at the end of the 2016 Rio games. They may even make inexplicably popular beach volleyball — medal multiplier 7.7 — worth your time to watch. Diving78481.9 Rugby*14121.4 S. Africa32162204 Norway21143014 Slovakia01340011 Swimming1,509340.9 Belgium01230011 Bulgaria01120000 Gabon01010000 Georgia13371113 Finland01230011 Bahamas10011001 Russia2426328225233280 Czech Rep.433102226 Turkey22151102 Morocco00110011 Uzbekistan10230011 Trinidad and Tobago11241124 Moldova00220011 Cycling564180.6 S. Korea138728861731 Uganda10011001 Switzerland22042204 Tajikistan00110000 Bahrain00110011 Kenya2451124511 Serbia11240022 Poland226101124 China38272388503020100 Kazakhstan715134116 Canada151218122124 Equestrian18160.6 Wrestling**318180.3 Saudi Arabia00110011
Everybody likes to cheer for the underdog, but hardly anyone bets on the underdog to win. We tend to put our money on the favorite most of the time. In fact, we bet on the favorite far more frequently than we should. To understand why, you have to understand some of the basic functions and malfunctions of human decision-making.Filling out a winning March Madness bracket is difficult, but the process itself is simple. All you have to do is pick a winner for each game in your bracket. Most of the time, sports betting is more complicated than that. It’s easy enough to pick the favorite to win, but what if we were to say the favorite has to win by at least eight points? And what if that eight-point spread were carefully crafted to make the game a toss-up — who would you pick then? This is the type of decision sports bettors have to make all the time.In 2004, University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt identified the fact that point spreads aren’t set like typical market prices, by equating relative levels of supply and demand. Instead, bookmakers set the margin to make the chance of the favorite covering the spread to be roughly 50 percent. Levitt speculated that bookmakers substantially improve their profits by biasing the spread very slightly against the favorite. This approach is profitable for bookmakers in part because, despite facing virtually even odds, people are much more likely to bet on the favorite than the underdog.The question that Levitt’s research left unaddressed is why people show such a strong bias towards favorites. As digital editor of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, I come across many studies, and I found a compelling answer to this question in the research of Joseph Simmons, associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and Leif Nelson, associate professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. Simmons and Nelson say that people’s confidence in their own intuitions — regardless of whether that confidence is justified — guides their decision-making.“When people decide how to bet on a game, first they identify who is going to win,” Nelson said. That decision is often fast and easy, particularly when teams are not evenly matched. “The faster and easier it is, the less concerned they are with correcting that intuition when answering the more difficult question of whether the favorite is going to beat the point spread.”For all but the most experienced bettor, determining whether the favorite will beat the spread is incredibly challenging. Keeping in mind that the spread is carefully calibrated to make the choice a virtual coin flip, people simply don’t have much to go on besides their intuition. And because their intuition strongly suggests that the favorite will win, in the absence of information to the contrary it also tells them that the favorite will beat the spread. In a game between two fairly evenly matched teams, people’s feelings of confidence in the favorite to win are diminished, and they’re much less likely to pick the favorite to cover the spread.Simmons and Nelson analyzed betting data on 1,008 regular season NFL games on Sportsbook.com from 2009 to 2012. They found the average share of money bet on the favorite was 65 percent. This confirmed their initial study in which they tracked data from thousands of predictions of 850 professional and college football games on Yahoo.com for the 2003 and 2004 seasons. There Simmons and Nelson found, just as Levitt did, that even though favorites were about 50 percent likely to beat the spread (413 favorites beat the spread, 415 did not, and 22 were ties), people bet on the favorite more than two-thirds of the time. In fact, the more people believed a certain team would win, the more likely they were to also choose that team to beat the spread. Put another way, the confidence bettors felt in picking the winner translated into an unrelated belief that the winner would beat the spread.Simmons and Nelson also ran a series of studies in a controlled laboratory setting. They made sure that people knew exactly what it meant to bet the spread. In addition to asking people who they thought would win the game and how confident they were in their choice, the researchers asked them to estimate the margin of victory. Remarkably, people continued to overwhelmingly bet that the favorite would cover the same spread they had just personally estimated. And, once again, the more confident people felt that a team would win, the more likely they were to bet that the team would beat the spread.Astute gamblers may have noticed that although the bias towards favorites is a persistent one, it doesn’t appear to cost people very much. If the point spread is calibrated to give favorites a 50 percent chance of beating it, then even if people bet on the favorite every time, they should win half their bets, just as they would if they always bet on the underdog or chose at random. In another paper, however, Simmons and Nelson, along with Jeff Galak of Carnegie Mellon University and Shane Frederick of Yale University, found that favoritism towards favorites persists even when the playing field is tilted in favor of the underdog. People continued to show a bias toward picking favorites to cover the spread even when points were added to the spread dropping the favorites’ odds below 50 percent. Even explicitly telling people that the spread was artificially inflated didn’t stop them from making the costly error.Luckily, as you scramble to fill out your March Madness bracket, you don’t have to pick against spreads. You just have to pick who will win each game, something your intuition is pretty good at doing. So, in this case, go right ahead: Follow your gut and pick the favorites.
Monday marks the 2014 World Cup debut for the United States men’s national team, and with it begins the Americans’ 10th attempt to capture soccer’s most prestigious trophy. Since 1930, when the team placed third in the inaugural World Cup, the U.S. has never come closer to victory than the quarterfinals in 2002. The United States has the world’s biggest economy, the world’s third-largest population, and spends an exceptional amount of money on sports, but it can’t field a world-class men’s soccer team.Clearly, the U.S. women’s national team can say better. Since the advent of the Women’s World Cup, the United States has boasted the most successful women’s team on the planet, including two World Cup wins to go with one second-place and three third-place finishes. But global women’s soccer is quite young, relatively speaking,1The first Women’s World Cup was staged in 1991; before that, the major international women’s scene consisted of prototype events and assorted unofficial tournaments. and one of the challenges for the men’s national team is that the rest of the world had a sizable head start on the men’s side.Economists love to frame the U.S. men’s team’s problems by searching for correlations between other countries’ socioeconomic status and their athletic performance in international competitions. In a broad-based event like the Olympics, this approach works surprisingly well.2The correlation coefficient between the linked medal-count predictions and the actual totals from the 2012 Olympics was 0.987! But in a more specific sport like soccer, there isn’t as much of a link between a country’s vital statistics and its prospects of winning.If you tried to find a relationship between national populations and the Soccer Power Index (SPI), you’d have very little to show for your effort. For every Brazil, which ranks fifth in population and first in soccer talent, there’s a China or an India — hugely populous countries that aren’t especially good at the world’s favorite sport. Likewise, the link between a country’s economic performance — as measured by per-capita gross domestic product — and its SPI is similarly weak. Rich countries like Norway and Qatar aren’t soccer powerhouses, while a disproportionate number of the world’s best national soccer teams belong to poor South American and African countries.Total GDP, which combines population and per-head productivity, explains a somewhat larger proportion of a country’s SPI rating,3The correlation coefficient was .233. but still doesn’t scratch the surface when it comes to clarifying why a country like the United States isn’t better at soccer despite its overwhelming wealth and large number of inhabitants. Money alone doesn’t seem to be able to buy success in international soccer (a fact that, as Max Ehrenfreund of The Washington Post notes, stands in sharp contrast to the widespread perception of soccer’s top club leagues).There are other explanations for Americans’ soccer futility: Recent research suggests that the U.S. has been held back by historical inexperience playing at the highest level, and — traditionally speaking — its absence from the game’s most important competitive regions.More successful models looking to explain countries’ soccer superiority include factors beyond GDP. At the far end of the spectrum, these studies add a dizzying array of supplementary variables, such as a country’s type of government, its level of political freedom, its colonial history and even its amount of oil production.4I tend to be wary of such kitchen-sink models because of the risk of overfitting. But a simpler and more widely known model was developed by the economist Stefan Szymanski for his book (co-authored with journalist Simon Kuper) “Soccernomics.” Szymanski’s only additional variable was the number of matches a country’s senior national team had played, the effect of which dwarfed both population and GDP.This “experience” factor measures how long a country has been playing soccer, and serves as a useful proxy for how much exposure it’s had to the international game. It begins to explain why the U.S. hasn’t yet caught up to the powerful national programs of Europe and South America, despite America’s built-in advantages. Counts vary depending on how matches are classified, but according to the database maintained by the Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation,5That link has data only up to 2001, but I augmented it with data through 2011. the U.S. Men’s National Team has played 618 international matches in its history. Almost all teams ranked ahead of the U.S. in SPI have played more frequently than that,6Excluding former Soviet satellites. and in many cases, it’s not close. France, Italy and the Netherlands have the U.S. beat by more than 100 historical games; Uruguay and Germany are ahead by more than 200; and England, Brazil and Argentina are up by more than 300. The U.S. comes out ahead of Colombia (509), Portugal (547) and Ecuador (464) on experience, but those are the outliers.At first blush, the apparent importance of historical experience in international soccer seems to be a chicken-or-egg dilemma along the lines of Malcolm Gladwell’s famed 10,000-hour rule: Is a country good at soccer because it has a long history of playing the sport, or does it have a long history of playing soccer because it’s good?Szymanski and Kuper sidestep this quandary in favor of a far more interesting discussion about what the experience factor means for the spread of information through interconnected knowledge networks. As they tell it, being isolated from the forefront of tactical innovation is one of the biggest handicaps a national soccer team can suffer. A lack of wealth and a small player pool matter, of course, but only to a point. For more developed countries — those that aren’t subject to malnutrition and extreme poverty — the things holding soccer back might be inadequate training and a sense of detachment from global soccer, whose networks allow innovation to spread.The United States is a good example. Between 1950 and 1990, the U.S. didn’t qualify for a single World Cup, and played in fewer than half as many international matches as Brazil, Argentina, England, Italy, France or West Germany. Even Spain (held up by Kuper and Szymanski as an example of soccer isolationism under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco from 1939 to 1975), played nearly three times as many international games as the U.S. did during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Cut off from the rest of the soccer world, the U.S. missed decades of innovation, and is still playing catch-up. For years, the men’s national team was defined as unsophisticated — a tough, hustling team that ran a lot and relied on counterattacks, while the rest of the world played tactically advanced, attacking soccer.There’s nothing the U.S. can do about those lost decades. But as Kuper and Szymanski note, there is a “shortcut” for new-world teams that lack experience: They can import it, bringing in coaches who can teach players the art of soccer as found in continental Europe, the central node in Kuper and Szymanski’s global soccer knowledge network.7Where does South America fit into that network? After all, Brazil and Argentina have combined to win five of the last 11 World Cups. But even those countries’ biggest individual stars tend to play club football in Western Europe. That’s effectively what the U.S. did when it hired the former Germany and Bayern Munich manager Jürgen Klinsmann as head coach in 2011. Klinsmann’s plan has often been described as one of de-Americanizing the men’s national team, bringing a European sensibility to it. The U.S. is hoping his personal experience in soccer’s most important information network can make up for an entire country’s lack thereof.Visions of such a utopian future have come in fits and starts. The best American players are still nowhere near the level of the best in the world, and the demand for their services in the club leagues of Western Europe remains limited. In the run-up to the World Cup, Klinsmann repeatedly warned the media that expecting the U.S. to win this year’s tournament was “unrealistic.” Thanks in large part to a brutal draw, American soccer will likely take a step backward before it can move forward.8Going into Monday, the U.S. had just a 32.9 percent chance of advancing out of the group stage, according to the FiveThirtyEight World Cup model.At the same time, inroads are being made. Klinsmann has stressed the importance of American players securing loans in Europe, to place themselves in the center of the game’s most fiercely competitive, innovative battleground. And he’s also taken steps to rid the U.S. of its traditional playing style, adopting tactics more emulative of the possession-based scheme that correlates best with winning. The Klinsmann experiment is not a slight adjustment to American soccer — it’s a total overhaul.Viewed this way, perhaps the United States isn’t underachieving at all, even after taking into account its economic resources. American soccer is making its way down an evolutionary path that other countries traversed decades earlier. The early growing pains of the U.S. men’s program under Klinsmann are part of a long process, one that someday may produce a team capable of legitimately competing for a World Cup.
Nov. 14NC Central Nov. 25Marshall Dec. 22UNC-Asheville Dec. 20Youngstown State Nov. 21Western Carolina OSU guard JaQuan Lyle (13) leads the offense in the Big Ten tournament against Penn State on March 10 in Indianapolis.Credit: Lantern File PhotoThe Ohio State men’s basketball team has been criticized in recent years for not scheduling high-major opponents in the nonconference season. Since the 2013-14 season when OSU did not play one ranked team until conference play, coach Thad Matta and the Buckeyes have shared the court with Louisville, North Carolina, Virginia, UCONN, Memphis and Kentucky. Only one of those games (Virginia) was played in Columbus.On Tuesday, OSU announced its 2016-17 nonconference schedule, which features two familiar high-major opponents, and two other prominent programs — at Virginia, versus UConn, versus Providence and in Las Vegas against UCLA.Providence will travel to Columbus for the first time in school history when the Friars and Buckeyes meet on Nov. 17, as a part of the Gavitt Tipoff Games between Big Ten and Big East schools. This is the first meeting between the two schools since the 1990 NCAA Tournament. The Friars lost their two leading scorers from last season to the NBA: guard Kris Dunn and forward Ben Bentil.Matta’s team lost last year at home to then-No. 6 Virginia 64-58 in a closely contested game, and OSU also suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the UConn Huskies in Storrs, Connecticut, 75-55. Matta and company has its chance at revenge next season.On Nov. 30, OSU will travel to Charlottesville, Virginia, to face coach Tony Bennett’s Virginia Cavaliers in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Virginia lost its two best players in ACC player of the year and defensive player of the year Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill. However, three-point mastermind Logan Perentes returns with Memphis’ former leading scorer Austin Nichols, who is now eligible after sitting out a year because of the NCAA transfer rule, and four recruits in ESPN’s top 100 for 2016. OSU hosts UConn on Dec. 10 at the Schottenstein Center, completing its home-and-home series with the Huskies. Coach Kevin Ollie’s team loses three of its top four scorers but owns the ninth-ranked 2016 recruiting class, according to ESPN.In the final year of the CBS Sports Classic, OSU tips off against UCLA on Dec. 17 in Las Vegas. UCLA owns the sixth-ranked 2016 recruiting class, according to ESPN, and the Bruins return four starters.Each pivotal nonconference opponent has a roster that will undergo some change whereas the Buckeyes return its six leading scorers from last season.A young OSU team in 2015-16 couldn’t capitalize on teams inside the RPI top 50. The Buckeyes were just 2-10 in those games, including 1-8 versus the RPI top 25.Despite a poor resume, a nonconference win in Brooklyn, New York, versus then-No. 4 Kentucky held OSU’s NCAA Tournament hopes from the unfathomable. In 2016-17, a strong nonconference showing could be the Buckeyes’ best friend come next March. Nov. 17Providence Nov. 11@ Navy Dec. 3Fairleigh Dickinson Dec. 17vs. UCLA (Las Vegas) Nov. 30@ Virginia Dec. 6Florida Atlantic Dec. 10Connecticut Nov. 23Jackson State
Senior forward Nick Schilkey looks to put the puck past Michigan’s goaltender on Feb. 25 at the Schottenstein Center. OSU lost, 1-0. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo EditorIn order for No. 13 Ohio State (17-9-6, 8-7-1-1) to sweep Michigan State (6-21-3, 2-12-2-0) in the final home series of the 2016-17 season, the Buckeyes must clean up the turnover issues that plagued them last weekend.Coming off a tough 1-0 loss to Michigan on Feb. 25, the Buckeyes know they must protect the puck within the neutral and defensive zones. The Wolverines’ winning goal came from a defensive zone turnover by senior David Gust that went directly to Michigan forward Niko Porikos. Porikos ripped a shot towards the goal and it was tipped in by forward Nick Pastujov.The Buckeyes took this example as a lesson to build upon and fix in practice prior to this weekend. OSU coach Steve Rohlik understands how these crucial lapses in play can hurt the team, but envisions the flaws as capable of fixing.“Our guys have to know better than to just throw pucks away,” he said. “We had a few guys with nobody even on them, and they threw the puck away. That’s something that we can control, which is good.”The topic was not limited to the defensemen this week. There was a heavy amount of focus on the forwards and their ability to provide better support to get the puck out of vulnerable areas. Senior forward Nick Schilkey reiterated that it was a big focus in this week’s preparation.“(Back-checking has) been a big focus of ours — getting back as forwards to help the defense and making sure we’re all in the same frame,” Schilkey said.Schilkey explained what he and the fellow forwards are looking for on video to improve their contributions to the efforts.“We’re making sure that we aren’t getting too stretched out,” he said. “I think that’ll make it easier on the defense. I think that’s where we’re going to get better.”Looking towards this weekend’s battle with the Spartans, it’s imperative the Buckeyes improve their play in the two zones and get the much-needed sweep nearing the postseason. The team has little room to falter as OSU sits on the edge of an NCAA at-large tournament berth. When facing a team like Michigan State, who has struggled all season, OSU hopes to play with fire from the beginning of the game and not turn it on when the team has to. A few weeks ago, the Buckeyes struggled to come out firing in both games in East Lansing, Michigan, and had to hold onto one-goal wins. With some familiarity of the opponent, there is confidence that the team will know ways to attack the Spartans’ weaknesses and get the early leads.“If you limit your turnovers, you’re going to limit chances against and that’s what we have to do,” Rohlik said.Puck drop for the games are set for 7 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday.
Who would have thought that the sporting world’s next Cinderella story would have driven the Big Apple to Linsanity? If you haven’t heard of the New York Knicks’ point guard Jeremy Lin, chances are you’re a fashion major or just don’t care about sports. Heading into the Knicks’ game against Sacramento Wednesday, Lin has been rocking the NBA, scoring more points in his first five starts than any other player since the NBA/ABA merger in 1976, and leading the once struggling Knicks to a six-game winning streak after starting the season 8-15. During the first five games of the Lin era, the Knicks were without superstars Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire due to injury and a family death, respectfully. Out of nowhere, the Harvard graduate and undrafted second-year comes off the bench and brings life to a dormant Knicks squad, and energy to Madison Square Garden that hasn’t been seen since Patrick Ewing was lighting up the scoreboards throughout the 1990s. Born and raised just north of New York City, I’ve been an avid Knicks fan since I was young. Speaking for a number of people I’m close with back home, we haven’t been this excited about the NBA ever. Lin has brought excitement and wins to the Knicks, something that names like Anthony, Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler haven’t been able to do, at a fraction of the cost. The rumble of Linsanity has even brought tremors to Columbus, Ohio. After his 38-point performance against the Lakers on Friday night, Lin was the topic of discussion on High Street. You’ll have your critics bash his high amount of turnovers, which is common among point guards who aren’t used to playing with a new cast, but for the most part it sounds like Lin has won over Ohio State. The only positive talk you hear in Ohio about New York sports is when the Giants win the Super Bowl or the Yankees win the World Series. Here’s a new bandwagon for Ohioans to jump on, and this time it’s not just the front runners coming on board. It might not be the sexiest story to hit sports; Lin doesn’t walk around with the swagger of superstar athletes, but his energy and determination make up for that. He’s putting wins on the board. In any sport, all that matters is the ‘W.’ It probably also helps that he’s Asian, a rare ethnicity in professional basketball. Professional boxer Floyd Mayweather’s comments on Twitter about Lin’s race angered many. From his Twitter account, @FloydMayweather, Mayweather said on Feb. 13: “Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he’s Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don’t get the same praise.” Let’s be honest, anyone of any race that does what Lin has done deserves the credit they’ve received. I’m sure if a Caucasian with red hair were putting up Lin’s stats and leading the Knicks to victory, New York would have a severe case of “gingervitus.” Race aside, Lin’s performing miracles on the basketball court. And if seeing signs in Madison Square Garden that read “The Yellow Mamba” is all Knicks fans have to put up with in exchange for wins, I think we can deal with it. For now, I’m all Lin on what the Knicks are doing. It will be interesting to see if the hype and talent that Lin has made appear from thin air can last for what remains of this shortened NBA season.
Freshman Colby Miller poses during her mount for her balance beam routine during the Ohio State gymnastics meet against West Virginia University and Temple University in St. John Arena on March 2. Credit: Anna Ripken | For The LanternThe Women’s Gymnastics team took on West Virginia University and Temple University on March 2 at St John Arena. Photos by Anna Ripken
Charles Darwin proved that life adapts to niches not to an idealised model Dr Kozubek said autism should be viewed as ‘a strange gift from our deep past’ which has been passed down through millions of years of evolution.He argues that many genetic variants could be advantageous for creative thought and the negative effects can be tempered by the positive.In November a man in China became the first to be injected with modified immune cells which had been engineered to fight his lung cancer using a technique called Crispr.It works like tiny molecular scissors snipping away genetic code and replacing it with new instructions to build better cells and has been hailed the future of genetic editing. But Mr Kozubek urged caution before removing DNA, which could be inextricably linked to other areas. “Before we begin modifying our genes with gene editing tools such as Crispr-Cas9, we’d be smart to recall that genetic variants that contribute to psychiatric conditions may even be beneficial depending on the environment or genetic background,” he added.Although there are no trials ongoing in the UK at the moment, British scientists have already been at the forefront of genetic editing techniques and are likely to start trials in the near future.Last year scientists at Great Ormond Street Hospital and University College London used a DNA snipping technique called TALEN to create designer immune cells which could hunt out and eradicate the leukaemia of 17 month old Layla Richards.It was so experimental and difficult that it had only ever been tried in mice, and specialists had to apply for emergency permission from health regulators and the hospital’s ethics committee.However Crispr is easier and is likely to make the practice more widespread for a range of conditionsDr Adrian Thrasher of the Molecular Immunology Unit at UCL’s Institute of Child Health said: “At the moment cancer is easiest and safest target as immune cells are modified in lab and given back.“But there are increasing numbers of applications for genetic disease which will be translated over coming years.” Genetic editing to cure future generations of disease and mental disorders could rob the world of the creative geniuses who have transformed society, it has been claimed.Next year, the first large trials will begin in the US and China to tweak the genes of patients suffering from cancer – a breakthrough which could herald a new era of genetic medicine in which any disorder could simply be snipped from the DNA.But Dr Jim Kozubek, author of Modern Prometheus: Editing the Human Genome with Crispr-Cas9, said that the likes of Thomas Edison and Tennessee Williams would not exist in a future where depression, autism, schizophrenia or Asperger’s were eradicated.Statistics have shown that writers are 10 times more like to be bipolar than the general population and poets 40 times.“Thomas Edison was ‘addled’ and kicked out of school,” said Dr Kozubek, “Tennessee Williams, as a teenager on the boulevards of Paris felt afraid of ‘the process of thought’ and came within ‘a hairsbreadth of going quite mad’.“Scientists tend to think of variations in life as problems to be solved, deviations and abnormalities outside of a normal curve.“In reality, Darwin showed us that evolution does not progress toward an ideal concept or model, but rather is a work of tinkering toward adaptation in local niches.” Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings.
Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. A barrister at the centre of a child abuse scandal in the Church of England was assisted by one of his victims, now the headteacher of a top prep school, it has been alleged.John Smyth QC, who was investigated by police over claims he subjected young men to savage sadomasochistic beatings, recruited one of his victims, Simon Doggart, to carry out the abuse the BBC has claimed. Doggart, who has been the head teacher of Caldicott preparatory school in Buckinghamshire for the last 20 years, was allegedly recruited by Smyth who asked him to administer further beatings to his friends.There is no suggestion that he has ever harmed any of his pupils at Caldicott Preparatory School.”John Smyth beat me first, appallingly, with his usual force. Then Simon Doggart took over while John watched”, said one victim who wished to be anonymous. “I recall immediately the absolute brutality of his beating – far, far worse than Smyth. There was no discussion, no emotion that I recall, just a fit sports man using all his force.”Then it was over, this was going to be the new regime,” he told the BBC.The BBC said it has approached Doggart, but was told he was now critically ill and unable to respond to the allegations.Smyth moved to Zimbabwe in 1984 after the British assault allegations emerged in 1982, and founded a series of Christian camps at which it is claimed he again abused teenagers – some sent from the UK. Church Child Abuse Scandal 1974 John Smyth, a barrister, becomes chairman of the Iwerne Trust, which oversees religious summer camps attended by boys from elite public schools The leading QC is accused of having brainwashed 22 young men Britain’s oldest public school, Winchester College in what victims now describe as a “cult”, persuading his victims the beatings could purge them of their sins.Among them was Andy Moorse, who was 14-year-old pupil at Winchester College in 1975 when he was groomed. In less than two years, Moorse was accepting regular and violent beatings in Smyth’s garden shed, he told the BBC.He revealed the boys would “bleed everywhere” from the beatings and when the beatings became too physical for Smyth to carry out alone, he claimed recruited Doggart to his cause.The BBC said it had spoken to Doggart’s victims and had been handed nine hours of recording left unheard for years which reveal the full extent of the abuse. On one occasion, a victim was beaten for 12 hours.